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CREATIVITY WITHIN CONSTRAINTS AT LOST DUNES

A look at the relationship between design constraints and creativity at the Tom Doak designed Lost Dunes Golf Club

Spend any time on GolfClubAtlas or Twitter, and it becomes apparent that many armchair architects live in their own world. It’s a place without limits, where any tree can be cut, budgets are infinite, interpersonal politics don’t exist and government oversight agencies are on permanent holiday. In short, it is fantasyland. The real world in which the designers we revere operate is filled with a variety of constraints—timelines, boundaries, environmental regulations, budgets, client desires, infrastructure needs, player abilities, endangered species, maintenance profile, wetlands, specimen trees, roads and building locations, among others. The most experienced and talented modern architects find a way to create great golf holes and courses within the constraints, rather than taking their ball and going home because they don’t like the rules of the playing field.

Tom Doak has a strong personality and, along with his associates at Renaissance Golf Design, a design portfolio to match. He has also been outspoken about his willingness to walk away from potential jobs if the client, site or circumstances don’t fit his eye. It is therefore understandable that a myth has developed wherein Doak is not susceptible to the same constraints as his contemporaries. Although he is steadfast in his belief in himself, his team and the principles that underlie great courses, he must still deal with reality. Such was the case with the opportunity to create Lost Dunes in southwest Michigan. Rather than be hampered by the numerous constraints of the site, the Renaissance team produced a course as creative and varied as any of their other works.

Finding Lost Dunes

Doak has a book on routing in the works which includes a focus on Lost Dunes. Without giving away the story, he allowed me to pick his brain about the site he was given, and the inherent challenges of laying out the course.

The site of Lost Dunes, before construction

Lost Dunes was built on an old sand quarry. The mining operation left behind large ponds with a unique characteristic. “All the ponds on site are un-lined and the water level varies with the level of Lake Michigan,” explained Doak, “which has gone down and back up more than four feet since we built the course.” Fairways and greens could not be built too close to the water’s edge because the level was and is in a state of constant flux.

To complicate matters further, the original service road and Interstate 94 cut through the property, crossing to subdivide it in conjunction with the lakes. The land presented a complicated routing puzzle for which there was no perfect solution, but also an opportunity for variety. Each of the sections has its own topography and character, which give players the feeling of visiting distinct zones. Lost Dunes has a feeling of adventure.

Water and roads subdivide the Lost Dunes property

The map had a few tricky red lines to deal with, but it was still a sandy site with dunes, so the rest of the job should have been a tap-in, right? Not exactly. “The Michigan Critical Dune Act, written to prevent future companies from mining the sand dunes along Lake Michigan as they’d done prior to building Lost Dunes, actually prevented us from filling up against the steepest slopes on the clubhouse side of the highway,” said Doak. “This had everything to do with how and where #14 tees, 14 fairway, 15 green, and 16 tees and green are built.”

Zooming in from the macro picture revealed another set of environmental challenges to sidestep. “The mining company had dedicated big portions of the site as ‘conservation areas’ when de-commissioning the mine, so there were lots of wetland and wooded areas we couldn’t touch,” recounted Doak. “Even the little ditch and trees to the left of #18 green are a conservation area!” And lest we forget, the flora had a say in the matter as well. “There was a threatened wildflower scattered about the site, which we had to mitigate by creating a separate habitat for it left of #12, because there was no way to work around all the little patches on other holes. The wildflower is listed as threatened in Michigan, because it only grows in that corner of the state, where it’s hottest. They actually told me its native habitat is ‘an abandoned sand quarry’, which makes me wonder where it got its start,” Doak recalled while still scratching his head.

This scenario tends towards the extreme end of the constraint spectrum, but it illustrates the reality faced by modern architects. The redlined map, with mitigation and infrastructure requirements, has to be overcome to create interesting golf. That is exactly what Tom Doak and his team accomplished for the owner and membership of Lost Dunes, and in the process, the argument can be made that the constraints drove creativity down the line.

A Course in Creativity

Constraints aside, the dune and lake setting of Lost Dunes is visually stunning. Doak’s routing does a terrific job of first introducing players to the themes of his design before moving into the more dramatic area of the property.

One-time visitors have been known to criticize the course for being “tricked up”, especially the greens. Those critiques miss the point that the design is not primarily for them. It is for the members, many of whom log dozens of rounds annually over a period of years. For the membership, the course’s holes, features and greens are not tricks at all. They are puzzles to solve in which failed attempts are often just as fun as the successes.

After multiple loops around Lost Dunes, several strong themes emerge. First, there is great variety in the questions posed on the tees of the two and three-shot holes. Angular, straight and shaped driving requirements are all in play for those of us mere mortals who don’t carry the ball 300 yards. Second, the highly creative tee-to-green hazards—bunkers, mounds, wastes, water—are employed to tempt and deceive, rather than to punish. This course is much more Dye than Jones. And finally, the greens do live up to their reputation as evocative. They vary is size, shape and orientation, and the contours throughout reward those who smartly play the positioning game, while rejecting the less strategically-minded. This combination of tee shots, hazards and greens makes every day at Lost Dunes different, and every hole a pleasurable challenge.

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The opener is a short four that provides a great intro to the course. The drive is up to a fairway rise that then turns left and works down to a small contoured green running away. The 2nd is Doak’s fantastic Leven hole, with a huge green fronted left by a sandy mound. Positioning and use of slopes are critical to have a good birdie look. The par-3 3rd has a green set quietly in a corner of the property with contours as loud as they come. The yardage on the card at the par-5 4th has players thinking birdie or better, but misjudged approaches will lead to bogey or worse. The opening stretch concludes with the long, downhill 5th, a one-shotter that demands a confidently struck tee ball in the face of its intimidating look.

The next two par-4s work out and back to conclude the exploration of the section east of I-94. The 6th begins with a tough drive to a fairway with trees left that make the corridor appear narrower than it actually is. The green is equally demanding with pronounced tiers. The 7th turns back, playing up to a wide fairway flanked by bunkers right, and then to an elevated green with more subtle contours.

Players next head back under the Interstate toward the clubhouse. In fairness, holes 8-10 do have green to tee gaps that Doak probably wishes were much shorter. However, knowing what we do about the reality of the constraints, it was a brilliant move to deal with this awkward part of the property in the middle of the round, when the flow of play would be interrupted by the turn anyway.

Looking more closely at the holes in this stretch independent of the routing, they are quite good. The par-5 8th is stout, beginning with a forced carry over water  and ending with a ticklish approach into a tiered green. The one-shot 9th has an angled green set beyond a wetland with the clubhouse as a backdrop. The 10th is a par-5 that can be reached in two if the wind is right, but not without a healthy dose of risk provided by the water around the green.

The next stretch of five holes is one of the best in modern American design, working around the flat shores of the lakes left behind by the miners. Players are afforded jaw-dropping views revealing the scale of the property from the elevated tee boxes while taking on a series of thrilling drives and approaches. These holes are, in a word, outstanding.

The par-4 11th plays uphill to a massive bowl green set in the saddle of a dune. The tee shot on the 12th plays significantly downhill from the top of the dune to the wide fairway below, and then back up to an elevated green. The par-3 13th is reminiscent of the 3rd at Crystal Downs, with its green resting in a hollow at the base of a dune. The bunkerless par-4 14th snakes around the water to a tricky putting surface at grade. And to cap this stretch off, the three shot 15th heads diagonally over water to a heaving fairway and then up to a green benched into the duneside.

A forgettable set of closers would be forgivable, but Lost Dunes brings the round home in style. The par-3 16th plays over the wetland and demands a precisely judged shot from a tee exposed to the wind. Players then head into the woods for the two-shot 17th, culminating in a stellar green with a slope that feeds weak approaches into a front left bunker. The home hole has a wide fairway largely hidden by a set of forebunkers. One final solid approach is required to hit the home green which plays smaller than its footprint.

Would Lost Dunes have been a better course if, like Donald Ross and other Golden Age masters, the crew had been free to fill in wetlands or disregard sensitive flora and fauna? I’m not so sure, even though Tom Doak leans toward suspecting that it would. “A couple of my associates have noted in the past that our designs turn out to be more interesting if we have to work around constraints like these and find a way to make the golf compelling,” he reflected. “I’m not sure that’s the case—negotiating the nature of the red lines on the map is time-consuming and often leads me to feel that the lines are quite arbitrary.”

A group of talented artisans has a certain capacity for creative output on any given project, and the deeply committed are sure to expend that entire capacity, one way or another. When constrained, they will find another avenue for expression. In the case of the compelling tee shots, variety of hazards and complex putting surfaces of Lost Dunes, it is clear that the capacity of Team Doak found its outlets. Regardless of the final conclusion on the relationship of creativity to constraints, Doak makes the bottom line clear, “I am pleased when golfers play the course and aren’t aware of them.”

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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LIGHT BULB MOMENTS AT THE LOOP

A look at Tom Doak’s brilliant reversible design, The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club

“Golf is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you can exhaust yourself but never your subject.” – David Forgan

A golf course that can be readily grasped after a single round is not likely to ever be considered one of the game’s greats. The best courses require repeat play, and perhaps even a bit of study, to master—much like golf itself. The Old Course at St. Andrews ideally embodies this truth. The answers to the questions posed by the links are not printed on the scorecard. They are revealed to patient and persistent players over time, many of whom did not find themselves enthralled after their first loop. Those who are fortunate enough to experience The Old Course more than once almost invariably fall in love, as their initial confusion gives way to a curious desire to explore ever deeper its mysteries.

No modern architect has made a more thorough study of the links of the British Isles than Tom Doak. He wrote in his book Anatomy of a Golf Course, “Yet to truly understand the enduring popularity of golf and the essentials of good golf courses, it is imperative to become familiar with the British links over which the game evolved five centuries ago. The importance of studying the links is summarized by two facts: These are the courses over which the game itself was invented, and they have endured despite tremendous changes in all other aspects of the game.”

By the time the opportunity arose to return to Northern Michigan to build again, Doak and his team at Renaissance Golf had been successfully applying the lessons from the links to produce renowned courses such as Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Streamsong Blue and many others. However, it would be at Forest Dunes Golf Club that he would finally be given the chance to draw fully upon the inspiration of The Old Course in bringing to life a reversible course with eighteen greens – The Loop.

The 12th green on The Loop’s Red Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

In the 1921 British Open, Bobby Jones famously picked his ball up and quit after repeated unsuccessful attempts to extricate himself from a bunker on the 11th at St. Andrews. Suffice it to say that the Old Course’s charms were lost on him. It is equally well known that as time went on, his appreciation for the links grew to become an abiding love. Those who are not immediately enamored with The Loop from a single play can take heart to find themselves in a similar position to the younger Jones. They ought further be consoled to know that the architect himself, the resort owner, club staff and scores of players have been on a long-term journey with The Loop marked by moments when light bulbs flip on to shed progressively more light on the brilliance of this design.

Flipped Switches

The concept for a reversible course had been rattling around in Tom Doak’s brain for decades. He believed that if he could just find the right client with the right piece of land, the concept could become a reality. Enter Lew Thompson, owner of Forest Dunes Golf Club, who wanted to entice visitors to stay and play longer at the resort by offering a second course that would wow them. In Thompson, Doak saw his chance. He set about studying the land and collaborating with his associates on a reversible routing.

Twenty years of mulling it over, and it was still a tall task to figure out how to make the concept work. In an interview with Matt Ginella, Doak described the routing process. “Early on, I was thinking that the more we just make (the course) a big ‘C’ shape, the better off we’re going to be. But as I started to draw it…it’s more interesting to not just play into the same green from 180 degrees opposite. When you’re changing directions, you have a chance to play around with things…I think that’s the fascinating thing about the concept…Sometimes the orientation of the green is so much different that it doesn’t look familiar to you at all.”

Light bulb.

After many hours of headache-inducing deliberation, the Renaissance team had their design ready to present to Thompson. The story goes that Doak showed his client the routing for one direction and the reaction was, “Nice looking course, but I’m not wowed.” Out came the course map for the other direction and it took Thompson a few minutes to realize what he was looking at. Same corridors, same greens, playing in the reverse direction. The response, “Wow.” Doak was not just giving Lew Thompson a second course. He was throwing in a third.

Light bulb.

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Robert Falconer (@LoopSuper) is now the Superintendent at The Loop, but at the time construction was getting underway, he was working for a contractor. Falconer had a sneak peek at the plans and was not immediately impressed. “I thought that it looked goofy in some spots,” he recalled. “I commented that certain features seemed out of place. My boss asked, ‘Which way is the hole going?’” That question was one that he never had to stop and consider before and it took him aback. Like Thompson, the realization came that this was a different and special project.

Light bulb.

The opening of The Loop was highly anticipated among architecture geeks, Doak fans and the media. As the fanfare of those early rounds dissipated, the course proved successful in its purpose of giving players a reason to stay longer at the resort. However, some felt that it lacked the same level of pizzazz as Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes course or others at comparable facilities. That impression is not entirely unfair. It is indeed simple and subtle at first glance. But those reviews speak more to the surface-oriented perspective of modern golfers than to the quality of the design. The Loop is not merely a single golf course, or even two. It is more than that. It is a work of architectural art that offers a glimpse into a genius golf mind at depths that cannot possibly be fully comprehended with one play.

Elliott Oscar is the PGA Professional at Forest Dunes who, like Robert Falconer, enthusiastically evangelizes the course. “The first time I played it, I thought it had a nice set of greens,” Oscar shared. “After more plays, I realized how much the green surrounds influenced play. Fifty plus plays in each direction later and I understand that every contour and feature is purposefully done. I like to go out late in the evening, play a few holes and then turn around to play in the other direction.” The Loop is not just a golf course. It is an experience.

Light bulb.

My Journey with The Loop

When the announcement of the reversible course at Forest Dunes was made, I was tremendously excited. Like a good geek, I studied the course map and was convinced that I understood how incredible the courses could be. I was wrong. During construction, I had the privilege of going out with a small group led by Tom Doak to play dirt golf in both directions on several holes. Although disoriented at first, I got my bearings and concluded, “Now I get it.” Wrong again. As I played the finished course this season, pausing periodically to look back and find a different hole in the reverse direction, I sensed another light bulb flickering on for me. But this time, I was not fooled into thinking that I got it. Quite the opposite.

Light breaks through to illuminate the 12th green on the Black Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

Talking to those who have been around the course numerous times, and who continue to make discoveries, I can see that I am at the beginning of my journey with The Loop. It promises to illuminate light bulbs for me with each round. That is the good news that Lew Thompson and Tom Doak want to share with every visitor to Forest Dunes, especially those who might have had a Jones-at-St-Andrews reaction. The greatest courses reveal themselves over time. They are a reminder that if we can open and properly orient our minds, we will find in brilliant designs like The Loop an inexhaustible supply of challenge and joy.

Special thanks to Evan Schiller for contributing his gorgeous photos. More from Evan on his website (https://www.evanschillerphotography.com/), on Twitter (@EvanSchiller) and on Instagram (@evan_schiller_photography).

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Old Macdonald Course Tour by Jon Cavalier

OLD MACDONALD – A COURSE TOUR & APPRECIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLD MACDONALD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hole 2 – 162 yards – Par 3 – “Eden”

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

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

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Eden indeed.

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Hole 3 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Sahara”

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

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

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

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

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

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A look back up the incomparable third fairway.

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

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

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

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

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

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A superb half-par hole.

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Hole 5 – 134 yards – Par 3 – “Short”

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

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

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

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Hole 6 – 520 yards – Par 5 – “Long”

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

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

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

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

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

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Like the fifth, the sixth green is a masterwork.

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Hole 7 – 345 yards – Par 4 – “Ocean”

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

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

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

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

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Sidebar – Tom Doak’s Sheep’s Ranch

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

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

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

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

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The wide channel bisecting the eighth green.

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

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Hole 9 – 352 yards – Par 4 – “Cape”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hole 11 – 399 yards – Par 4 – “Road”

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

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

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

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A look back down the long eleventh green.

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Hole 12 – 205 yards – Par 3 – “Redan”

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

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

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

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Hole 13 – 319 yards – Par 4 – “Leven”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This par 5 is reachable in two for longer hitters.

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

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Not where you want to be.

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

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

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A very beautiful and enjoyable hole.

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Hole 16 – Par 4 – 433 yards – “Alps”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If not, unlikely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I hope you enjoyed the tour!


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Journey Along the Shores – Part 15b (Metra Corner Update)

After all of the improvements that we have made to the 15th hole, it is really shining right now.  I took a quick walk this morning to grab final photos of the bunkers in the bright summer sunshine to complete this update on our work on #15.

The larger Metra Corner Makeover project (as outlined in this previous JATS post) continues to move along, and has now expanded to include the 14th, 17th, and 18th holes – the entire Metra Loop – in no small part because of the growing wave of support we have received from our volunteers and neighbors.  More updates to come on other holes as the work progresses.

For now, I’ll focus on my new favorite hole on the course, the 15th.

THE BUNKERS

Rework of the bunkers began in the fall of 2016.  We had an old fairway bunker complex that had grown over that we decided could use a little more character.  A bunker short-left of the green was removed, and the bunker short right of the green repositioned and reshaped.

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Fairway grass bunkers before work began

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Short right bunker before work began

The inspiration for the look of the bunkering came from a photo of Hollywood Golf Club, a Walter Travis design in NJ that has been recently restored by the Renaissance Golf team, as well as a bunker I saw at The Rawls Course in TX, a Tom Doak design.

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Hollywood GC

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The Rawls Course

Our Super Tom Tully cut the sod (thanks to the generosity of Brian Bossert from Bryn Mawr CC), and made us a big ol’ dirt pile from the mounds surrounding one of the grass bunkers.

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I dug out and sodded the right nostril.

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My buddy Peter Korbakes dug out and sodded the left nostril.

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My buddy John Creighton shaped and sodded the nose.

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Approaches were seeded, to grow in in the spring.

Next up were the greenside bunkers.  Pat Goss, David & Lindsay Inglis and players from the NU golf team pitched in with our volunteers the fill in the left bunker and reposition/rework the right bunker.

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The right bunker came to be known as “the gash”, and by the time we finished shaping and sodding, we felt that it was a fitting homage to Mr. Doak’s original.

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We were joined in our gash work by Dave Lockhart, videographer and fellow golf geek. Dave did double duty, helping us to finish the digging, while also capturing footage for a nice piece he did on Canal Shores.

 

FAIRWAY EXPANSION

In the spring, we had several productive and fun volunteer sessions, working our way down the left side of the 15th.  We removed buckthorn and other invasives to help turf thrive and to create space to expand the fairway left.  The neighbor support we received at these sessions was astounding, allowing us to move quite quickly.

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An out-of-place bush and spruce tree were removed, and the fairway was widened right to highlight the interesting shape of a large grass bunker.  Players were also given room to steer clear of the principal’s nose, giving life to our vision for more interesting strategy on a hole that had previously been bland.

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Our new Superintendent Tony Frandria and his crew filled the new bunkers with sand, and began the slow process of tuning up the mowing patterns around the new bunkers, and on the green pad.  In spite of challenging weather, the 15th looks better every day, and is now a joy to play for golfers of all skill levels.

(click to enlarge images)

 

Work is already well underway on the 16th hole.  Stay tuned for more updates as the makeover of our beloved Metra Loop continues…


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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A September to Remember – Oakmont, Ballyneal & Sand Hills

2016 has been yet another wonderful year of golf adventures.  The season culminated in late September with a stretch of dreams come true in this golf geek’s life with visits to Oakmont Country Club, Ballyneal Golf Club and Sand Hills Golf Club.

In a word, Oakmont is mystique.  From the turn into the parking lot, through the clubhouse, and on each of its 18 holes, a palpable aura surrounds and permeates the place.

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In a word, Ballyneal is joy.  Golfing the ball around this wonderful facility is guaranteed to reawaken a childlike love of the game.

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In a word, Sand Hills is majesty.  On land that is as big and beautiful as the sky above, it sits like modern minimalist royalty on a throne.

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Although these clubs and courses are quite distinct, they share common threads.  They are all breathtakingly beautiful.  Each features a wealth of interest from the grand scale all the way down to the smallest details.  They possess an enjoyable combination of challenge and fun.

And perhaps most important, their memberships love and respect golf, are welcoming, and have just the right kind of pride in their home clubs.  The spirit of the game is alive and well at Oakmont, Ballyneal and Sand Hills.


OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB

For a golf history and architecture geek, there is simply too much to take in in one visit to Oakmont.  Especially with a knowledgeable and gracious host like mine, sharing stories as we walked the fairways, my head was spinning.  Having had the full experience, I hope to make a return trip some day to get to know the course better and just play.

In discussions of Oakmont, much attention is paid to the group of holes across the turnpike, which includes the par-4 3rd, with its iconic church pews.  And of course, the closing stretch from the par-4 15th through the par-4 18th is as strong and storied as they come.

I found myself particularly taken with the holes that occupy the center of the property between the clubhouse and the turnpike – the 9th through the 13th.  The ground has surprising elevation change and beautiful movement to it, and the holes are packed with interest and variety.

#9 – Par 5 – 462 yards

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This three-shotter plays much longer than the yardage on the card, uphill and often into the wind.  The drive is blind, the fairway guarded by bunkers and ditches, and the large green transitions seemlessly into the practice putting green.  Playing up this hole toward the iconic clubhouse is awe-inspiring.

#10 – Par 4 – 440 yards

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The tenth tumbles downhill through a minefield of bunkers over some of the most undulating ground on the property.  Approaches into the green, which runs away, are extremely difficult to judge.

#11 – Par 4 – 328 yards

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The eleventh heads back uphill and the player has to decide how aggressively to flirt with the ditch that cuts across the hole at an angle.  The elevated green needs to be approached deftly, especially when the wind is blowing.

#12 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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This beast can play in excess of 650 yards downhill to a fairway that slopes severely from left to right.  Simply put, hit three good shots here or you are looking at a big number, as the green is not one that allows for easy up-and-downs.

#13 – Par 3 – 153 yards

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Finding the green on this beautiful little three-par is just the beginning of the adventure.  The putting surface is both canted and contoured, which means a line/speed guessing game when attempting to hole an elusive birdie putt.

To conclude that Oakmont is just a hard golf course is to miss the subtle brilliance of Mr. Fownes’s design.  Oakmont is not a one-dimensional brute.  For those who can maintain focus, think strategically and execute boldly, Oakmont is a multi-dimensional puzzle beckoning to be solved.

For much more on the history of Oakmont Country Club, its course and championships, visit the video archive here for Kyle Truax’s compilation.


BALLYNEAL GOLF CLUB

From the moment we passed the front gate, my companions and I were grinning from ear to ear.

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I have never experienced a friendlier reception than the one we got at Ballyneal.  Every member we met seemed happy to see us, and genuinely excited for us to experience all aspects of their club.   It is the golf-geekiest place I have been to date, and I loved it!

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The course map hanging in the pro shop illustrates how Tom Doak routed a wonderful adventure through the Chop Hills. Of the eight TD courses I have played thus far, Ballyneal is my favorite.  It has the boldness of Pacific Dunes coupled with the adventurous feel of Apache Stronghold.  It has variety aplenty, some unique and creative holes, and just the right amount of Doak funk.

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(Click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 4 – 350 yards

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Walking to the first tee, we discovered one of the many aspects of Ballyneal that makes it a joy to play – no tee markers.  Holes have multiple teeing areas and players are given the freedom to choose their own adventure.

We played the opener from the left tee which requires a carry over a valley up to the angled fairway.  The green is guarded by bunkers left and tight runoffs right.

#2 – Par 4 – 483 yards

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The fairway on the second is wide, but angles do matter when approaching the green, which is surrounded by slopes and bunkers.

#3 – Par 3 – 135 yards

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The first of Ballyneal’s strong one-shotters is a shorty played over a sea of sandy gunch to an island of beautifully contoured green.

#4 – Par 5 – 562 yards

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The par-5 fourth features a thrilling downhill tee shot to a rollercoaster ride of a fairway.

#5 – Par 3 – 160 yards

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With the wind blowing, judging the distance on the tough fifth is a challenge.  I can imagine playing anything from a pitching wedge to a 3-iron on this hole depending on the conditions.

#6 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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The uphill sixth is straightforward off the tee, but challenging on the approach.  Running approaches are a fun option into the firm green complex.

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#7 – Par 4 – 341 yards

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The seventh is one of the coolest short-4s I have ever seen.  Wind and pin position combine to pose strategic questions from the tee.  The green is divided into three distinct sections and is nestled between a large mound left and bunkers right.  There are many ways to play this hole, but no “right” way.  Brilliant.

#8 – Par 5 – 470 yards

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The evening light reveals the sea of mounds and ripples that extend from the tee of the 8th all the way through the back of the green.  No level lies to be found here.

#9 – Par 4 – 351 yards

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The short ninth provides options off the tee.  A large mound cuts in front of the green, reminding the player that an architect doesn’t always need bunkers to mount a defense.

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#10 – Par 4 – 475 yards

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The tee shot on the tenth is tough.  Players that don’t summon the courage to take on the nasty looking bunkers that guard the right side of the fairway will find their ball coming to rest in a deep swale left.  The approach into the big green is blind from down below.

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#11 – Par 3 – 177 yards

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The par-3 eleventh was one of my favorite holes on the course playing uphill to a green that looks as if it is impossible to hit and hold.  I love the thrill of trying to overcome the story my eyes are telling me, letting the shot fly, and then walking up to discover the outcome.

#12 – Par 4 – 335 yards

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The 12th is another devilish short par-4 whose contours create a riddle of tee shot, approach and putt that must be solved over repeat plays.

#13 – Par 4 – 420 yards

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I am a sucker for centerline bunkers, which feature in the minefield that must be navigated from the tee on the thirteenth.  Pick a line, and let it fly!

#14 – Par 4 – 340 yards

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Plenty of room right is afforded to the player who desires safety on the short dogleg left fourteenth.  Opportunity for a pitch and putt birdie on the elevated green are available to the bolder of spirit.

#15 – Par 3 – 212 yards

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The wind and length conspire to crush weakly played tee shots on the 15th.  A large, undulating green leaves plenty of flatstick work to be done for those who find the putting surface.

#16 – Par 5 – 494 yards

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My favorite hole on the course, the sixteenth features a blind drive to a narrowing fairway.  The elevated green is reachable, but guarded by slopes and a funky little bunker that is immensely cool.

#17 – Par 4 – 464 yards

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Depending on the wind, the par-4 seventeenth can play longer that the par-5 sixteenth.  There is plenty of room to play, and it looks straightforward, but contour throughout provides ample challenge.

#18 – Par 4 – 425 yards

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One last heroic tee shot to an angled fairway awaits at the closer.  It plays down and then back up to a green set at the base of the hills.

At times throughout the round, I was not sure if holes were par-4s or par-5s.  I completely lost track of what hole we were on on both the front and back nines.  These are signs to me of the greatness of Ballyneal.  It is a place where one can get deeply into the joy of planning and playing each shot.  It is a course that brings you powerfully into the joy of each moment.  What a gift.

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The Mulligan course is taking shape and growing in.  It appears to be packed with fun and heroic challenge.  The main course and The Commons putting course were reason enough for a return visit, but the short course conveniently provides an imperative to plan another trip.


SAND HILLS GOLF CLUB

If there is perfection in American golf, Sand Hills is it.

What is more difficult for an architect – squeezing good holes out of a mediocre piece of land, or finding the best holes on a piece of land so great that good holes are everywhere?  That is a question for geeks to debate that cannot be definitively answered.  At Sand Hills, Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw took on the latter challenge and uncovered 18 great holes that work beautifully together and inspired an architectural renaissance for which geeks like me are eternally grateful.

There is not a remotely weak hole at Sand Hills, but the course is much more than the sum of its parts.  I was particularly struck by the rhythm of the routing and order of the holes, specifically with the 6 straight par-4s in the middle.  The course begins dramatically, settles down a bit in the middle, and then ends with a closing stretch that is my all time favorite.  Playing Sand Hills is like listening to a perfectly composed symphony.  It is transcendent.

Conditioning is not typically high on my list of determinants of greatness, but it is appropriate to give credit where it is due in this case – the work that Kyle Hegland and his team do at Sand Hills is outstanding.  The course plays firm and fast, the greens are as true as they come, and they fight the good fight against the wind to keep the bunkers looking beautiful.  They are an A-team of pros, and I know that the membership at Sand Hills is grateful to have them.

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On the day of our visit, we played from the morning until it was too dark to see.  If the day had been six hours longer, I would have happily kept playing.  The course is beautifully routed and a delight to walk.  Paths cut through the native areas, and the green-to-tee walks are surprisingly short for a course that feels so big.

Sand Hills is a place to get lost, blissfully going around and around and around…

(Click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 5 – 521 yards

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The opener is a stunning introduction to the scale and movement of the land, complemented by blowout bunkers.  The tee shot is played to an angled fairway and the approach well uphill to a green set in the saddle of two hills.  The first of many wows to come.

#2 – Par 4 – 368 yards

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The blind tee shot on the second plays up to a windswept fairway that sits atop one of the highest spots on the property.  The hole culminates with a two-tiered infinity green, the setting for which provides endless views of the surrounding hills.  This green is not only my favorite at Sand Hills, it is one of my favorites from C&C anywhere.

#3 – Par 3 – 216 yards

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This long one-shotter plays shorter than the yardage on the card as the left front slope can be used to run shots into the green.  The player has to catch a bit of luck to end up in the right section of the green, which features a large contour that makes long putting extremely difficult.

#4 – Par 4 – 409 yards

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A tee shot to another angled fairway followed by an approach into a green elevated and benched into the side of a hill with a huge blowout bunker.  As do several of the holes at Sand Hills, this par-4 brings to mind the work of the Maxwells at Prairie Dunes.

#5 – Par 4 – 387 yards

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The center bunker on this four par must be challenged and the wind judged expertly in order to get into position for the approach to the green.  A tee shot in good position leaves the player with options for a ground or aerial attack.

#6 – Par 3 – 198 yards

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Being such a fan of Coore & Crenshaw, it was fun to finally to see the “original” holes that have since inspired others.  The canted and contoured green on the sixth looks almost triangular from the tee, bringing to mind other favorites of mine from Old Sandwich, WeKoPa, and Sand Valley.

#7 – Par 4 – 283 yards

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The seventh is the first of two straight drivable par-4s.  The player can lay well back, or have a go at this well-defended green that has a large bunker left and deep runoff right.  Missing right leaves the player with another set of choices on how to try and navigate the slope to gain a birdie chance.  So much substance to such a little hole.

#8 – Par 4 – 293 yards

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The short eighth features a fantastic green surrounded by bunkers, and fronted by a lion’s mouth.  Again, line and distance options abound from the tee, with the pin position and wind factoring heavily.  Strategic golf at its best.

#9 – Par 4 – 371 yards

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The third of six straight par-4s, the ninth has a blind tee shot followed by an approach into a green set below Ben’s Porch.  The green and surrounds have subtly maddening contours that must be overcome.

#10 – Par 4 – 426 yards

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The two shot tenth flows gently downhill to a green that doesn’t look like much from the fairway.  Watching too-bold approaches and putts roll and roll and roll some more reveals just how difficult this green can be.

#11 – Par 4 – 348 yards

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A huge, gorgeous bunker guards the entire left side of the eleventh and dictates play from the tee.  To gain the advantage of a short approach into the elevated green, that bunker must be challenged as the fairway slopes hard from left to right.

#12 – Par 4 – 354 yards

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The twelfth is wide from the tee, but tee shots must be placed precisely in the right third in order to avoid having to deal directly with the large bunker that flanks the right side of the green.  Like many holes at Sand Hills, slopes short and in the green surrounds are there to be used for the creative shot-maker.

#13 – Par 3 – 185 yards

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The par-3 thirteenth sits majestically atop a hill, completely exposed to the wind.  The setting provides a thrilling tee shot, beautiful views of the surrounding hills, and an exciting start to the all-world final stretch of holes.

#14 – Par 5 – 475 yards

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The three-shot fourteenth winds over heavily undulating ground, through nasty bunkering, to a tiny green set partway up a hill.  Balls above the hole on this green are dead – plain and simple.

#15- Par 4 – 453 yards

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The fifteenth plays over a cross bunker and then uphill to a saddle green.  The right must be favored off the tee to earn the ideal approach angle.

#16 – Par 5 – 563 yards

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This might be my all-time favorite par-5.  The player has to decide on the tee how much of the enormous bunker left to take on.  A speed slot awaits beyond as a reward for the boldest of tee shots.  The firm slope short and left of the green, makes it reachable in two for the longer player.  Those laying back have to decide how to contend with a pronounced mound right in front

 #17 – Par 3 – 150 yards

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There is good reason why this is considered one of the best shorties in the world.  The elevated green is incredibly difficult to hit and hold in the wind.  Par is truly a good score here, and birdies are to be cherished.

#18 – Par 4 – 432 yards

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The finisher at Sand Hills provides one last WOW, as the player has to face the gigantic bunkers running down the entire left side of the fairway.  The eighteenth plays uphill to a green set in a punchbowl among the hills.  Plenty of challenge, visual stimulation and a lasting impression of the experience of this masterpiece.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical that Sand Hills could wow me more than Friar’s Head, Essex County, and my other favorites.  My skepticism was greatly misplaced.  For me now, there is this course, a gap, and then the other greats that I have been so fortunate to experience.


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A brush with history, a club that felt like home, and my new all-time favorite golf course – with experiences like these, it is tough to imagine a month ever being better than September 2016.

Wherever my golf adventures take me going forward, the memories of this magical month will endure and continue to bring a smile to my face.


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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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As Good As It Gets – Lost Dunes & The Dunes Club

Last season, I screwed up royally.  I have access to Lost Dunes, the Tom Doak gem in SW Michigan, and I did not go.  Pathetic, I know.

Determined not to make the same mistake twice, I wrangled two Superintendent homies, Scott Vincent (Onwentsia) and Brian Palmer (Shoreacres) for a spring outing.  And since we were in the mood for adventure, we also lined up The Dunes Club (thank you Michael).  If one outstanding course is good, two in a day must be great.

We set off before sunrise, and returned well after sunset.  Everything in between was pure golfy joy.

Scott and I both love to take photos (and Brian calls us a couple of Wangs).  I take a lot of photos in the hope of getting a few good ones.  Scott is a legitimate stud photographer (follow him on Instagram @srvpix), and he has graciously given me some of his photos to add to mine and share.  Before the course photos and commentary, a thought or two about the trip.

As you know from my previous posts, Desert Days and A 1,537 Mile Drive, I do not hesitate to hit the road solo on golf adventure.  I enjoy the solitude of the open road and an empty golf course.  As I grow older in the game, I find it much more satisfying to share these experiences with fellow geeks.  It is invigorating to riff on architecture, travel, music, family, business, and I everything else I find interesting.  It is a blast to celebrate the good shots and rib each other for the clunkers.  It fills me with gratitude to spend time in the company of kindred spirits.

Scott and Brian are genuinely good dudes and they are certainly kindred geek spirits.  Their company was a gift, and made what would have been a good day into one that is as good as it gets.

Now, Lost Dunes and The Dunes Club.


LOST DUNES

Tom Doak rightly gets accolades for Pacific Dunes and his subsequent courses.  Lost Dunes may be under the radar for the masses, but folks who have played it repeatedly appreciate it at multiple levels.  I count myself among those who consider it among my favorites in modern architecture.  It is creative, beautiful, strategic and challenging.  From the first tee until the 18th green, there is no point at which a player can afford to take a mental holiday.

The club straddles I-94, and always tugs at my heart strings when I drive back and forth from Northern Michigan.  Every time my itinerary involves stopping for a play, my love of Lost Dunes is renewed.

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(click on images to enlarge)

#1 – Par 4

Lost Dunes opens with a short 4 playing over the entry road from the tee.  After hitting the green, the player gets a taste of what’s to come – a green with contours that produces 3-putts like the spring Canadian geese produce, well, you know…

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#2 – Par 4

This hole is my favorite on the outward nine, and illustrates the principles of strategic golf at its best.  Taking on the right side bunker from the tee yields the best position from which to go for a left pin.  The safer route down the left leaves the player with the option of playing short, on, or long of the green in two.

Every position presents its own challenges in getting down in two.  Par is a good score on this hole, which requires both thought and execution.

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#3 – Par 3

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#4 – Par 5

The first 5-par offers the player a multitude of routes to take on the drive, second, and approach.  There is no “right” way to play the hole, but it does require confidence to score.

#5 – Par 3

The second par-3 at Lost Dunes is just plain hard.  The wind whips across this exposed section of the property making hitting the green from 225-245 a feat.

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The left side mound can be used by the creative shot-maker, and provides ground-game excitement as a reward.

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#6 – Par 4

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#7 – Par 4

#8 – Par 5

Lost Dunes offers numerous thrills, not the least of which is the tee shot to the angled fairway on the par-5 8th.

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The corridor narrows on this 600+ yard brute as the green is approached.

#9 – Par 3

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#10 – Par 5

The back nine begins with the reachable par-5 tenth, which gives the player a first encounter with the large lake around which many of the best holes on the course play.

#11 – Par 4

The uphill 11th is my favorite hole on the course, and begins one of my favorite stretches of holes (#11 – #15) in all of golf.

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The green is brilliantly seated in a natural hollow in the dunes and is guarded by an enormous bunker short right.

#12 – Par 4

With a new tee higher up on the large dune that separates Lost Dunes from the highway, the tee shot on the par-4 12th is even more exciting.  Imagine a well struck shot rising against a blue sky and then gently falling to the fairway below.

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(photo by Scott Vincent)

This 390-yard hole packs plenty of challenge from tee to green.

#13 – Par 3

The setting and design of this par-3 bring to mind the 3rd at Crystal Downs, a source of inspiration for Tom Doak, and many other architects.

#14 – Par 4

The 14th features another one of Lost Dunes’s gorgeous, thrilling tee shots.

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This bunkerless hole lays upon the land and winds around the lake so beautifully, additional hazards are simply not necessary.

#15 – Par 5

Once again, Lost Dunes gives the player the option to decide how much risk they want to bite off.

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(photo by Scott Vincent)

The closer to the target line of the distant dune one plays, the greater the chance of getting home in two.

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(photo by Scott Vincent)

This roller coaster par-5 plays down and then back up hill to a well-defended green.

#16 – Par 3

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#17 – Par 4

Walking off the 16th green, the player re-enters the more wooded area of the property for the final stretch.

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Approach shots must be hit precisely into this green if they are to avoid the nasty bunker left.

#18 – Par 4

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The walk up the fairway of the par-4 18th toward the clubhouse elicits mixed feelings – joy for the wonderful golf experience, relief at surviving the challenge, sadness that it must come to an end.   Like all great architecture, Lost Dunes is evocative, and it leaves you wanting more.


THE DUNES CLUB

As Lost Dunes tests all facets of a player’s game, the Dunes Club is also a test.  It tests one’s ability to throw off the conventions of modern, American golf and reconnect with the pure joy that originally hooked each of us.  This private playground of the Keiser family and their fellow members could not be more graciously inviting, laid back, and fun.

It has been my good fortune to visit the Dunes Club for three straight years, and every time I return, it blows my mind.  Under the stewardship of the Keisers and consultation by Jim Urbina, the course continues to evolve for the better.  Proactive tree management and brush clearing have allowed more air flow and sunlight, which Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha has parlayed into ideal playing conditions for firm, fast, and fun golf.  Cleared areas are now being converted into artful sandy wastes featuring fescue and native vegetation.

It would be reasonable to say that the Dunes Club could not get any better, but the trend of the last several years indicates otherwise.

 

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There are no tee markers at the Dunes Cub, and each hole has multiple teeing areas, often at drastically different angles.  Holes can be shortened or lengthened as players see fit.  Throw in contours, ground features, and hazards that encourage creative shot-making, and the only limitations to variety that exist at the Dunes Club are those in the players’ minds.

#1 – Par 4

The par-4 first illustrates the benefits of tree and brush clearing.  Width of the playing corridor off the tee has been restored, opening up different lines of play.  The hole is no less stout of an opener though.

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The first also gives an indication of the creativity of the bunkering and sandy waste areas throughout the course.  They are as beautiful as they are challenging.

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#2 – Par 3

With two teeing areas at significantly different angles to the green, the second embodies variety.

#3 – Par 5

The third is separated into three islands, first by grassy mounding and then by a low waste area.  Only the longest hitters can reach in two – more often, it requires three precisely placed shots.  From the forward tees, it can also be played as a solid two-shotter with a fun tee shot to the center fairway section.

The area short of the green features a style of fescue clumping that is at once rugged and artistic.

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#4 – Par 4

The fourth has always been my favorite hole on the course.  The dogleg left par-4 plays to a fairway sloped downward from left to right.  It requires a tee shot with a draw, or an extremely confident line down the left to get in the best position for the approach.

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(photo by Scott Vincent)

The second shot is best played with a fade to access all pins, or the player can use the contours short and left to feed a running shot onto the green.

#5 – Par 4

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The only water hole on the course, the fifth features a beautifully sited green surrounded by wonderful contours.

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#6 – Par 3

The short 6th takes variety to another level with teeing areas at numerous lengths and angles.

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(Photo by Scott Vincent)

Recent rework to the green has also made it more playable.  Good shots are well received, and the green surrounds punish poor shots.

#7 – Par 4

The seventh is in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations.  It is still a work in progress and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

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This bunker complex that borders the left side of the fairway is one of the coolest that I have ever seen.

#8 – Par 5

The wild par-5 eight has elicited a love-hate relationship among players.  Ongoing tree work has returned options to the hole and made it more a test of strategy than just accuracy.

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(Photo by Scott Vincent)

The tee shot can be laid up short of the waste area.  Or for the bold, a route left into the 5th fairway shortens the hole and makes reaching in two a possibility.

Big and bold – there is nothing subtle about the 8th green complex.  This hole does not yield birdies easily.

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(Photo by Scott Vincent)

#9 – Par 4

This tough but fun, uphill par-4 can play anywhere from 425+ yards to 275.  Factor in wind and change of elevation and this relatively simple hole is packed with variety.

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An argument could be made that this bunker guarding the center of the green has become a bit out of style with the rest of the course as it has evolved, but I like it.  It is a throwback to the course’s roots, and taking it on adds one last thrilling exclamation point to each loop around the Dunes.

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We played 22 total holes on this particular day, which meant that we got three cracks at the ninth.  We played it from the back tees the first time, and then the forward tees on the second and third.  Old Man Way, as I am affectionately known, delivered in fine fashion by driving the green twice in a row.  As we high-fived and laughed at the mild absurdity of it, I felt like a kid again.

That, to me, is what golf does at its best.  For short periods, it makes the world melt away and leaves only the joyful present moment.  Great golf courses naturally produce those moments, and at that level, there is no greater course of which I am aware than the Dunes Club.


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Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Right on the Sweet Spot – Architecture Week III

This time around it was different.  They changed the name, and they changed their game.  The third installment of Architecture Week on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive took a different approach, and for me, it hit the sweet spot.

This time around was different for me as well.  For the previous two AWs, I was able to watch each day.  This year, with action-packed holidays, work, and developments at Canal Shores, I missed the live broadcast.  It wasn’t until mid-January that I was finally able to sit down and binge watch all of the segments (thanks Howard Riefs for the links – on Twitter @hriefs).  As it turns out, watching Architecture Week in this manner gave me a perspective that might have been missed by my fellow GCA geeks.

Simply put, Architecture Week III was by far the best yet.  Its greatness was the result of the same basic ingredients that make for great golf architecture – variety, challenge, and fun.  From beginning to end, it was designed to be interesting and accessible for all viewers, in the same way that a great golf course is interesting and accessible to all players.

Golf Channel increased the variety in several ways:

  • Complementing Matt Ginella with Geoff Shackelford throughout the week was a stroke of genius.  They seem to have good chemistry born of a shared spirit for the game, but they clearly do not agree on everything.  That makes for good conversation and provides the viewer with a richer perspective on the subject.  It was also nice to see additional members of the Morning Drive cast participate.
  • There was greater variety in the segments.  Some pre-produced, some live.  Some in-studio, some on-location.  Some focused on courses, some focused on the architects, and still others focused on the player experience.  A multi-media smorgasbord of discussion, video, pictures.  This gear-shifting throughout the week delivered visual and intellectual stimulation, and made for a much higher level of interest.
  • The week also had depth.  From Architecture 101 educational segments to deeper looks at the lives of Tillinghast and Ross, AWIII was substantive enough to satisfy my geekiest interests.  It did not include these elements at the expense of including the GCA novice though.  To steal the essence of Matt’s “thoughtful architecture” concept, Morning Drive knows its audience, and it designed a week with enough breadth and depth to provide interesting content for all.

I would still like to see an increase in breadth of coverage.  More history and more education on the principles of great architecture.  A wider range of featured projects, especially those focused on community golf like the Schoolhouse 9 and Sharp Park.  And of course, new and different faces including industry vets like Ian Andrew and Drew Rogers, as well as up-and-comers like Dave Zinkand, Andy Staples, Keith Rhebb and others.

Hitting the sweet spot with this installment of Architecture Week proves that a GCA show can be viable.  The remaining breadth of compelling GCA subject matter to left to cover reminds us that a GCA show is necessary.

And now, for the recap…


ARCHITECTURE WEEK III RECAP

“The chief object of every golf architect worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself.” – Dr. Alister MacKenzie

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“Strategic design is at the core of the great holes and great courses of the world.” – Geoff Shackelford

“Could you play a course every day and not get tired of it?” – Geoff Shackelford

Spot on.  This is my top criteria for my favorite golf courses.  If I wouldn’t want to play it every day for the rest of my life, it isn’t going to crack my Top 10.  I agree too with the point about the misplaced importance of prestige in American golf.  This is at the core of what has taken golf in this country off the rails, because it is about ego.  Where there is ego in golf, accessibility and fun tend to get crowded out.

“The merit of a golf hole is not its length.  It’s the variety and interest therein that golf hole.”  – A.W. Tillinghast

“A.W. Tillinghast was not only the greatest character the American game ever knew, he was quite possibly the most imaginative designer this country has ever produced.” – Geoff Shackelford

Nobody does this historical content better than Geoff, and I love it.  Especially at this point in architecture, being called by some the new Golden Age, it is helpful to look back to the lives and work of the men who practiced their craft in The Golden Age.  They are endless sources of inspiration.

Side note about the Mike Keiser story:  Although the elements of this story are not new to Golf Channel, it is nice to see Matt continue to follow up and share updates over time.  The building of a golf course and the revitalization of a community do not happen overnight.  I appreciate Matt and the Golf Channel taking the longer view so that we can witness the unfolding.

“The first thing is, everybody just has to get over scoring.” – Geoff Shackelford

“As a player of the game for 25 years, I never really thought about why I liked a golf course or didn’t like a golf course.” – Paige Mackenzie

This was a wonderful discussion punctuated by Paige describing the evolution of her perspective, and the deepening of her understanding of architectural intent.

Side note about Streamsong Black:  The description of Royal Melbourne style bunkering, while building off the big site shaping of the Olympic Course in Rio, has me salivating.  I will be at Streamsong in 2 weeks and I hope to sneak a peak at the Black course.

“(The Keisers) only touch pieces of land that have the potential to be something unbelievably unique and special.  Mike has an ability to draw out of people much more than they thought they were capable of, or maybe more than they were capable of, and that is part of his genius.” – David McLay Kidd

“The vision is to bring heathland golf to the U.S.” – Michael Keiser

As I previously posted, I had the privilege of visiting Sand Valley for a tour (read my recap with photos here).  The Coore & Crenshaw course will be an instant classic, and from the look of it, the Kidd course promises to be equally mind-blowing.  It is a great time to be a golfer in the Midwest.

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“If you play the great variety of courses that are out there…you can’t help but realize that golf is way more fun when there is strategic interest…” – Geoff Ogilvy

I could not have been happier to see the OCCM team featured on Architecture Week.  Even better, they are bringing their Sandbelt sensibility and classic spirit of the game to the U.S.  Could there be a course in Wisconsin in their future?  We can hope…

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If you are a student of the game and GCA, you must own Cob Carlson’s Donald Ross documentary.  You can purchase it at DonaldRossFilm.com.  As is the case with many architects’ work, Cob’s wonderful film is a labor of love that deserves our support.

“This is thoughtful.  We’re identifying architects who are doing good work.  The good work they’re doing is because they put thought into the mission they’re trying to execute.” – Matt Ginella

Matt made this statement in reference to Pete & Alice Dye’s approach to designing for their players.  Their players are resort golfers, and everyday golfers.  Low handicappers, and high handicappers.  Professionals and amateurs.  The Dyes don’t use a one size-fits-all approach.  They think about their players, and design for those players.  That thoughtfulness obviously does not limit their creativity.  Rather, it makes it possible for their creativity to be accessible and enjoyable, and it is a key ingredient in GCA that stands the test of time.

Exciting times ahead in the world of golf course architecture.  Thanks to Matt, Geoff, and the Morning Drive crew for continuing to cover it for us.

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Jon Cavalier’s Top 10 New Courses in 2015

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

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

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


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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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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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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Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Multimedia, Multitalented – An Interview with Architect Brett Hochstein

Pasatiempo.  It doesn’t get much better than a trip around Dr. Mac’s home course.   That is, unless you receive an invite to visit another course later that same day where talented architects, shapers and supers are working their magic.  A golf geek’s dream day come true.

I was fortunate enough to have just such a day earlier this year, and the invite came from Brett Hochstein.  He and George Waters were working with Architect Todd Eckenrode and Superintendent Josh Smith at Orinda Country Club.  Given that I had been following Brett on Twitter (@HochsteinDesign) and Instagram (@hochsteindesign), and truly enjoying the glimpses into the creative process that he shares, I was thrilled for the opportunity.

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After playing Pasatiempo, I made my way up through the East Bay traffic to Orinda.  Brett and George were wrapping up their work day, but they were kind enough to share their perspectives on the project, and give me a tour.  Brett also agreed to do an interview.  We decided that it would be best to wait until he could compile the full range of photos from his work at Orinda.

The interview and photos follow, as well as a special bonus from Brett.

ORINDA COUNTRY CLUB

Brett collaborated on this renovation with Todd Eckenrode, George Waters, and Josh Smith.  Below is a sampling of images from Brett’s work.

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Orinda CC #4 – Before and after featuring new, more interesting and natural looking bunkers.

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Orinda CC #8 – Evolution through time, restoring green complex to original look and feel.

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Orinda CC #13 – Before and after of opened teeing area and modified bunkering that creates additional shot options off the tee.

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Orinda CC #18 – Approach and green back views of the finisher, now with far more character and interest from 100 yards in.


THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to golf?

My parents bought me a set of toy clubs at a very young age—perhaps 2 or 3.  At age 4, I was given a more complete set of plastic clubs (and a plastic golf bag!), and my dad snuck me out on a local public course, Harley’s, which is now the Union Lake Golf Course.  This is where I finally got to hit some real shots and experience the real thing, minus the real clubs of course.

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

Right away that day.  The architecture and the land were by no means inspirational, but the concept of playing a game through different features—greens, bunkers, water, trees, and the hole in the ground itself—had an immediate grasp on me.  I even threw/hit my ball directly into the sand because I thought it was so cool.

I kept the scorecard from that round, which started a habit of collecting scorecards, especially ones with routings printed on them.  I would take those to study and then come up with routings and holes of my own, something I continued throughout my entire childhood.  My parents might have thought it strange that their 5 year old spent most of his free time drawing golf courses, but it was all normal to me.  I knew at that young age I wanted to design golf courses when I grew up.

How did you get into the business?

This is going to be hard to keep short…

As mentioned above, I knew I wanted to be in this business right away.  I prepped myself through drawing, playing, and watching on tv, but a book loan of Tom Doak’s The Anatomy of a Golf Course from my high school senior English teacher really was a reawakening of sorts.  It was the antithesis of the sterile brand of public golf development all over Michigan at the time, and it brought me back to that spirit and energy I had when first discovering the game and playing it over burned out hard-pan on modest courses sitting on former farm fields.  Four main things were gathered right away from reading: knowing about and being involved in course construction is vital, spending time in the British Isles would open the palette to what is possible in golf, Cornell would be a very good place to attend college for its history of flexible study and development of golf architects, and reading more about these “Golden Age” guys would be a pretty good idea too.  I immediately began to focus on all four.

Getting into Cornell and gathering books by Ross, MacKenzie, and Thomas turned out to be the easy part.  After missing out on the Dreer grant that Doak and others used to travel the British Isles and graduating in 2008 with all financial fallout that occurred, getting to Scotland and getting construction experience turned out to be the hard parts.  I eventually got to Scotland late in 2009 through a year of turfgrass study at Elmwood College near St Andrews, but work continued to be all but impossible to find.

After my time there ran out, I ended up moving out to the San Francisco Bay Area where my girlfriend (now wife) resided and briefly took a job installing artificial putting greens.  That didn’t fully satisfy the palate, and after another round of reaching out to architects, Forrest Richardson mentioned he had a project upcoming at Mira Vista, the old Berkeley CC designed by Robert Hunter.  He let me tag along with him on some planning visits and eventually helped me get a job as a laborer on the construction crew, which featured Kye Goalby doing the shaping for the first part of the project.  Speaking with Kye and his different experiences, it revitalized my interest in working with the Doaks of the world.

When Tom D sent out an email titled “Opportunity Knocks” that summer to a bunch of people asking their interest in shaping on a new project in China, I jumped all over it.  A few weeks later, I got the great news that they wanted me to be the first guy they sent over and that I could help them out at Streamsong or Dismal River in the meantime.  This was the big break that I had been looking for since finishing school.

I worked with Renaissance for two and a half awesome years, becoming fully fluent with the bulldozer and excavator before going independent in 2014, which is where I am at today with Hochstein Design.

Who is your favorite Golden Era architect, and why?

Anyone who has seen my work would probably guess Alister MacKenzie, and they may very well be right.  I love undulating greens, artistic bunkering, and making the course blend as seamlessly as possible with the surrounds through form and texture.  Those are the surface-level hallmarks of his best designs, but he also knew a thing or two about routing and strategy, which are the necessary bones of any great course.

I am very fascinated with Colt, Simpson, Tillinghast, and Thomas as well and am most keen to see more of their works as I haven’t seen enough, in my opinion.  I did happen to walk Riviera last week though, and wow what an excellent piece of architecture it is.  This is why I always say flatness is no obstacle to great design. A few simple, well-executed design moves can make for highly compelling and enjoyable golf.

Who has had the most influence on you, both inside and outside of golf?

Tom Doak is an obvious one for his writing, his employing of me, and his work in general.  On a more day-to-day level though, I have to say Eric Iverson, who was the lead Renaissance associate on our two-year off-and-on project in China.  Beyond being a wise and capable designer himself, he is incredible on a machine.  His work always looks good, it is clean and easy to finish, and it is done twice as fast as the next guy.  That is the kind of shaper you want to learn from, and I owe whatever speed and efficiency I have to working/trying to keep up alongside him.  Eric is also a great manager and communicator, which, as a more quiet and reserved personality myself, was very helpful for me to observe and try to emulate.

I would also give an Honorable Mention to Mike DeVries for having a hands-on business and design model that serves as the inspiration for how I would like to operate.  He also taught me a few valuable techniques about old-school plan drawing when I worked with him in the office in summer 2008.

Outside of golf would probably be my dad.  As a small business owner himself, he taught me through example about hard work, taking ownership of any task big or small, and never complaining.  He’s also the one who introduced the game to me, and while he supported me and encouraged my involvement in tournaments and high school golf, it was always about the game and having fun.  You see too many dads and their juniors both now and then getting too into the competitive side of it.  I feel pretty lucky it was never that way.

What should every owner/Green Committee member study/learn before breaking ground on a golf course construction project?

They should understand who their potential designers are and what exactly they would get from them.

These projects involve a lot of money and should thus involve some careful thinking on whom they select.  That is not to say people take on a project without any thought; the reality is very far from that.  The reality is also that there are a lot of missed opportunities out there, unfortunately, both in new designs and renovations/restorations.  This is especially frustrating when you factor in how limited these opportunities are in this day and age.

A very big (too big in my opinion) part of this business is sales and the ability to engage a client with a story about what their course can be.  That ability to sell, though, does not necessarily correlate with the ability to deliver a great golf course.  The intentions of most sales pitches are honest, but it takes full commitment and passion to execute it.  If you don’t do the work yourself or have the proper talent in place, the work is doomed to fail or disappoint.  Success is as much in the details as in the big picture, and it is easy to see that if you just do some research on previous projects.

True quality work is not hard to come by and doesn’t necessarily cost more, just as I’ve seen firsthand at places like The Schoolhouse Nine, Dismal River, or a number of projects that have succeeded by making sound design moves sympathetic to the surrounds as opposed to engineering a grand lush landscape set amongst cart paths.  It’s a funny paradox these days where it seems the best work is done the most cheaply, and in a lot of cases it isn’t just the quality of land.

You are a shaper and photographer, in addition to being a designer.  How does your experience in those disciplines influence your design work?

To me shaping and designing are nearly one and the same.  As previously mentioned, my ultimate model is to operate much like the Gil Hanses, Jeff Mingays, Mike DeVrieses, etc. where you do as much of the shaping as you can yourself.

An essential ingredient for any great feature or design is spending time thinking about it, and the best way to spend time thinking about it is to actually work on it and gain a true feel for the space.  This is where ideas are either enhanced or generated.  As you interact with the ground, you notice things that you may not have at first, and you can apply that new information to make a more interesting design.

Occasionally, there are instances where I don’t completely know what I am going to do or how something will turn out, and I just figure it out as I go, most of the time with great success and always with satisfaction.  That may sound scary to a client, but the latter part of the statement is the important part—it gets figured out, and it does so with much better results than it would have gotten from an office desk.

Shaping yourself also cuts costs and saves time.  You know what is possible with a machine, and you know what sorts of marginal-upside design moves will take forever to do and thus be not worth the time and money of an equal alternative.  Machine and shaper time is costly, and I try to keep it as efficient as possible without compromising the quality of the work.

Photography is a hobby that’s evolved for me (and probably everyone).  I spend less time doing it, but I ultimately take more photos.  This is purely a product of the iPhone.  I just sorted my photos from the recent Orinda project, and it tallied over 2000 images, all of them quick snaps from my phone.  I do plan to go back out with a DSLR and polarizing filter to get some higher quality finished product images, but during the build it is just too easy to use that small all-in-one tool in your pocket, especially with improved HDR settings.  Also, Instagram is pretty fun.

That being said, the idea and spirit are just the same.  I love photography because it is a true medium to express how I see golf courses and the world itself.  As far as the connection to golf design goes, it’s all about composition.  By placing yourself in the correct spot and using calculated cropping, a nice balance can be achieved in composing your image.  In golf design, especially new builds, there is even more freedom to achieve that sort of “balance” and ideal composition.  Bunkers, greens, trees, landforms, and roughs are all place-able within a space, and having photographic experience or interest only helps develop your “eye” to get it right.

You collaborated with Mike McCartin on the Schoolhouse Nine. Why did you get involved in that project?

Mike asked me on short notice if I was interested, and I jumped all over it.  The main reason is that I believed in what he was doing and what the Schoolhouse Nine could be.  Golf should be affordable, accessible, fun, environmentally sympathetic, and not overly time consuming.  These basic tenets were all reachable goals at the Schoolhouse Nine, and from everything I have heard about this first season, those goals have indeed been reached.

The opportunity to work on a new-build and shape greens with another former Renaissance guy was also something I just knew would be very fun and creatively satisfying as well, and it was.  I had a blast living and working there, and it shows in the great variety of green complexes that we came up with.

What place do you see courses like the Schoolhouse Nine having in the future of the game?

I see them being pretty important.  With urbanization growing and available land shrinking, golf needs to think outside of the 18 hole “championship course” box if it’s going to retain players or gain new ones.

The core enjoyment found in golf is in attacking the hole—the thinking and execution that comes inside 200 yards—and you don’t need as much land for that.  6 hole executive courses, 9 hole par-3 courses, and pitch-and-putts are some examples of alternative courses that have the ability to offer fun, challenging, and compelling golf in more densely populated areas.  They would also take less time away from everyone’s increasingly busy schedules.

Should this be the top priority or first choice in golf development?  Not necessarily.  But it definitely should be embraced and considered as a viable alternative.  Shorter courses can still be proper golf; making the hole bigger, to cite one popular doomsday alternative, is not.

What is your favorite part of a golf course to design? To build?

To both those questions -green complexes and surrounds.  Greens are the “face of the portrait [golf hole],” and the strategy unfolds outward from there.  Coming up with that strategy while trying to make something look like it has always been there is a challenge that is both fun and fulfilling.

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What do you love about practicing your craft?

I love putting on the headphones and diving into anything creative, whether it be roughing in a green on a dozer, sketching out a hole concept at my desk, finalizing a bunker edge with a shovel, or zipping around in a sandpro to add a bunch of microcontouring to a fairway.  I am really big into music, and beyond the inspiration it can provide, it also serves as a memory placeholder for what I did and when, which is big for a nostalgic person such as myself.

What courses are at the top of your hit list to see or play next?

My free time is pretty limited, so I tend to take a pragmatic approach to my “next-see” list and see what I can wherever I might happen to be.  For example, I was working at Sallandsche in the Netherlands last fall and a short stint in the spring.  This was a great chance to see De Pan, Royal Hague, Kennemer, Eindhoven, and Frank Pont’s Swinkelsche.

This winter, I will be in Northern France at Hardelot, so the “next-see” wish list contains Morfontaine, Chantilly, Le Touquet, and a whole boatload of stuff on the other side of the English Channel if I can make it over there.

For a destination “next-see,” I would have to say The Loop at Forest Dunes.  The concept is something I have always found fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how Doak and Brian Slawnik executed it.  I’m sure there’s a level of complexity to it that I haven’t even thought of yet, and I’ve thought about it a lot.  As a proud native Michigander, I can’t wait to see this great new addition to the “Up North” golfing scene, which even with the likes of Crystal Downs and the Kingsley Club, is underachieving in my opinion given the beautiful and sandy nature of the region.

When you are not working or playing golf, what are you doing?

I’m most likely with my wife hanging out, traveling, or relaxing.  Even though she has mostly worked remotely and tagged along with me on projects the past two years, I’m still out on site for 10-12 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, which is a good amount of time.  With that and the realization that time away will always be a part of this job, I like to spend as much time with her as I can.

Beyond that, I’m an ardent supporter of University of Michigan Athletics, specifically football, and the Detroit Red Wings.  I’m also hoping on my next winter lull that I can find time to get back into playing drop-in hockey and going up to the mountains to snowboard.

Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?

I’ve just started at Hardelot in France to do some work on Les Pins course with Patrice Boissonnas and Frank Pont, the men responsible for the recent restoration of the Tom Simpson course that just broke a record for biggest jump in the Continental Europe rankings.  They think they can get a few more details even better though, and they have brought me on to help execute that.  It is really exciting working at a special place, in sand, and with people who are passionate and easy to work with.

Beyond that, nothing is certain yet.  There are a few more shaping opportunities, but the truth is I cannot wait to get the opportunity to design, renovate, or restore something on my own.  That final jump may ultimately prove the hardest to make.  I am ready for the opportunity though.


BONUS PROJECT – SALLANDSCHE

Brett worked with architect Frank Pont on breathing new life into this gem in the Netherlands.

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Sallandsche course map, illustrated by Brett.

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Sallandsche #2 – Bunker build through the process.

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Sallandsche #14 and #16 – Green complexes with new bunkers and improved views.

 

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Sallandsche #17 – Before

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Sallandsche #17 – Brett’s design sketch

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Sallandsche #17 – After Brett’s work, in sepia

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Sallandsche #17 – After, in glorious color


Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf