Thursday, November 23, 2017

Course #250

A few weeks ago I was able to play my 250th different course. I was fortunate to play at St. Catherine's Golf Club in Canada, which was also my first course outside the US. In keeping with the post that I made after #200, Let's look at some stats and interesting tidbits.


From Course 100 to Course 200 took less than 3 years, from 200 to 250 took 4 years and 9 months. So I'm playing new courses at a slower pace, several reasons for that.


Played 2 new courses in one day: 11
Played 3 new courses in one day: 2
Played 4 new courses in one day: 1 (no change, this is a difficult feat)


Colors: Silver, Emerald, Gold, Scarlet, //Red, Black, Blue, Green, White

Water features: Creek, Bay, Harbor, Brook, Lake, River, Bayou, Loch, //Spring

Land features: Park, Banks, Shoreline, Point, Hills, Landing, Farms, Ridge, Hollow, Meadow, Plantation, Farm, Mountain, Valley, Canyon, Trails, Dunes, Beach, Isle, Shores, Dunes, Pit, Forest, //Trail, Shore, Dale, Cove, Orchard

Plants and natural objects: Pine, Cypress, Rock, Palms, Stone, Sage, Azalea, Peach, Dogwood, Oak, //Magnolia, Marshwood, Cedar

Animals: Rockfish, Hummingbird, Eagle, Quail, Fox, Bear, Raptor, Rooster, Callippe, Horse, Moose, Fish, //Shark

 21 States, 2 nations

Courses beginning with every letter in the alphabet other than X, Y, and Z. (No change)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Francis A. Byrne GC - West Orange, NJ

This is a municipal course in Essex County, New Jersey. It is also designed by Charles Banks, making it one of the few golf courses that the average person can play designed by the Macdonald/Raynor/Banks crew. The course is not perfect and is certainly not National Golf Links or Fisher's Island. That said, it is easy to see what once was a tremendous golf course if you take the time to look. I've worked a bit with Anthony Pioppi, Executive Director of the Seth Raynor Society, to try and determine what template holes exist on the course. Years (scores of years, even) of degraded maintenance practices make this difficult. Indeed, the forward part of the Biarritz green was already in disuse as early as 1954 according to some old aerial photographs. So, a tentative listing of template holes:
1. Road (confirmed)
2. Biarritz (confirmed)
3. Punchbowl (partial, tentative)
4. Sahara (tentative, severely degraded)
5. Short (confirmed)
10. Bottle (tentative)
13. Cape (tentative, green only)
14. Eden (Confirmed)
15. Raynor dog-leg (tentative)
18. Home (Confirmed)

There are several other holes that I believe are likely template holes, but I can't yet place them certainly enough in a category to include them. With that, on to the ranking:

Variety of Design: The course has only one par 5 and it's the first hole, the Road. That hurts the course a bit. The par 3s have great variety, ranging from 235 to 140 yards. The par 4s range from 360 to 465 yards, so a fair variety in distance, but limited variety in direction. Of the 15 holes, 10 are straight, 3 work to the right, and 3 work to the left. The green sizes, while shrunken and degraded from their original sizes, all fit the shots required and work well. 7 out of 10

Flow of the Course: The course ebbs and flows through the round quite nicely. The start is difficult with the only par 5 followed by a very difficult par 3, but the course gives the player a break on the 3rd hole. The Short hole appears as the 5th hole and, while severely degraded from its original state, still mandates precision from the player. On the back nine, the holes alternate between difficult and moderate from 10 to 13, before playing the final par 3 and then 2 very difficult holes before coming out for a nice closing set in the 17th and 18th. 7 out of 10

Course Conditioning: Not very good. The fairways were reasonably smooth, but they were still spotty and were very damp. The greens were very soft and bumpy as well. The greens are maintained at slow speeds in an effort to improve pace of play; that should be commended. The course was just fair in condition. 4 out of 10

Walkability: The course can be walked very easily. There were a few significant hills, but one of the players in my group was in his 60s and was able to walk the course fine. There were a few slightly longer walks, but nothing major. 7 out of 10.

Atmosphere: None. It's a standard municipal course, not really the place to go expecting some cool vibe. Just pay the fee and go. And that's fine. 1 out of 10

Total: 58 out of 100. In my opinion, this is the best public golf courses I've played in New Jersey. I've played 3 courses in Gulfweed Magazine's Top 15 best in state (Neshanic Valley, Hominy Hill, and Galloping Hill). This course tops all of them by a pretty wide margin.

Pictures and a hole-by-hole look at the course will come shortly.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Quality Nine Hole Golf Courses Revisited

Five years ago, I wrote a post about nine hole golf courses. In the time since then, I've played a few more nine hole courses. I've sought out nine hole courses mostly due to a number of online conversations with Anthony Pioppi, writer of the book To the Nines, available here. The book is very good, I highly recommend it. Overall, I've played 10 nine hole courses: Monticello, Fletcher's Landing, Meadowbrook, Annapolis, Lambert's Point, Links at City Park (Portsmouth), Northwood, Fishhook, Sweetens Cove, and Fenwick. Of these, Monticello was renovated and made into an eighteen hole facility, while Meadowbrook and Annapolis were closed (as I write this, I looked up Meadowbrook to find that it's reopened; it was listed as closed earlier this year). Three of these, Northwood, Sweetens Cove, and Fenwick, were profiled in Anthony's book. Of all these, only Sweetens Cove falls into the area of what I'd call a very good golf course. It does have some negatives and I'll talk about those in a profile shortly.

While there are very good and great nine hole courses, there are few of them relative to the total number of golf courses and, in my experience, they generally exist in smaller communities with lower budgets. Of the courses that I've played, only Lambert's Point and Links at City Park are in a large metro area, that being the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. The others exist in much smaller communities.

When I wrote the original post, I referenced the Golf Digest article here. This list is still the only significant ranking of nine holes courses that I can find. As I mentioned before, I've only played two courses that made the list, Northwoods and Annapolis. Sweetens Cove had not yet been built, so was not on the list. For Northwoods, I still do not see the love for the course. In his book, Anthony had high praise for the 1st and 6th holes. I can agree with that. My issue is that the rest of the holes around it, perhaps save the 8th, are very mundane. Also, the trees make the course nearly impossible to play...with exception of 1, 6, and 8 which play outside the trees; no secret why they're the best holes.

Annapolis is closed, that is probably not a bad thing.

Fletcher's Landing was built in 2001 as part of a driving range and batting cage complex. The courses charges $10 to walk 9 holes. For that, it's fantastic. It's an inexpensive place to get out and play golf. It's the finest course in Onslow County, North Carolina that the daily fee golfer can play for $10.

The Links at City Park in Portsmouth, Virginia is a small executive course and serves the purpose well. For municipal golf, it's great. The facility has a range and an inexpensive course.

Fishhook is a very rustic course outside Palmer, Alaska. It is privately owned, making it one of the few privately owned courses in Alaska. It has some fun holes.

Fenwick...Anthony spoke very highly of this one. It's not the finest in terms of design, but for total atmosphere, it's fantastic. The course is a lot of fun to play, has some pretty cool design features, the berm on 6 and the pimple bunker on 8 come to mind, and has tremendous history. If you're in Connecticut, I definitely recommend playing here.

Meadowbrook is a fun course with a lot of history. It was opened in 1958 as a private club for African-American individuals and families in the Raleigh area; it doesn't take extensive research to determine why the African-American community needed its own club in the 50s era South. As I recall, the course was extremely fun to play.

Lambert's Point...given the tight land that was given, it's amazing that a course was built at all, much less a good one. Every hole has views of the water. Often players can see Navy warships coming in and out of port. I'd say this course holds up well against any course in the Hampton Roads area; south of Williamsburg, anyway.

Sweetens Cove. Utterly fantastic. I do think the greens, as a whole, are a bit much. Individually, they are great, as a whole, I thought they got tiring. That said, the course is fantastic. I would say that it could hold its own against the courses at Bandon, it really is that good.

So, a ranking
1. Sweetens Cove, 7. Not even close.
2. Lambert's Point, 4
3. Fenwick, 3
4. Northwood, 3
5-8 Links at City Park, Fletcher's Landing, Meadowbrook, Fishhook, All rated 1
Annapolis closed and Monticello converted.
Of these, I would like to revisit Meadowbrook. When I assigned the ranking numbers, the course was in a major state of flux, being closed, then reopened, and closed again. It might well be higher than a 1, but probably not higher than a 2 baring a significant amount of work being done.

I intend to add to this list of courses as I want to actively seek out new nine hole courses to play. There are several to play in and around New York, so I will see if I can sneak away to get to those.