Monday, October 29, 2012

Internal Contouring vs. External Contouring

This ties back to another article written here about the "ground game" versus "target golf." Certainly it is the belief here that all golf is target golf and the supposed ground game is merely an additional variable that needs be considered once the ball reaches it's intended target. A standard biarritz hole was used in that article to show different possibilities of using ground features to work the ball closer to the hole. Of course, with that hole, there exists the option to land the ball short of the green and roll the ball onto the green. But are ground features inside the green itself just as good as ground features that are outside the green? Do they both cause the player to give thought to the shot, to take a potentially conservative play and work it into something great?

For another standard example, let's look at the Redan hole:

This hole is open in the front with a right to left slope in the green. There is also a significant slope in the top right corner of the green. These features allow the golfer the option to take a conservative route to the hole, which might be positioned back-left, and not challenge the deep bunkers. The golfer can land the ball short of the green, in the approach grass and run the ball on from there. He can also attempt to hit a draw into the front portion of the green and filter it back. And he can fly the ball into the slope and have it kick down to the hole from there.

There is also the Biarritz where the area in front of the depression is maintained as green:
This is the same hole used on the previous post, only from a different angle. All the options remain the same, some being easier to execute and more conservative than others. Land the ball short of the green, land the ball on the front portion, or fly the ball all the way to the hole. This hole, as with the one above, has roll-out options available for balls struck both on the green and off.

But what about holes that only offer one option or the other?

Some holes offer the roll-out option only for shots landing short, like this version of the biarritz:

This biarritz has the front portion of the hole, between the bunkers, maintained as approach/fairway turf. This means the only option for players wanting to land the ball on the green is a lofted shot that will stop near by where is lands. The only run-up option that exists is for the player to land the ball short of the green, run it through the depression that is also maintained at fairway height, and have it filter back to the hole. This hole still has the run-up option, just not as many variations as the biarritz above.
 
What about holes that offer only the run-up option for balls hitting the green?
 
 This hole, #16 at Augusta National Golf Club, has the short-of-the-green run-up option removed due to the bunker. When playing to a back-left hole location, typically seen on Sunday during the Masters, the player must take the aggressive line directly at the flag, bringing the front bunker into play or play the ball out to the right, center of the green, and allow the internal contouring to bring the ball closer to the hole, as seen in the illustration.
 
Certainly the holes that have both options are likely to be better, all other things being equal. But are holes that offer the player the option to work the ball towards the hole using contours, either internal or external, better than those that merely require an aerial play to the green? In most cases, they certainly are. Of course, they answer to that question is not "always" because if we compare the eighth hole at Tobacco Road, where the green has numerous contours that allow the player to funnel balls to multiple locations, to the twelfth hole at Augusta National, where there are no ground contours to utilize, only a delusional individual would say the hole at Tobacco Road is better.
 
When comparing these holes, internal and external contours, option generators, if you will, should be viewed equally. Both of these options give players the chance to pick a target and calculate ball movement after it arrives at the target. It also gives them the chance to make a conservative play and still get the ball close to the hole. Of course there are potential consequences at play. On either of the biarritz holes, a shot played low that does not make it through the depression will leave the player a difficult second shot. That second shot will be easier on the hole that has the depression and approach maintained as fairway, but it will still not be easy. On the redan, if a ball it hit too high, it may stop on the front of the green, leaving the player a very long putt. At Augusta National, viewers are able to see every year the consequences of the conservative play when professionals wind up with putts that have 5-6 feet of movement in them.
 
But all of these options and outcomes give the player more possibilities and options to consider during the play of the hole. At no time is having more options available a bad thing. Internal and External Contouring are both equal and both equally good.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Golf Course Epiphanies

It is very rare that you play a course that really works to change your whole perception of other courses. Peachtree was one of those. But how did it make such an impact? This goes beyond the whole club atmosphere and to the heart of the course itself. It showed how good Robert Trent Jones could be at designing golf courses when he handled the work himself rather than letting his associates do the work. The course shows how to test all clubs in the better player's bag while still remaining playable for the lesser player. And the course shows how fairway bunkers are not needed in all spots and huge numbers on order for the course to be challenging.

First, this design shows just how good Mr. Jones could be when he did the work himself. The routing of the course is outstanding. There are a few long walks today due to new tees being built to lengthen the course, but aside from the transition from 16 to 17, the course has no long walks between holes. The course also has an outstanding set of greens. The internal movement is subtle in some places and bold in others. At all times, the contouring fits the shot being played into the green. But the real magic of the course is how it flows through the round. From difficult, to easy, holes to play safe, holes to attack, holes with options to do both, the course takes the player on a fantastic ride from start to finish. Mr. Jones knew how to tell a story on the golf course. Sadly, his later work, especially the course on the RTJ Trail in Alabama, don't reflect much of this. This happened as he began to let his associates take over the day to day design work and lending his name to the courses. Mr. Rulewich, who did all of the courses in Alabama, seems to know how to design holes like Mr. Jones, but what the courses seem to lack is real flow and certainly lack even a serviceable routing. No, Mr. Jones could do fantastic work all around when he did the courses himself. His name has been tarnished over the years due to his associates, however.

Second, the course is a virtual template for how to test every club in the better player's bag while staying playable and fun for the average player. The course does this by using fairway width coupled with green size and contouring. Approach angle is important here due to the size of the greens and the movement within them. This gives the better player something to think about as he plans his shots. But these same things also make it fun for the average player, giving them the chance to find the fairway and green with semi-regularity. Obviously these features make the course more expensive to maintain and that is why many average courses cannot and do not look like this. But overall, size and angling make the course challenging for the better player and playable for the average one.

Finally, the course shows how to be challenging without use of fairway bunkering. Peachtree has five total fairway bunkers, two on the first hole, two on the ninth, and one on the eighteenth; not included are the 4 bunkers that exist within 75 yards of the green on three of the par 5's. Compare this to the best modern course this writer has played (excluding the Bandon courses), Eagle Point. Eagle Point has 37 fairway bunkers. Yet, sadly, at least half of those serve no purpose other than simply being there, and more still do little to enhance the strategy of the course. Even though Mr. Jones began to use more bunkers in some of his later work, he still used fewer than many modern designers. No, with proper width and greens, tying into the second point, fairway bunkers are not always necessary to retain great strategic interest in holes. Mr. Jones figured that out at Peachtree.

So in these ways, Peachtree opened this writers eyes to things relating to golf. However, there is another part to the equation when it comes to these design features is cost. Is it more cost effective in the long run for courses to maintain fairway turf and green turf rather than maintaining bunkers in order to have strategy. The answer to that question is not known to this writer. Logic would suggest, however, that it is more expensive long term to maintain fairway and green space, especially green space. As such, courses wind up having to manufacture strategy with fairway bunkering and giving the players boring greens.

But here, on this course, Mr. Jones did a fantastic job of bring all of his design skills to the table and crafting a great golf course. This course is one of those rare places that may cause a golfer to reevaluate how he views golf courses and their features. Fantastic and thought provoking. What more can a course really be?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Peachtree Golf Club- Holes 1-9

The golf course at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia is most certainly one of the finest courses in the Southern United States. This collaboration between Robert Trent Jones, the designer, and Bobby Jones, the player, is a golf course that has stood the test of time and works to test every aspect of a player's game. The quality of this course cannot be understated, indeed the jury is still out on what the final grade will be. On some holes, the player will be given a single directive as to what side of the fairway allows for the preferred angle into the green. On others, that side will change from day to day based on hole location.

This course is truly fantastic. The greens have tremendous movement internally and substantial contouring and run-off areas in the surrounds. Every club in the bag will undoubtedly be tested throughout the day as will the player's ability to move the ball in both directions. And this club also allows the golfer on some holes to play shots low and run them onto the green from a long distance out, a feature sadly lacking in most southern courses as well as much of Mr. Jones's later work. This course is very close to being as good as it gets.

Ranking
Variety of Design: Outstanding. The par 5's all give the player the chance to take an aggressive play and attempt to reach the green in two. The 16th hole is unreachable for all but the longest players and will cause them to put great thought into all 3 shots. Par 4's have solid variety overall, but slightly lack in the very long category and the sub-400 yard category; there is no par 4 that is even close to driveable. The par 3's are also solid in the middle of the scale, but lack in short and very long. Directional variety is fair, but not great, having 6 holes going right, 3 going left, and 9 straight. 8 1/2

Flow of the Course: Very good. The course starts off on a high note, eases off for a couple of holes, gives a reachable par 5, followed by a difficult par 3, the closes out the front nine with 3 solid, but not overly difficult holes. The back nine starts with a solid par 5, goes to a difficult par 3 followed by a difficult par 4, then starts into a very solid closing stretch where the player is given 3 holes closing the round where birdie is a distinct possibility. 8 1/4

Course Conditioning: Outstanding. This may be the best maintained course in the South, with only Eagle Point in North Carolina coming close from what this writer has seen. Fairways, greens, tees, everything maintained exceptionally. 9 1/4

Ease of Walking: The green to tee transitions are very good, with only one exception. The hilly nature of the site does it no favors, but overall, this would not be an impossible course to walk. 8 1/4

Atmosphere: Exceptional. From tournament history to rankings to the club in general, this club is great. When you arrive, you will know you are at an exceptional place. 7

Total: 84 out of 100

Each hole will feature two yardages, one from the Championship tees, one from the Medal tees. Images will be from the Medal tees.
Hole #1: Par 4, 410/370 yards
The golfer is given a definite test right out of the gates, though not one that is exceptionally difficult. This hole really sets the tone for the rest of the round. As mentioned above, often times the line of play off the tee is determined by pin position. That is the case here on the first hole. As you can see in the image below, if the hole is cut on the left side of the green, as marked by the orange flag, the best position in the fairway will come from taking a line over the inside corner bunkers to the right side of the fairway. However, a pin cut on the right side of the hole is best approached from the left side of the fairway.

Oddly enough, give that there are only five fairway bunkers on the entire course, on this hole, the bunkers serve little purpose beyond visual deception today. Even from the back markers, they require a shot of only 260 yards to carry, hardly a lengthy shot for a player legitimately capable of playing a 7,414 yard golf course. But as it stands, the bunkers are there, and truthfully, they do look to be a greater distance than that off the tee, perhaps due to the fact that the trees in the background are some 340 yards away. This is an incredible opener to what will be (or at least should be) an incredible round.


 From the Medal tees, the player has this view to start the round. As mentioned above, if the hole is cut left, the play off the tee is directly over the grass that separates the two bunkers. If the hole is cut right, play directly over the walk path.

 From the fairway, the player now sees the large false front that will penalize any shots hit much short of the flag. The crater like bunkers will strike fear into the ones who do not find the proper side of the fairway from the tee. In this picture, the hole is cut in the center of the green, making sides less important.

 This image does no justice to the contouring inside the green. This hole is cut in a bowl, with two feet of rise on either side.

Any player missing the green left will be facing a recovery shot from somewhere in this area.

Hole #2: Par 5, 584/511 yards
This hole was lengthened in recent times to give the player who is playing off the back markers the chance to play the hole as it was likely intended by Mr. Jones. From the 511 yard tees, the hole is almost certainly reachable in two shots by the best players. While it does, of course, provide a great risk-reward option at that yardage, that is likely not what Mr. Jones intended on this hole. No, from the layout of the hole it is likely that Mr. Jones intended this to be a hole that required three full shots while giving the player the option of picking either side of the split fairway to improve angle into the green.

Looking at the image below, the single black dot represents the 584 yard teeing area. From there, the pair of black dots flanking the fairway represent the 300 yard mark off the tee. From there, the green is essentially unreachable. Looking forward, to the next teeing area, you will notice a dark blue dot, then two blue dots flanking the fairway. The blue dots show the 250 yard mark from the same color teeing area. It is likely this was where Mr. Jones intended for tee shots to be played to and second shots played from; in extending the tee back, the club merely brought the intended landing area back into play.

In this case, the trees on the inside of the dogleg give the player definitive orders on how to play the hole. If the player feels he can hit a shot out over 290 yards, he can play up the right side of the fairway. However, anything shorter than 290 will likely be blocked out by the over-hanging limbs; certainly anything less than 275 will be totally blocked out. As such, the safe play is to the left-center of the fairway. This accomplishes two things: first, it opens up the best angle to the right hand fairway for a lay-up and second, gives a straight shot to the green for anyone attempting to go for the green in two. It should be noted that the right side of the fairway from the tee does provide a better angle to the narrow left-hand fairway approaching the green.

From the Medal tees, the long hitter has an extreme advantage, as seen with the purple makers. Those flanking the fairway show 300 yards off the tee, certainly within range of going for the green. The mark on the right, shows the final location for a long tee shot take up and over the large oak trees. Certainly tee shots played to there, leaving 170 yards or less to the green, were not part of Mr. Jones's original plan for the hole.


 From the tee, the player can see the fairway tumbling down to the right and see the green in the distance. Hopefully the first time player has a quality caddie who can steer him down the left side of the fairway, otherwise this hole may become far more difficult than it might otherwise be.

 From 200 yards out the player is faced with this view. The large right fairway allows for an easier lay-up attempt but forces the player to hit over water on his approach. The small left fairway is more difficult to hit but provides what should be an easier approach.

 This is the likely approach location for those players hitting up the right fairway. The player is left to play over the water to the narrower angle of the green. This shot is no bargain.

However, approaching from the left fairway is no bargain either. This shot from just in front of the green shows the massive contouring in this green. The enormous hill can deflect balls in all directions. Indeed, the shot played from here found the water after going over the hill with fractionally too much speed and going past the pin. Par is most certainly the score to play for here; anyone trying to be overly aggressive on this hole risks paying a supreme price.

Hole #3: Par 4, 433/382 yards
This hole gives the player a breather after what may have been a train wreck on the last hole. The entire  fairway slopes down to the left, so the best play off the tee is to start one down the middle and play a fade to hold the ball in the right side of the fairway. From the right side, the player will be give an open look at the green and even allowed to play the ball in low and running if he desires. The black marks below show 300 yards from the tee. The left side of the green is guarded by a deep bunker, making approaches to a left hole location coming from the left side of the fairway less than easy. In general though, this hole does not have much going on, which gives the player a breather after two exceptional, and potentially very difficult, opening holes.

 It is obvious from the tee that the fairway slopes hard to the left and the greenside bunker is also visible. It is plain to see that the right side is the preferred side.

 This drive, however, did not find the right side of the fairway and the player is now facing a semi-blind shot where he is unable to see the bottom of the flagstick.

This shows the entrance to the green with the slope of the land working towards the green allowing for a running shot if desired.

Hole #4: Par 3, 166/142 yards
It is difficult to determine the overall quality of the par 3's here. The variety in yardage is there, but all the holes require aerial shots to rather large greens. The first par 3 here is the shortest. Playing over the water to a well bunkered green. While being very scenic there is little to report on this hole. Pick a yardage, play an aerial shot to the green. This set of par 3's bears a significant resemblance to what can be seen of the set at Augusta National. Bobby Jones's influence is likely the reason for that.

From the tee, the wide green is clearly visible. The green has very subtle movement and is very difficult to putt. There is also a bunker behind the green, barely visible here.

Hole #5: Par 5, 536/520 yards
The second par five of the day is one as difficult as the one before it if only due to the far less severe green. The hole is a hard, nearly ninety degree, dogleg to the right. From the tee, the player has several options. From the tee, marked with purple dot, the player can play straight from the tee to about 250 yards, perhaps a 3 wood for the best players, hugging as close to the treeline as he dares. The second play would be to play down the center of the fairway with a significant fade (or draw for left handers). 300 yards off the tee for the long players would likely end up slightly behind the dark blue dot. The third option is to play over all the trees and out to the fairway. This is no easy shot due to the height of the trees. On a straight line, 285 yards will put the player on the blue dot, 300 puts him on the pink, but any shot carrying less than 280 will likely get caught by the trees.
From the fairway, for players hitting 250-275 off the tee, not cutting the corner, a shot to the green is not likely, especially considering the hole plays uphill and the fronting bunker. From there, the player must again look at the pin position in order to play to the correct side of the fairway. Same as on #1, when the hole is cut right, the shot needs to come from the left; hole cut left, shot needs to come from the right.
On the green, there is significant movement across the huge green. Unfortunately, no pictures were taken from up close to show this. As an example, when played, the hole was cut roughly where the blue flag sits in the aerial below. That is on the top of a large and elevated shelf. This writer's 4th shot from played from the fringe near the bunker (did get up and down for par, btw). While looking at the shot, it was a very real possibility that a shot going by the hole with fractionaly too much speed could have rolled all the way off the green, and possibly 10-15 yards down the front approach. This green is solid.

From the tee, the player can see his options plainly. The straight shot down the fairway/rough line, the fade played on that same line, or the shot played over the trees. The trees are significantly taller than they appear in this picture.
This is the approach shot for the player hitting over the corner and making it about 285 yards. From here, the left side of the green is quite accessible and the right side can be accessed with a fade.

This from the 300 yard range off the tee. This opens up more of the green to players, making approaches to all hole locations easier.

Looking back down the fairway, the movement in the fairway, along with a few of the green contours can be seen.

Hole #6: Par 3, 234/194 yards
This is a hole where a solid run-up option would be an excellent addition. At 234 yards, it would be very difficult to hold a shot on the green when the greens are very firm. Add to that the difficult green contours and this hole has the potential to be extremely difficult for all but the most elite of golfers. But in general, this is a very quality hole and the internal green contours give the player a chance to work the ball around a bit once it hits the ground.

From the 194 yard tees, the hole looks much more inviting than it must from the back markers. Even still, the bunkers provide significant hazards for the player.
Hole #7: Par 4, 445/423 yards
Here we have yet another hole where the player's ability to position a tee shot can directly effect the relative ease of his second shot. From the back tees, all but the shortest of players will have to work a tee shot from left to right. From the purple spot marking the tee to the purple spot in the fairway is 275 yards, obviously the fairway runs out at this point. Certainly 275 yards is not a short distance to hit the ball, but the number of golfers really capable of playing a 7,400 yard golf course and not able to hit the ball that far are few. So the golfer must be able to work the ball off the tee unless he desires to hit a three wood off the tee.

From the purple tee marker, the blue and orange markers represent a shot hit 285 yards off the tee. Again, different hole positions require the player hit to different sides of the fairway, but on this hole, there is an additional run-up option available depending on fairway side and hole location. If the hole is located left, the preferred fairway side is right and if the hole is right, preferred fairway side is right, as it has been on several holes before. Those options are marked with the blue and orange spots to the blue and orange flags. But the front-center and center hole locations, marked with red flags, allow the player the option to roll the ball onto the green when playing from the right side of the fairway.

From the tee, the player will have to shape a left-to-right shot around the corner, the trees are simply too tall to carry. A direct line down the walking path will take the player to the spot where the fairway runs out at 275 yards.

 From the right side of the fairway, the left side of the green opens up and the opening in front of the green for roll-up shots is visible.

Hole #8: Par 4, 409/363 yards
This hole, playing from bottom to top in the image below, is the first hole of the day where the player does not need to focus greatly on positioning the tee shot. The angle to the green is not improved by a meaningful amount based on fairway positioning. The player must simply get the ball in play in the fairway in order to have a reasonable approach shot. From the black spot marking the back tee marker, the pair of golf cars in the fairway represent a shot of 285 yards off the tee. That is a substantial blow on this hole considering the uphill nature of the hole. On the approach to the green, the player will likely need to add two clubs in order to reach the green. There is nothing fancy about the hole, the player is simply asked to hit two straight shots.

From the tee, the player is afforded a plain look at the fairway. As with most holes, there are no bunkers here to steer the player in one direction or the other. Simply hit the ball in the fairway and get ready to hit again.
 This is the view from the fairway roughly 100 yards from the green. The opening between the bunkers is not nearly as large as it seems and the uphill movement of the hole makes the roll-up shot a non-option.

Looking back down the hole, the back to front contour of the green is visible, as is the steep face of the front-left bunker. 

Hole #9: Par 4, 422/382 yards
The two bunkers on the right side of the fairway protect the preferred line of approach to the green. These bunkers were added in recent years, winter 2005-2006 if the historical imagery on Google Earth is to be believed. From the back tee, marked with the purple spot in the shadows to the purple spot located directly above the bunkers, it is a 285 yard carry. The hole plays slightly uphill to there, so that would take a big hit to get past the bunkers from the back markers. 

The orange spot on the left side of the fairway shows 300 yards on the most conservative line. As you can see, even to the far right hole location, the angle of no bargain; certainly the approach shot from the left side is less and less desired the farther left the hole location moves. For the first time on the day, the player is clearly directed to hit the tee shot on a single line in order to have the preferred shot into the green. The roll-up option is also available from the right side of the fairway, even if the elevation change makes it a dicey shot.

 From the tee, the perfect line would be directly towards the pine tree standing alone against sky in the distance. This will give the best angle to the green.

This is the only image taken from the fairway. Sadly the golf car blocks the view of the roll-up approach slope. This tee shot found the left side of the fairway and obviously had a less than ideal approach angle.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Peachtree Trip

Full review on Peachtree is coming, some time is needed to look and ponder just how good the course really is. But a Top 5 ranking in the Johnny B Top 25 is almost assured.

But to the parts of the trip outside the course...

First, on the way into town while listening to the radio, a story came on about a young lad who's parents purchased him a $200,000 Ferrari for his 16th birthday. He proceeds, however long later, to get into a wreck and get rather severely injured. Poor guy. But on the Al Hunt Radio Show, as they are about to go to commercial, the producer starts playing Tom Petty's Mary Jane's Last Dance and Al starts saying a prayer for the lad who wrecked his car. The mixture of the song and the prayer was quite odd, certainly the producer must not have known a prayer was upcoming. Talking to the Lord while playing a song about drug use...don't hear that everyday.

Next, while on the interstate, a motorcycle comes by doing at least 125 mph. Does it make someone a terrible person for wishing they could turn directly in front of idiots like that and cause them to wipe out?

The atmosphere at Peachtree is very nice. Certainly golf only and understated. Anyone who bags in this course either hates any and everything associated with Robert Trent Jones and/or Bobby Jones or they flat out don't know what they're talking about. This course has "it," that is for sure.

Oh, one of the golfers playing in the group today was a member at Piedmont Driving Club. A conversation about the "incident" was never had. Link to said incident here: http://www.businessinsider.com/letter-from-president-of-atlantas-piedmont-driving-club-over-drunk-behavior-2012-6 for those who don't know.

All in all, this was a fun trip. The course was awesome, the drive not bad. Have to make effort to get to Atlanta a but more often.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Peachtree

On Monday, this writer will be playing Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, GA. Peachtree has a long history and is typically said the be the second best course in Georgia behind Augusta National.

Here is a link to an article on the Itinerant Golfer website:
http://theitinerantgolfer.com/peachtree-golf-club/

Pictures and a full review will be posted here shortly after playing on Monday. Should be a good day.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Problem with Golf Course Rankings

All the major golf magazines do it. It is done on this site. And most golfers rank the best courses they have played, though likely not in a list as large or complex as one of the magazines. But how do we define how different these courses are? How can you really say that one course is better than another when the numbers from some ultra-complex formula, submitted by numerous people, most of whom have likely not played both courses in question, only separate the courses by a tiny fraction?

Truth is, though the magazines would never admit this, you can not. As an example, in the current Golf Digest list, Los Angeles Country Club (North Course) ranks #47, Eagle Point Golf Club ranks #48; this writer has played the latter and not the former. The ranking score for LACC is 62.85, the score for EPGC is 63.83. Going only by the Digest methodology and not getting deep into personal preferences and such, is there really a difference between those two courses? The best answer is "not really." Of course you can go into the statistical break down of the individual categories and see that LACC is supposedly better in some areas while EPGC is better in others, but that basically only serves the purpose of justifying some bias as to why one SHOULD better than the other (something this writer is guilty of).

The same goes for the ranking seen on this site, either the Top 25 or the overall ranking. What really makes Tobacco Road (#14) better than Ross Bridge (#15)? That is all subjective. And so are the magazine lists. Because regardless of how many criteria they put in place or how many averages, the lists are still nothing more than an average of a given number of objective opinions.

Ross Bridge is an especially good example of potential bias, right here where you are reading. The course just flatly fit this writers eye. It was extremely long while not being boring. It had the best turf conditions seen thus far in Alabama. Even being ultra long, it had good variety. Those are all things that this writer likes to see on courses. And the ranking reflects that. This course fit many of the things that are good in golf courses in the South, where the majority of the courses profiled here are located.

But the bias does not extend to local area courses. How many raters go to Bandon Dunes having never played a links course elsewhere and skew the ranking they give the course, either positively or negatively. Same goes for any number of other courses that are supposedly the best in a given area. How often do people who live in that given area rate said course higher simply because it is the best in the area?

In the end rankings are fun to read and even fun to make on your own. But keep in mind that they are all either a single person's opinion or a compilation of opinions. They are certainly not factual data sets (though it is a fact that Eagle Point ranks #48 in the 2011 Golf Digest ranking), these lists are merely opinions. Take them as such and have fun.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shell's Wonderful World of Golf at Skibo Castle

This fantastic golf course is ranked the 34th best course in Scotland by top100golfcourses.co.uk; not bad considering the stout competition. Enjoy the trip around Skibo Castle Golf Club.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Turf Conditions

Let's face it, the majority of golfers want nice, vibrant green grass on the course. That is why golf courses flood the turf with water and fertilizer during the growing season and then overseed with a winter turf where possible. However, most golfers also like to see tee shots roll out an additional 15-20 yards. The problem comes when clubs attempt to mix those two. It is possible to maintain a vibrant green golf course on top of it playing firm and fast. But it takes significant money to do so. This is not ideal for the golfer or the club.

Wanting firm and fast at all times also fails to take into consideration both weather and geographic factors. Courses in the southeastern United States with their bermuda turf and typical afternoon rain storms are simply not going to be firm and fast for much of the year. Just the same with courses in Seattle or other rainy areas. Bermuda turf (not seen in Seattle, obviously) is simply not a firm and fast turf normally. It takes significant work to keep bermuda firm due to thatch build-up and such. It simply will not run as firm as a bent grass or fescue turf. Trying to do so is a fools errand and will cost a great amount.

No the key for all golf courses is to find that balance that maintains the green conditions that golfers want while cutting back on maintenance expense (water use, chemicals, labor). Green conditions are what golfers want, regardless of what pockets of golfers on certain Golf Architecture websites (where I frequent) want to say. The vast majority of golfers simply will not pay money to play a browned out golf course regardless of the quality of design or how much yardage they gain on tee shots.

The crowd that insists on firm and fast under all circumstances fails to understand the nature of the business nationwide and worldwide. Sure, Bandon Dunes could get 15 inches of rain overnight and the fairways still play firm. The sandy soil there runs water through it like a collander. But a great course like Pebble Beach does not have that luxurious soil. If it rains heavily at Pebble Beach, the course will be wet, simple as that. Sure, they could possibly install millions of dollars of subsurface drainage or dig out the fairways and cap them with a foot or two of sand, but who would pay for that? Eventually that cost will be filtered down to the consumer. And in truth, nothing would be gained.

The quest for firm and fast conditions all over, as said before, is simply a fools errand. There is frankly no reason to expect ANY course to maintain firm and fast conditions all the time. Doing so causes nothing more than an arms race of courses trying to keep up with each other and raising the price of golf for the average golfer. Hopefully those that try to preach about firm and fast at all times will wake up and realize the cost of doing so. Firm and fast simply does not work at all times.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

PGA.com Top 9 Courses in Alabama

Here is a link to the article:
http://www.pga.com/golf-courses/quick-nine/best-golf-courses-in-alabama#comment-5451

1. RTJ @ Silver Lakes
2. RTJ @ Grand National (Links)
3. RTJ @ Ross Bridge
4. RTJ @ Capitol Hill (Senator)
5. Limestone Springs
6. FarmLinks
7. Capstone Club
8. Azalea City
9. Timberlane

Well, I haven't played all of those. And of course this is a compilation of Facebook votes, not from the PGA directly. But having Azalea City at 8 when it is probably closer 58, is just a head scratcher. Oh well. All for fun I suppose.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Maryland National Golf Club-Middletown, MD

This course is both very good and very bad. Part of the course is routed over higher ground and those holes are quite good. The other part of the course is routed beside, over, and around a creek that bisects the property and those are generally quite poor. This course has the potential to be very good. The first five holes start the golfer off with high quality golf. 6 is a fair par 3 by itself, but it is a virtual twin to the 17th and rather similar to the 14th. This is a Jekyll and Hyde golf course, some holes are outstanding, 6 or 7 quality, and others are terrible, 1 and 2 quality.

Variety of Design: Not exceptional, but not bad. 3 of the 5 par 3's play significantly downhill and there is limited variety in yardage. The par 4's have significant ranges in yardage, but the two shortest ones are quite poor. The par 5's are a real highlight of the course and have very quality designs. But oddly, there are no holes that play uphill, and many that play downhill. The uphill spots are traveled by cart. Hole directions are also out of balance. 5

Flow of the Course: The course does flow, but not due to hole features. It flows due to having good and poor holes. But in general, the flow is only moderate. 4 1/2

Course Conditioning: Top quality. The greens and fairways are both well maintained and the course runs firm. 7 1/2

Ease of Walking: This would be a difficult course to walk. The routing is not exceptional, having some large distances between holes, many of those being uphill. If you try to walk here, you'd better be in very good shape. 2

Atmosphere: Very little. Course has no tournament history. The designer, Arthur Hills, is not likely to bring in a large number of people. And the course has no other known history. 1

Total: 46.5

Holes to Note
Hole #2: Par 5, 585 yards
This is a very picturesque downhill par 5. The play from the tee is to play the shot down the left side, over the bunkers, and then let the ball run out down the fairway. The green might be reachable in two shots for the longer players if they can get the ball to run out and not be blocked out by the tree in the middle of the fairway. This can be a birdie hole if the player hits 2 or 3 solid shots.

 From the tee, the hole spreads out nicely. The best play is towards the peak of the small mountain in the distance.
This shot from the tee ran through the fairway and to the right side. This is not the shortest approach, but has a good angle, being able to avoid the tree. This may be the best hole on the course.

Hole #7: Par 5, 542 yards
The second in a fantastic set of par 5's. This hole plays over flat ground but is shaped in such a way as to provide good interest on all shots. The tee shot is influenced by a large bunker cutting deeply into the right side of fairway at 285 yards from the tee. Longer players may have to play less than driver from the tee in order to avoid this bunker. There is also the option for them to attempt to hit a drive into the fairway that is to the left of the bunker, though it is only 20 yards wide. And of course, if the player is tremendously long off the tee, he can attempt to carry the bunker, a hit of about 325 yards in the air. The second shot is then influenced by a very large mound, again on the right side of the hole. Players who do not navigate this mound very well will have a difficult shot into the green over bunkers. Players finding the top of the mound or past is on the right side will have an easy approach.
 From the tee, the bunkers is visible as two small bunkers; the majority of the bunker being blind. 

 The mound visible in the center of the image must be navigated on the second shot.

No easy approach awaits for this player who failed to successfully navigate his way around the mound.

Hole #12: Par 3, 246 yards
This is a solid, long par 3 playing downhill from the tee. The hole allows the player to run the ball onto the green, as would be expected for a hole this long. This is certainly the best par 3 on the golf course.
 The green is slightly left of the center of the picture. This is likely the highest point on the course and gives the player a stunning view of the surrounding area.

The flat approach leading to the green slopes off to the left for shots that are pulled or hooked. This hole would be a solid addition to nearly any golf course.

Hole #16: Par 4, 336 yards
This may be the worst hole this writer has ever played. There is so much going on here that it's a virtual car wreck. The hole plays pinched between a hill on the right and the creek on the left. The problem is that the hole is so narrow that anything more than an iron is not a smart play. Couple that with the fact that the creek crosses the fairway at about 220 yards off the tee, and requires roughly a 240 yard carry to make it across. And the cart path crosses directly across the fairway and then is pushed hard against the fairway down the left side. If Arthur Hills has ever designed a hole worse than this, that course needs to be shut down. 
 From the back tee, it is easy to see how tight the hole plays. The bunker visible in the center is green side.
 From closer, the creek crossing the fairway is visible and all the other gruesome features of the hole are more visible as well.
From the lay-up area short of the creek, the hole gets no better. Any shot hit left will be lost in the creek and anything right will likely be lost up the hill. The only good thing about this hole is that it ends.

This course had potential to be very good. Instead it comes out as something just average due to some very poor holes coupled with the very good ones. 4 out of 10.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Course Rating Methodology

So obviously there is a full page of this site dedicated to rating individual courses on a 1-10 scale, with the special designator of 0 also in place. But what methodology is used to determine the ranking for each individual course? There are numerous factors that are considered in determining the final number. Variety of design, of course, is one. Course conditioning. Ease of walking. How well a course "flows." Atmosphere. On and off course scenery. Finally, and hopefully not much, personal bias. But in order to understand those words, perhaps some more definition is in order.

Variety of Design: The best courses prompt golfers to hit all manner of different shots. Variety in the course design will always produce a variety of different shots played. Here, the key things to look for are the balance of straight, left, and right moving holes. That number will almost never be 6-6-6 simply because par 3's are almost always straight, but the closer the numbers are together, generally, the better the course you will find. Another key feature of design variety comes in variety of approach distances. How much difference in effective yardage is seen in the par 3's? Do the par 4's and 5's mandate thought from the tee or is the player merely able to "fire away?" How varied are the effective approach yardages to those holes? On the par 5's, are they all long irons to the green or is at least one of them long enough to prompt the player to hit 3 solid full shots? This is really the key metric to determine course greatness.

Course Conditioning: This really just looks at the condition of the fairways and greens. Bunker sand typically will not considered unless is greatly effects play (i.e. the sand is so deep and fluffy that balls plug two inches deep on every shot that winds up in the bunker or something similar) The rough and beyond will also not be considered often because, well, rough is meant to be rough and not friendly. The first thing to look at in the fairway is frankly whether or not the entire fairway is grass and has no significant bare spots. Second, how dense and smooth is the playing surface in the fairway. The same conditions go for the green. The speed of the greens in relation to putting surface contours will also be considered. And finally how firm the golf course plays will be strongly considered.

Ease of Walking: Flat out, a course that cannot be walked with relative ease will not be ranked highly. Typically it will not be viewed as a negative if a large hill is navigated during the play of the hole and is integrated as a solid design feature. But a course that plays a hole over flat ground then requires the player hike up or down a large/steep hill to get to the next holes that also plays on flat ground will certainly have that considered a negative. Excessive green to tee walks or long detours around ravines, creeks or the like will also be considered negatives.

The "Flow" of the Course: The best golf courses, same as the best movies, build up and cool down multiple times over the span of the course/show. How well the course does this is crucial in making a determination of the quality of the course. This takes into consideration use of scenery, hole difficulty, use of natural features and how the use of those ebb and flow through the round.

Atmosphere: This is more the club features. Clubhouse, the feel on the first tee, history of the club and so forth. While these things should not skew how the course itself it viewed, the truth is, in most people, it does. Might as well be honest and have it in the open from the start.

Personal Bias: This is obviously another one of those things that shouldn't matter but almost always does. Anything from favoring or disliking a certain designer, to certain design features, even something as simple as pace of play can have an affect on the rating assigned to a course. Same as with Atmosphere, best to just admit this can be the case and move on with it.


Specific Course Examples:
Pebble Beach
Variety of Design: Outstanding. Play clubs from the tee (on par 4's and 5's) can/will range from Driver down to hybrids or long irons; that is about as much as can be expected without trying to force something odd onto the course. The par 3's range from sand wedge (on 7) to 3 iron or more depending on wind (on 12), again, that is as good as one will likely see. Same with approach clubs to the greens, they can range from a very short club on 2 or 4 to long irons or a fairway wood on 13, with 14 certainly being a 3 shot par 5. The course also plays uphill, downhill, with and against the wind but does have a slight imbalance in the play of holes, having only two holes play to the left with 8 holes playing each straight and right. There is, of course, a great reason for that, the course still lacks balance and indeed that may be the only negative about the design variety. Not perfect, but 9 1/4 is certainly a reasonable number.

Flow of the Course: Easiest way to say this is that if there is a course that flows better than this one, it has not yet been seen by this writer. When he finds one, he'll change the rating. 10

Course Conditioning: Bottom line, neither the fairways nor greens have a single blade of grass out of place. If the course were slightly firmer, it would be pushing very close to 10 here, but 9 1/2 is not bad.

Ease of Walking: This is certainly not the easiest course to walk. Having to cross a road between 2 and 3 is certainly not a great positive. Same with the walk to get to the 6th tee. Other than that, the walk is not bad. The hills are crossed during the play of the hole and the average green to tee distance is not great. Overall, 9 on the walking, perhaps even a touch better than that for those not playing the blue tees (less than 9 for those playing the US Open tees...which is likely no one reading this).

Atmosphere: Very high. Outstanding tournament history. Great feel on the first tee. Incredible scale. The walk up 18 is simply incredible. Anytime you play a course having as high of expectations as one likely has with Pebble, and then the course exceedes those expectations, it's something special. 9 3/4 here.

Personal Bias: Well, that's all ready included in the numbers you see above.

Total: Variety of Design and Flow of the Course will be weighted 3 times, Course Conditioning weighted twice, with Ease of Walking and Atmosphere weighted once to come up with a final total of 100 possible points. Final Score- 95.5

Ross Bridge
Variety of Design: The player will likely never hit less than driver on a non-par 3 hole from the tee. At least from the back markers that is the case. The par 3's have slight variety, but none will be approached with less than a long iron. The par 4's will all involve mid to long iron approaches and the par 5's are all 3 shot holes with wedge approaches. As far as variety in directions, the course does very well, having 6 holes play to the left, 5 going right, and 7 playing straight. It also manages to play uphill and downhill rather well. 7 for variety

Flow of the Course: This course flows as well as it can given it's extreme length and limited variety. But the difficulty in holes and scenery make for the variety. The course moves from easy, to moderate, to heroic, to easy and does it quite well. Also the scenery on some of the holes around water and looking over the valley and onto the ridge line is quite nice. This course does well to not overload the players with too much visual information. Great variety here, 8 overall.

Course Conditioning: This course does very well being located in the deep south and having bent grass greens. While not keep up with Pebble Beach, this course have very good conditioning over all, though it could handle being a bit firmer in general. 7 1/2

Ease of Walking: This is tough to evaluate because the course is carts only. However, if they were to allow walking, it would be very difficult. Some of the largest hills on the course are traveled between holes and there are several significant green to tee distances. Sadly, this course is a 2 for walking, but they all ready knew that.

Atmosphere: This course was impressive in the way it maintained quality given it's length. There was an expectation and anticipation coming into the round given the length and notariety of the course, and it did not disappoint. 5 out of 10

Total: 67

RTJ Golf Trail @ Magnolia Grove (Crossings)
Variety of Design: Not exceptional. Par 3's all play as medium to long holes. Par 4's all require mid-iron approaches, par 5's are all approached with short wedges. Virtually all approaches have no option for a rolling approach. The directional variety is just fair, having 10 straight holes, and 4 each playing left and right. 4 3/4

Flow of the Course: The flow is somewhat flatlined until the end of the round. The first has little to get the golfer really excited or really difficult, yet it has no breaks in the action either. The course does pick up for a strong finish on 16-17-18, but the perceived quality of that might actually be skewed by the fact that there is little to get the blood flowing in the rest of the round. 4 1/2

Course Conditioning: This course is generally wetter than would be favorable. Area rainfall is not the only factor in that, the course lays down plenty of water on it's own. As such, the fairways as almost always rather soft. They are full with no bare spots, same as the greens. The greens are generally rather nice, better than the fairways. But this course is certainly not one where you will be wowed by the turf. 5

Ease of Walking: The course is easier than Ross Bridge, listed above, but that is not saying much. This is a very difficult course to walk, having numerous long walks, several of 250 yards or more. At least the course travels over most of the largest hills during the play of holes. 4

Atmosphere: There is decent atmosphere here. The scale of the clubhouse, the service provided by the club, and the quality of the practice facilities are all top notch. There will also likely be some type of anticipation to play here by all. Also, the course has good tournament history, currently hosting an LPGA Tour event. 4 1/4

Total: 46

Duplin Country Club (note: the name of this course may have been changed to Majestic Pines, information is unclear)
Variety of Design: Very little. 16 holes are virtually straight and two holes dogleg right within 100 yards of the green. Greens have little interest and most approach clubs are short irons. 1 1/2

Flow of the Course: Flatlined. Virtually no ups or downs. No changes in scenery and so forth. 2

Course Conditioning: Fair, greens were bumpy, fairways had some bare spots. 2

Ease of Walking: Actually quite good. The transitions are easy, with only a long walk from 9 to 10 and 18 back to the clubhouse. 9

Atmosphere: None. 1

Total: 24.5

The number for Pebble Beach is nearly as high as possible. No course is perfect and even among the handful of courses that might surpass Pebble Beach at #1 on the list here, those will likely not score 100. It is also unlikely that a course will score as low as 10, which is as low as the scoring can go.

All new course reviews posted will have this matrix added in.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ryder Cup- Wrap up

8 1/2 to 3 1/2 on the final day.

That ties the record for the worst final day defeat in the Ryder Cup since the current format was adopted in 1981.

That level of collapse is unbelievable. It has been written here before this writers thoughts on "pressure" in athletics. Sitting here this morning, writing or reading, it occurs to me that if I messed up that bad at my job, and make no mistake about it, golf is a job, nothing less for these guys, I would go to jail.

Some people have tried to pin the loss on the poor play of Jim Furyk or Steve Stricker, the captain's picks. Yes, Steve Stricker went 0-4 in this Ryder Cup. Furyk was 1-2 in the Cup. But the fact is, the team had a four point lead going into Sunday. They only needed win four of the twelve matches and tie one to win the Ryder Cup. So that allows for seven match losses. Even with Stricker and Furyk losing on the final day, that still leaves five losses to spare. No, this is not the fault of those two golfers.

This burden lies with the whole team. Every golfer on the American side went out on Sunday and played sub-standard golf. A quick look down the list will show that nearly every player on the American side shot rounds of one or two under par. That simply will not cut it in match play. Brandt Snedeker has taken some heat for his loss to Paul Lawrie, which makes sense on the surface until you notice that Lawrie was six under par in 15 holes.

No, this was an entire team failure for the Americans. From top to bottom, the team played terrible.

But what does this mean for the US side going forward? One obvious thought is that veteran players are not exceptionally valueable for the US team. Looking back at the 2008 Ryder Cup team, the team was populated with six Ryder Cup rookies. That statistic should be noted by all given the generally terrible play of veteran golfers; even in 2008, Phil Mickelson went 1-2-2 in the competition. No, the truth is, these veteran golfers have such mental demons due to having been beaten so many times.

Whatever happens, this team will have plenty of time to think about their terrible play on the final day. No way around it, the US team truly pulled defeat from the tight jaws of victory and has let Europe retain the Cup for another two years when it had no business doing so. Obviously the Europeans got no sleep last night, nor should they have. Hopefully the Americans got no sleep either, for the opposite reasons.