Friday, November 30, 2012

My Dream Course

So I've talked elsewhere about routing a "dream course" and I'd put this routing together back in January, but I'd never been able to get back out in the woods to take some pictures. I finally got to go out last week on my birthday, wander around the woods. Here are some images from my dream golf course that has virtually no chance of ever being built.

The aerial and routing, for refreshment:

Existing improved entrance road

Clubhouse location right in the fork of the road

The range location from near the first tee

First tee site, hole would roughly follow the road. Would you look at that sandy soil.

Looking towards #1 green site

Second tee. Hole would play straight out, trees would be removed, green would butt up to the marsh on the left

Second green would be in this stand of trees

Third hole plays from here, up towards the woods, just to the right of that knife of trees coming out. The left edge of the fairway would track roughly in line with the hay bale in the center of the image.

The green would be located just over this natural pond

Close up of the 3rd green site. I think I'd like to have a large right to left slope (towards the camera) coming in from 20 or so yards right of the pond. The slope would be there to give any golfer the chance to avoid the forced carry if they wanted.

As you can see, the trees get a bit more dense beyond the 3rd green site, so pictures don't do much good from there...

This is the far reaches of the landing area on #10. The hole would play directly into the center of the image.

From the other side of the pond, the hole again plays straight down through the field, meadow, whatever you wish to call it.

Hole 11 plays straight away towards the trees in the distance, roughly flat, perhaps slightly uphill.

Hole 12, on the best piece of land, I think, starts from here and plays down into the trees. Sadly the trees are so dense the hole can't really be seen.

This is the view from just off the back of the 12th green

13 plays from here, off into the wilderness, and would hug the marsh/water line.

A look out over the entire open field from what would be the right side of the 13th fairway. From here, the course goes back into the dense woods for a while.

The darker, more vibrant green areas on the map look like this from the ground. There are small creeks in here, not sure how many, but they are not substantial from what I saw, perhaps 5 feet wide at most.

From what would be the 18th green, looking straight down the tree obscured fairway

Looking down the un-improved road, the 18th hole would play diagonally across here, the 17th would run parallel to the road, and the 16th green would be located at the edge of the trees you can see in the distance at the 'end' of the road. Did I mention we had sandy soil?

Well, hope you enjoy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tot Hill Farm Golf Golf Club-Asheville, NC

Tot Hill Farm is another Mike Strantz creation. Given that it is part of a housing development, it would seem as though this course was intended to be more of a member's course opposed to Tobacco Road being a resort course. As such, the course lacks some of the extreme features seen at Tobacco Road. It also lacks some of the quality architecture that Tobacco Road has. But this course is certainly above average and has enough design quality to keep even the snobbiest of golfers entertained.

Variety of Design: Fair. Among the par 3's, the course lacks a very short hole and also lacks more than a mid-iron hole. The par 4's are all approached with short irons and the par 5's are all reachable in two shots, though in at least one case that is highly dangerous (to the golfer's scorecard). Directional variety is very good with 6 holes going left, 5 holes going straight, and 8 holes playing straight (18 can be played as dogleg left or a straight hole). 6 1/2 out of 10

Flow of the Course: Given the lack of variety, the course lacks the ability to really build to a climax. The 5th, 12th and possibly 18th holes provide high points to the round, but overall, the flow is closer to a flat line rather than a roller coaster. 6 out of 10

Conditioning: This course is among the mid to high level of courses in the Pinehurst area (though geographically it is on the far reaches, it shares a strong partnership with Tobacco Road) and conditioning is fitting. 7 out of 10

Ease of Walking: The hilly nature of the course make walking difficult and some long green to tee transitions make it more difficult still. 3 1/2 out of 10

Atmosphere: Being designed by Mike Strantz likely adds some thrill and anticipation to the course but beyond that, nothing more than the "course up the street." 3 out of 10

Total: 58

Holes to Note
Hole #1: Par 4, 448 yards
This is no easy opening hole...a Strantz feature. The playable portion of the fairway is blind from the tee, indeed the player may want to walk forward 50 yards or so in order to get a good view of the fairway. The hole is a hard dogleg left and the best play will be close down the tree line. Once in the fairway, the player can play directly over a depression short of the green or run the ball up from the right side. Solid, but potentially difficult, opening hole.

The best play hugs the tree line. The fairway on the hill in the distance is about 375 yards from the tee.

This is the view from around 180 yards. The player can either go directly over the depression and risk a pulled shot going in the creek or play a shot out to the right with a draw and roll it up on the green.

Hole #5: Par 5, 535 yards
This is a fantastic and very scenic par 5. This one fits the Macdonald template of a Cape hole. The player can play out to the left and take the safe route or aim out towards the hill/mountain in the distance and possibly left with a much shorter shot to the green. Given the yardage, the player might be within his range to go for the green in two shots, but that is very difficult. The green is surrounded with rocks and has two very distinct tiers. While being within range of long irons, the hole is clearly better approached with a very short iron.

From the tee, the scrubby depression is visible. Players can play out to the left or towards the mountain.

This is the view from the left side of the fairway after a play out to the left. The longest players can play over the larger trees to the left of the fairway from the tee.

This view of the green shows the disaster waiting on all sides. The tier is around 6 feet high. The green is surrounded with rocks and there is a sharp fall off behind the green. Approach this green with a long iron at your own risk.

Hole #9: Par 4, 371 yards
This hole is very difficult from the tee if the player uses a driver. Driver from the tee would require the player to play up the far right side and hit a fade around the corner in order to find the fairway (for the longer players). The best play is a fairway wood out to the wide part of the fairway where the signs are visible. From there, the player should be left with a short iron to a highly elevated green. 

From the tee, the player can see the fairway and is able to make his choice from there.

From position up near the forward tees, the uphill nature of the hole is clear. Players choosing to hit a driver off the tee will be left with a shot off the severe upslope. The best play from the tee is a fairway wood to position near the signs. That will give the player a mostly flat lie to the skyline green in the distance. The false front of the green is also visible.

This is the view from the fairway. The bottom of the flagstick is not visible to the player. As seen in the previous image, being long enough is critical as shots left short will roll back a significant distance off the green.

Hole #12: Par 4, 392 yards
This hole fits the Strantz template of the Fishhook (my term), but this is the only one that is a par 4. The best play is down the left near the water. From there, the player is left with a simple shot to the green.

This hole has a lot of built up rocks near the water. The best play is down the left near the water.

The green is located out on a peninsula and again surrounded by rocks. This hole is very scenic, if a bit overdone.

Hole #15: Par 3, 143 yards
This short hole is played sharply downhill to a green located in a bowl. There is also a creek fronting the green. Again, this hole is rather scenic, though a bit "busy" and perhaps a little overdone.

Hole #17: Par 4, 411 yards
As described before, this is the Template Road hole. The hole plays mid-length from the tee, likely approached with a wedge. The green butts up tight against the road in the background and has a fronting hazard. Very solid hole to bring the round to the final hole.
From the tee, the player will have the best angle to the green from the right side of the fairway. The utility pole in the distance, centered on the fairway, provides the best aiming point.

The green is shaped to deflect shots in all directions. Short shots will roll back, shots too far left will be deflected farther left, possibly down into the hazard. This is one of the best greens on the course.

Overall, this course is good, but not excellent. As seen in the images, the course gets a bit busy with rocks and other features in certain spots. 5 out of 10

Monday, November 26, 2012 Best Links-style courses in the US

From that link, we get the 'Quick 9' list of the best links-style courses in America.

The list:
9. Pebble Beach Golf Links
8. Newport National Golf Club
7. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
6. The Ocean Course
5. Chambers Bay
4. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
3. Erin Hills
2. Whistling Straits
1. Nags Head Golf Links

I suppose the list was meant to be all in good fun, but I have a few issues with it.

First, Pebble Beach is a "links" in name only. The turf conditions, both naturally caused and man-made, generally prevent the running style of golf seen at links courses. Even the turf type is not links turf. No, Pebble is certainly no links course, unless we are to redefine the genre.

Second, the four courses at Bandon Dunes being grouped into one entry is a travesty. I could, perhaps, see one of the courses left off the list (I think Bandon Trails is a sandy heathland course, but that is another matter) but grouping them all together is simply strange. And given some of the other entries on the list, a obvious show of ignorance.

Third, Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits are built on reclaimed land with massive earth moving done to create the courses. That alone is not a disqualifier, but does prompt a more detailed look.

Fourth, Erin Hills is located 25 miles, is more, from the shores of Lake Michigan. That is not linksland by any conventional definition.

Finally, there is Nags Head, perched at Number 1. This is simply not a links course. I've played the majority of my golf on bermuda turf and I can tell you it's not links turf. Not to mention houses...I'll stop. But I have no state pride here. More embarrassment at the general ignorance of golfers. Saddens me, really.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Playing New Courses

What drives people to continue playing new golf courses? Surely it must not be boredom with their home course, otherwise they would pick a new one. I can not speak for everyone, to be sure, but I am certainly not driven by boredom. Typically I find myself motivated to play a new course simply for variety and fun. However, other times, I play a new course because I intend to learn something specific about golf design and/or features. But both of these amount to one thing, I play new courses "because they are there."

New courses are simply fun to play, even when the course is poor quality. There is always some level of excitement in seeing new features and holes for the first time. Even on courses that have been seen before, the excitement exists in seeing new features that were missed previously. New courses also provide variety. This variety can be anything from different shot types into greens to having to shape shots off the tee when that may not be required at the home course. Playing new courses, seeing this variety, keeps the golf game sharp by having to play new and different shots, rather than the same ones time after time.

Sometimes, though, I find myself going to new courses to see specific things. Perhaps, it may be that the course is generally highly regarded and worth seeing. It may be that a course is worth seeing because it was done by a specific designer on a specific type of site. But these courses are visited with a specific purpose and desire for growth in course design knowledge. 

At all times though, for the same reasons skydivers jump and climbers climb, I play new courses simply because they are there. Most of the time, I really need no reason to play a new course beyond  the fact that the door is open and the cash drawer accepting of my money. 

I don't intend to ever stop playing new golf courses....well, unless I manage to play every golf course that is currently in existence. Of course that will not happen. It is simply too much fun to go and play new golf courses, either with friends or with strangers who I meet on the first tee. That is one of the great joys of golf.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Arcadian Shores

Johnny B playing some Jones family golf tomorrow. Robert Trent Jones, Se. classic at The Dunes and a Rees Jones design at Arcadian Shores. Dunes and Arcadian Shores are both prior Golf Digest Top 100 in America and Dunes is currently ranked among the Top 100 Public Courses in America. Should be quite a fun day. Photo tours and reviews to come shortly.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Walking Golfers Society

So while I haven't said it directly, it could have been assumed by reading some of my previous postings about walking the course and having walkability being a key factor in my course ratings, I am a member of The Walking Golfer's Society. I am also involved in some of the website management. This is a great organization that is being run to provide golfer's who walk the course a place to go and be around like-minded individuals.

The Society and it's website is a great resource for golfers wishing to travel to different locations and find out what courses in that area are walker-friendly. The Walkability Rating section of the website lists courses using four different colors, Green-Yellow-Orange-Red, in terms of how walkable the courses are. Green being the easiest, Red the most difficult. There is also another color, Gray, for courses that are carts only. There is a huge number of courses currently rated on the scale and the Society is certainly accepting new ratings.

The website also has numerous Interviews and Articles, some by highly recognized individuals and golf writers. These articles range from personal testimonies on the benefits of walking to travel guides for different areas. These are a great resource for all golfers.

Course reviews also exist on the Society website, profiling a number of courses not available here.

At present, we are trying to plan a national Society event for next summer in Colorado. I am also trying to plan one for early next year in the Florida Panhandle or Southwestern Alabama.

This Society is something that we are trying to turn into a thriving online community for walking golfers. Hopefully you will swing by and join us. Enjoy the walk.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Course Reviews Master List

This is the master list of all course reviews done on this site, organized by State.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Lakewood Golf Club (Azalea)
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove (Short)
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley (Ridge)
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley (Short)
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley (Valley)
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Ross Bridge
Spring Hill Golf Course

Anchorage Golf Course
Eagleglen Golf Course
Fishhook Golf Course
Moose Run Golf Club (Creek)
Moose Run Golf Club (Hill)
Palmer Golf Course
Settlers Bay Golf Course

Pebble Beach Golf Links

Scenic Hills Country Club

Peachtree Golf Club

Maryland National Golf Club

North Carolina
Old Town Club
Tobacco Road
Tot Hill Farm

South Carolina
Arcadian Shores Golf Club
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

Cahoon Plantation Golf Club
Golden Horseshoe Golf Club (Gold)
Mattaponi Springs Golf Club
Royal New Kent Golf Club
Stonehouse Golf Club

Tobacco Road Golf Course-Sanford, NC

Mike Strantz is one of the most original designers of the past 25 years or so. In many ways, it is that originality that keeps him from being recognized in the same light as designers like Pete Dye and Tom Doak. Strantz was at his wildest and most original here. And sadly, that might have hurt the course. This course has a large number of blind or mostly blind shots, as many as 9 depending on how one counts. This has led many to characterize the course as unsafe, and it some ways, it may be. But that notwithstanding, the course is fantastic. Strategic and/or heroic options exist on nearly every hole. But too often people look at this course as something of a freak show. That is sad. While this course is not a top 100 design it is certainly in the upper crust of public courses and one that people should certainly attempt to see.

Variety of Design: Very good. Par 3's have solid variety in the middle and lower ends of the spectrum, only lacking a long hole. Par 4's are also greatly varied, from driveable to over 450 yards. And the par 5's all have strategic interest, with holes 1 and 13 potentially being full 3 shot holes depending on manner of play. For directional variety, the course has 7 holes playing to the left, 5 holes playing to the right, and 8 holes playing straight; 1 hole can be played either straight or as dogleg left and 1 is a double-dogleg, so numbers don't add to 18. 8 out of 10

Flow of the Course: One drawback to the course's originality is that it can provide a visual overload for the player. The blind shots, massively contoured greens, hazards, and such does a bit to take away from the flow of the course. The player is at something of a high point for the entire round. It does flow from the point of view of shot types, but never builds to that "big finish." 6 1/2 out of 10

Conditioning: Good. While it was nothing spectacular, the conditioning was on the same level as the comparable courses in the area, which was very good. 7 1/2 out of 10

Ease of Walking: Difficult. The course can be walked, and the course does allow it, but it is not easy. Some of the holes are spread out, many of the holes have substantial hills, and the summer temperatures (if you decide to play during that time) are oppressive. 5 out of 10

Atmosphere: There is no country club aura here. This place is a golf club, plain and simple. There will likely be some level of anticipation for the golfer playing here, but overall, this is just an average club. 4 out of 10

Total: 67.5

Holes to Note
*Note* On this review, the holes to note will be a more detailed description of those holes mentioned as CB Macdonald Template Holes in THIS article, with two additional holes.

All images taken by and used with permission from The Buffalo Golfer

Hole #1: Par 5, 558 yards
This is the Alps hole of the course. In fact, it is something of a Double Alps hole given that the tee shot must be played over a mound to a blind fairway, as must either the second or third shot, depending on hoe one chooses to play. The large hills flanking the fairway determine play. A conservative golfer can play out to the visible fairway off the tee and then lay short of the hills on the second shot, leaving a mid-iron to the green, or he can play directly over the left hill and then play over the center of the mounds for his second shot, leaving 50 yards or so to the green. This is one of the most visually intimidating first holes you will ever play and certainly not a "gentle handshake" to start the round...more like a handshake twisted into a chokehold.

 From the tee, the player is confronted with two giant mounds. The hills in the distance are reachable from the tee for longer players. Those players must play to the left over hill to a blind fairway.

 From the center of the fairway, the player is confronted with another blind shot. From here, the player can lay short of the hills or go over them. The green is located on a line opposite the sandy area on the hill in the background.

From the left side of the fairway, the approach to the green is obscured by this set of bunkers.

Hole #2: Par 4, 377 yards
This hole bears similarity to the Road Hole template. Certainly the length is 'wrong' but the characteristics of play are quite similar. From the tee (where the shot in general resembles the Sahara), the player is given two options, play safely out to the left to the flat portion of the fairway, or play to the right, blindly over the large hills that guard that side of the fairway. Not all that dissimilar to playing over the hotel. From the fairway, the player who played to the left will be hitting a middle iron into the green, the player hitting to the right will be left with a pitching wedge or perhaps less (oddly enough, those are the same clubs used by tour pro's on the real Road Hole these days). Into the green the player is confronted with a deep scar bunker directly centered on the green waiting like a magnet to collect balls and the green is guarded long by a sharp drop-off to a bunker and brushy waste area.

 The safe line off the tee is to play a bit right of the left tee marker visible here. The aggressive line is over the right tee marker, or even a bit right of that. This is the blind Road Hole tee shot.

Into the green, the player can play a draw to the green, but must avoid the bunker centered on the green. Players going long will be confronted with a shot from a deep, vertically faced bunker.

Hole #3: Par 4, 152 yards
This green, having a mostly flat area in front, a depression in the center, and flat plateau in the rear strikingly resembles the Biarritz green complex. The length of the hole prevents the rolling approach in most cases, but that does not take away from the green having the necessary form.

The flat front level, the center depression, and the back tier can be seen here. The back is elevated slightly above the front on this green and the right side is elevated allowing balls to run back.

Hole #4: Par 5, 525 yards
This is a template hole, but not of the Macdonald School. Mike Strantz started out working for Tom Fazio. Many of Fazio's designs have this basic hole form. The Quarry, Boomerang, Fishhook (my choice), whatever you want to call it, these holes all offer the player to play two aggressive shots and reach the green in two shots. On this particular hole, the player needs to play his tee shot down the left side of the fairway in order to have a reasonable shot to the green in two shots. Then he must play his second over a sandy waste area that butts up to the green on the left side and long.

 From the tee, the shot should be played as close as possible to the bunker down the left if the player wants to go for the green in two.

This is the shot facing the player who chooses to go for the green in two shots. Not visible here is the run-up area that the player can use if playing slightly out to the right with a draw, roughly over the small bush that can be seen in the center of the image.

Hole #12: Par 4, 419 yards
The Cape hole. This hole gives the player the chance to play his shot out over the bunker down the left side as far as he wants. The fairway narrows down greatly at one point, but beyond that, there is enough room for any shot to land. The safe player can play straight down the fairway short of where it pinches in and then go to the green from there.

Standard Cape tee shot. The player can play short of where the fairway pinches at the trees, roughly 235 off the tee. The aggressive player can go left of those trees to however far left he is wishes to go. 
This is the shot to the green for the player hitting short of the trees. As you can see, the bunker gets deeper the farther left the player goes off the tee.

Hole #13: Par 5, 573 yards
This hole could be considered a Cape from the tee, but that is likely not visible to the player on the initial play. As it is, this hole is a Punchbowl due to the location of the green, though a case could be made for Alps as well. In some ways, this hole showcases everything that people find wrong with Tobacco Road. The Cape is a good hole. The Alps is a good hole. The Punchbowl is a good hole. Mixed together like they are here and it simply becomes too much for a player to take in within such a short span of time. As far as the hole goes, the simple, safe and common play is to go straight out off the tee to the large fairway, playing 220 +/- yards. The aggressive player can play out over the trees to the right at an angle of up to about 75 degrees from the front and be left with 150 yards or less to the green, assuming he hits a perfect shot. From the fairway, the player must pick a yardage to hit the second shot in order to leave himself with a preferred yardage into the green. The green is sunken inside a deep bowl and there is no possibility of a ground approach. This is not a bad hole, but it really just has too much going on, too many moving parts.

 This is the view for the player playing out straight off the tee. The fairway runs out at roughly 240 yards from here. The aggressive player can try to go over the trees on the right, as mentioned above, anything up to about 75 degrees to the right of this view will be safe if played with enough length.

 From the main fairway, the second shot should be played towards the silo in the distance. Anything left of that will be unplayable.

 This the shot to the green. Unlike most Punchbowl greens, this one is bowled off in the front. Only the short walk path keeps the green from being completely surrounded. This shot is also taken from just forward of the tee shot location for those players going over the trees.

The Punchbowl green is clearly visible in this image. It would be a better Punchbowl is the love grass around the green was removed and replaced with a standard turf grass.

Hole #18: Par 4, 432 yards
The tee shot plays over a massive sea of sand that rises up and obscures the fairway from view. The Sahara. This hole has more room than the player might think. Beyond the trees to the right, the fairway is very deep, extending perhaps 50 yards into the trees. But the best play is to favor the center of the fairway. Too far to the right will leave a significant distance to the green and too far to the left will almost certainly be a blind shot and may even be blocked out by trees. The green then gives players no easy finish being multi-tiered and sloping from front to back.
 This is the Sahara tee shot. The shot must carry the sandy waste area and the cliff. Going down the center of the opening is the preferred line. Going over the trees may leave the player a shot, depending on how far right it is, but the shot will be longer.

 This is the approach to the green. Even from the center of the fairway, the flag is obscured if placed back left like it is here.

The multi-tiered green slopes from front to back.

Overall, this is a very solid golf course. It does get a bit too extreme in spots, but typically walks the line between conservative and out-of-hand very well. Certainly this is a course that everyone should see at least once. You might love it, you might hate it, but you will certainly come out with some different thoughts on golf. 6 out of 10