Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Some thoughts from Trinity Forest

Full-out architecture fans had been looking forward to the Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest, perhaps as some sort of statement that somehow the architects of the course are clearly the best. Just remember that Professional Men's Golf is not Golf and as I wrote a week ago, we like what we like, we ought to recognize why and test ourselves more. Golf is life and we kid ourselves if we stick to things that flatter our strengths and hide realities from us. The fact is that this course set up "the proper way" was leading to 30 under par pace the first two days. Wind and rain didn't take too much out. Those who know can point to this and say there is nothing like Links but Links IS. Overall there was no undying love for the place and none terribly unhappy, save Matt Kuchar one of the days he flubbed.

I've heard the criticism that Coore & Crenshaw don't go far enough. That they need to enhance nature a bit more. I'll admit this is usually my feeling after playing one of their courses. Not the "Hater" I get called by the sycophants, but just not in love, this is a reason, if not the reason why. It is why I'm generally more excited by a new Doak or Hanse more. A new Smyers. A chance for a new Kelly Blake Moran. Did we see just another version of the RTJ hard par, easy bogie except sometimes it was easy birdie.  We did see the fallacy of Fast & Firm couples with equipment out of control, routine 350 yard drives on the flat.

Tom Doak has oft been quoted as liking short grass as a hazard. It is a major tenet of the minimalist-naturalist-renaissance-(...) movement. (Sometimes I don't know what to call it) Bigger contours are often more challenging to these players, but that combination of major contours and great(er) speed on a continuum shows that the balance is on a knife's edge.

Then when you throw together various combinations of firm/fast  dry/wet  no wind/wind we arrive at Links or proper golf. Sometimes it's very take-able, sometimes it's unplayable. Then consider that the USA is a virtually unnatural place for golf. But enough of that, I'm NOT a hater, I truly enjoy Coore & Crenshaw's work, I just want that enhancement.

We did see far more linear reward and punishment. We did see the big ball rewarded.The landscape to the uninitiated as seen on TV was frankly just boring. But any flat course is very hard to catch on camera, unlike the lie that you cannot tell how much elevation change is really out there (ANGC, e.g.) oh yes you can if you know how to use a camera, you sure do. I learned that in Colorado and tried to foster that in my photography of Lehigh CC, well-documented here.

I just think there's not enough there to truly baffle the professionals, but it was great to see the modern wave of design presented front and center on TV. Nice to see a landfill/toxic site used nicely.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why We Have Favorites and then, there is Dye.

Tour Pros like to look good, we are constantly told "These guys are good." But they don't like Dye. Dye makes them very uncomfortable. Pete and Alice have two careers - re-introducing through architecture in the design-build mode strategic design, and creating and/or fostering a cadre of incredible architects doing the best work today. Some of them our faves and just why is that. It is an essential question and the answer lies in what we want out of golf to a great degree.

This past week, we were subjected to the yearly feint praise by the Tour Gods in their yearly visit to TPC Sawgrass. Remember, it is a shadow of its initial incarnation. As no other - Dye can and does make you uncomfortable. But there is comfort as well, like the 5 - 3 - 4 finish, I'm researching that one.

Dye at his best never lets you feel that you've won, that's what sets him apart.You really don't get that very often, if at all. From the ranks of the Dye Family crew, we get Bobby Weed, Mike Strantz, Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Rod Whitman, more, too, all among "The Best Today".  They are certainly progenitors of the movements we see today, if not the same look.

Someone messaged me today asking me if I ever got tired of playing Dye, since I play one all the time. After he played a lite version (which I haven't yet) in Myrtle Beach leading to a comparison of some holes he posed the question. Dye as everyone else has used if not template holes but sets of ideas to be reproduced. The lowcountry of SC as well as the FL marshland encourages some repetition, I suppose lacking much of a third dimension and Dye has often built an Alps template hole to honour his Father. Fazio of course says all his holes are unique and signature holes to boot, but those of us getting around know that's B.S. C&C love to use their "Sailing Par 5"  as I like to call it because as you can tack your way (Think #3 at Bandon Trails and its cousins at Hidden Creek and Chechessee to name a couple, hey, it's really OK) through.

Tour Pros always rave about Harbour Town, but it is rather softened (literally and figuratively) and widened since debut. That job was originally given to Nicklaus and knowing Pete, the story goes he contacted him with a message something like "I don't know what the hell to do, can you help me?" Harbour Town isn't full-out Dye, that's why the pros love it so much. I play mine 4-5 times a week and Harbour Town a few times a year. Long Cove, too.  There is no comparison of Colleton to Harbour Town, the pros wouldn't like it.

I used to play at Boston Golf Club, still do a little, good amateurs with little tolerance for  double bogies and four putting don't like it much. Hanse makes you uncomfortable, too. Add my fellow Florida Gator Steve Smyers to that list as well. Leave your ego in the trunk and enjoy yourself and laugh at your shortcomings.

I think a secret to a course or architect being liked lies in what you are asked to do, and how that question is asked. How you answer it. How you CAN answer it. How you feel about answering it. How do you perceive how difficult it was to achieve that answer. How well did the question and answer fit your skillset? Not fitting a skillset leads to that discomfort that makes us wrongly label a particular hole "A bad hole". You cannot hit a rope draw into the prevailing left to right wind?  It's a bad hole. (Me as a kid in South Florida before I learned better)

So about TPC Sawgrass -   A lot of players opined this week in interviews. Dye got labelled early as creating "Target Golf" where that actually means that strategies must be obeyed or you can look like an idiot. Also, those strategies are flexible, different on different days. Now they are less so at Sawgrass as green contours are flattened to allow 14+ on the stimp, easily achievable with ultradwarf Bermuda cultivars. The PGATour generally pampers these guys in allowing very loose shots to have minimalized penalty. Non-linear penalty.

Dye provides what I like to call non-linear punishment. Small misses and even good shots poorly thought out can be labelled DOA. A lot of golfers do not like non-linear punishment. Fazio and C&C as two popular examples do provide more linear punishment as two examples, something liked by stroke play competitors. Thus we see the USGA Amateur ranks showing up on Fazio courses (Senior Amateur it seems permanently) and many good amateur players prefer C&C to Dye and Hanse, even Doak.

So I think our favorites are often determined not just by milieu but by comfort. Comfort in the questions asked and the answers required, and especially our perception of just how much we were challenged to produce the result.

Now as Pete gets very much into late chapters of his life, we must also give some large margin of that praise to his right hand on many more recent projects - Tim Liddy. I am proud to say that I have known Tim for years. Those unfamiliar with him can go to the Feed. The. Ball. podcast series by Derek Duncan and listen to him and Tim bat it around for an hour and a half. (Also be sure to catch my pal Mike Young, the most recent release).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

New Jersey State Update

Here's a revisit to an Old Post

Americans are by and large fascinated if not obsessed with lists and of course "The Best". I've rated courses for years, contributed to lists and defined groups of my own, finding it hard to say that course A is better than B if they are of similar merit. Top 100 lists for the world and the US more or less come out reasonably correct in the wash if many people contribute to them and biases go mostly by the wayside. Individual lists are to be taken with a grain of salt, they always reflect positive and negative preferences of the compiler.

The lists that are the most suspect are state by state lists as they are compiled for the major US magazines. The biggest fault is that they are far too heavily weighted by where the voters are A) Told to go and B) Choose to go. Choice A because someone has pre-selected the choices and B because of three separate but not so distinct reasons. One is that newer courses get disproportionate visits by first or casual visitors to an area and then those with established histories of being great and/or preferred architects get disproportionate endorsement.

Here’s a state I know pretty well my playlist is probably over 130

Golf Digest panelists (Must find latest iteration and edit)
(1) Pine Valley G.C.
(2) Baltusrol G.C. (Lower)
(3) Baltusrol G.C. (Upper)
(5) Somerset Hills C.C.
(4) Plainfield C.C.
(6) Ridgewood C.C.
(7) Galloway National G.C.
(9) Bayonne G.C.
(8) Liberty National G.C.
(16) Mountain Ridge C.C.
(12) The Ridge at Back Brook
(10) Essex County C.C.
(11) Trump National G.C., Bedminster (Old)
(14) Metedeconk National G.C.
(17) Hollywood G.C.
(13) Hidden Creek G.C.
(18) Trump National G.C. - Bedminster New
(15) Hamilton Farm G.C.
(19) Forsgate C.C. (Banks)
(20) New - Arcola C.C.,

2010 - Genesis of original topic
Pine Valley
Baltusrol Lower
Galloway National
Sommersett Hills
Ridge at Back Brook
Ridgewood (E&W)
Baltusrol Upper
Hidden Creek
Liberty National
Trump (Old)
Hamilton Farms
Atlantic City
Mountain Ridge
Pine Hill
Neshantic Valley
Shore Gate

This Humble Observer's View:
Pine Valley – inarguable world #1?

Plainfield – most unappreciated great course in America even with the maligned Tunnel Holes. Perhaps Ross's best set of greens, blows away the unending tedium of Mountain Ridge's Greens

(2a?) Sommersett Hills – Tillie’s quirkiest - but for me the second nine has a certain repetitive flow twice and #12 just doesn't thrill me at all so for me takes #3

Essex Coounty CC
Ridgewood (Championship)- below R@BB??? In what universe?
Hollywood – among very best “flat” courses
Galloway National – uneven but solid, worst greenhead flies in USA
Morris County - nice template course done in a very effective manner, a joy
Atlantic City – nice interpretive restoration - #GreenheadCentral
Hidden Creek – You've played them ...

(Now by alpha)
Alpine – deserves more respect
Baltusrol Upper – far more interesting than more famous bottom half
Bayonne – engineering feat. So what? Biggest US Flag anywhere?
Forsgate Banks - (Would be better with fairway bunkering)
Trump (Old) –Trump’s best, very good Fazio
Canoe Brook (N) – sorta fits in about here
Manasquan River
Montclair – four (4!) “nines”
Mountain Ridge – has its fans, wild unendingly tedious greens, overall uneven, 2nd nine blech land
Royce Brook West

Better than below +/- equal to above

Baltusrol Lower - famous and maladapted to 2018
Canoe Brook (S)
Echo Lake
Metedeconk – 27 holes of “Hard”

Better than below:
Fiddler’s Elbow (Forest)
Royce Brook East
Sand Barrens – 27 solid holes at shore
Scotland Run - somewhat modest public, far better than Shore Gate

- Others (ALL original top 25 GD)
Hamilton Farms – incredible mish-mash of design - very posh
Liberty National – nearly universally panned despite very posh
Neshantic Valley – nice neighborhood public Doak 3
Pine Hill (Now Trump NJ) – every Fazio cliché in the book Doak 4 at best
Ridge at Back Brook – very posh, Doak 4, but posh
Trump Bedminster New - Joyless - modern, politically correct tournament design

Booby Prize:
Shore Gate – definition of hideous - not posh, don't get this one at all

Monday, February 26, 2018

Update and Upcoming

Streamsong - Black 

Coming this week or next.

Gil Hanse gets to add his work next to the enfant terrible and the Gods of Architecture from a shared routing adventure.  Gil's Courses and the opinions of them are all over the map. I've known him almost 20 years, been a member of one of his best clubs, think he truly revels in pushing the envelope and creating controversy. He does it well.

I'm most looking forward to finding the plethora of unfairness that reportedly exists on the Black Course.

Concept of the Day: Non-Linear Punishment -  lack of proportionality for missing a shot. Miss little, punish little, miss a lot, punish a lot. Golf isn't meant to be fair, a part of its charm is the greatness of the recovery shot. I have five aces, but I'd prefer to tell you the story of my five best recovery shots (Given my game, there is way more than those five). But I digress as I often do.

Hanse along with Steve Smyers to a lesser degree each has probably taken the mantle of proponent of this concept from Pete and Alice Dye. Sometimes Steve's course are just plain hard, but often I say that Hanse and Smyers build the hardest courses yard for yard today.  Gil is on fire with business, Smyers, less so although Hanse has been doing a ton of renovation/restoration/re-interpretation work. At the other end of the spectrum is the all there in front of you/linear punishment which is ironically shared by Tom Fazio and The Gods of Design, whose names cannot be spoken.

Just kidding, it's Bill Coore - Ben Crenshaw. Their names can be spoken. And of course you knew who I meant. What each of these two design teams provide you with is a lack of controversy, a certain safeness, predictability, linear punishment, and a modicum of boredom because of all that. I rarely dislike any of their courses, but rarely does the blood boil or the heart stir. One moves too much dirt, one moves too little. Gil moves it so you cannot tell it's been moved.

Much dirt moved to build this:

What I expect to find at Streamsong Black is non-linear punishment.

Here is some Pete and Alice Dye for you. I don't have anything from L.A.C.C. for you, they don't like that.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Back to the Home of Golf - Crail Old Comments


Been too long, but spent two weeks in Scotland. Highlights today and comments for Crail Balcomie, but more specifics to come. I will probably finally profile the Colleton Courses as the Nicklaus is about to re-open from re-grassing and a few very peculiar changes post Matthew to "Maintain Integrity" - I see a certain personal stamp -  by architect on retainer Jim Lipe. I have never somehow offered the Dye Course, but must take a few more photos prior.

So for Scotland - Coming or today:

  • Old Course at Crail (Balcomie) Here today
  • Walking the Old Course on a Sunday
  • Prestwick
  • Cruden Bay - even better than expected with high expectations
  • North Berwick West Links - also even better than remembered
  • Re-do at Alisa - very disappointing, I'm in minority, but will tell you why it's a fail for golf
  • (.....)Turnberry Hotel renovation -  a fail for SPG
  • Nicklaus CRP
  • Dye CRP
So, in two weeks, I didn't play much, haven't been walking much because of a wonky knee. Tested it out at Pine Valley when evacuated for the hurricane and it did OK. Without being too technical, not amenable to a scope not really a TKRA problem, but other than getting sore and swollen, even took two days in a row.

Balcomie Crail

Sub 6000 yards with six Par three holes, but not a pitch-and-putt affair by any standards, it probably is a hickory payer's dream. The Old Course at Crail is as fun and quirky as ever, a good first stop, Gil's Course happily and very popularly booked solid, more than glad to play the Old because sole previous play was the same day as playing St. A's Old with Renee for her first time that same day. (R&A was in St. A's plus Dunhill prep prevented any golf at St. Andrews, original play for first 3 days) Two Medals were being contested, so it was a little slow giving ample time for a look-see. I'm not taking as many photos any more and Crail suffered the fewest photos because of being the first Course and low light. Seeing what was there on the ground proved how much a disservice playing 36 in a day on two different 18-hole courses really can be. Crail sanely keeps these greens no faster than nine. I'll be back again any time.

The Par 3's - Rather Notable
The Par three holes at Crail offer so much.

Starting with the blind third where having the knowledge of contours is invaluable, as well as a requirement to bring it in from the left (Sanely away from water's edge. Brilliant hole! A modified punchbowl affair, but far more interesting due to the contours. The hole had stuck so well in my memory, that I hit it in the right place and came up 8 feet short on line off the tee. Just lovely contours, perfect for a blind shot over a dune, this is truly a great hole and a major exhibit why blindness should remain a part of the game. Back pin from 2007 seen on 12 tee here:

The seventh at the first turn is a relatively modest and raised green affair, the least memorable of the six. Be sure to hit it far enough. Bunkering left keep you honest, still a fine hole many courses would gladly swap for on of their threes.

Everyone remembers the elevated and often into the wind 13th, short with a driver (I'm 66 now). A steep escarpment and elevation can make it seem impossible and it is for an ill-struck shot, you'll be in the organic matter of the face. Rather a small and contoured green considering, a four is just fine here.


Immediately following is "The Cave (Unforgettable and following the hole) a drop-shot hole with a crested or saddled green which is magnificently fronted by a very receptive bunker. At 145 yards, into the bunker, I was pleased with a four. One can hit the green and the ball can still easily find the bunker A hole to study for all architects considering another mundane drop shot hole, you CAN build a great one, come study how the green (Which cannot be run at 13 on the stump) makes the hole and is far better than anything that runs a fast green speed. See below (2007):

The Famous Spion Kop is the sixteenth, an uphill, often into wind hole that requires a truly committed shot. The shape of the green again determines play. Being domed as well as 1.5 clubs uphill, the ball does not really run up you must carry boldly.

Eighteenth Quarry is a fine and demanding finishing hole with Gorse right and a plethora of bunkers left, one other example along with Pasatiempo and Boston Golf Club for how a Par 3 eighteenth can test you. So easy to lose it right here and even if you hit the green.

The Par 5's - Pleasant Enough - and a twist
The second, from the medal tees is actually quite a hole with an angled tee shot and North Sea hard right. Even the visitor's tee provides you the thrilling blindness of second shot. Proximity to two other holes left gives one a fair bailout to the left, but a large dune on the left of the fairway and shared bunkers complicate matters. Coincidentally, the 11th and 12th, the other Par 5's are the shared fairway. A rather clever bit sharing the width of the three long holes. on two, long can be dreadful. Very clever hole

Eleven is up the hill from a somewhat lowest point to one of the highest in that particular part of the course, first thirteen or so holes. Plays long uphill and shares a double green, the back of which is a Biarritz-y manner for the Par 4 eighth, a superb hole. Shared fairway right with 12 over to two, clever. Remember this is the sixth oldest course in the world! Scene of tee with great width from 2007 (there is a real Loo, not a porta-potty now for the sharp-eyed)

Twelve plays back down the hill and a burn comes prominently into play about 100 out from green front. Green set a bit on a table top sort of ploy, very modern holes still use this strategy as if it were fresh. The twist of course is the triple fairway on the three longest holes allowing forgiveness ona hard swing - fun matters here.

The Par 4's - a few highlights
The first is potentially reached with driver but a burn and a cavernous bunker in a grassy dune makes you think again and play hybrid - wedge. Big green, semi-blind very deep on the right. Perfect starter, tasty, making you hungry for more.

Four is the classic "(False moniker) Cape" tee shot. Greed is a lost ball, a lesser hole, but still fun. Birdie ....

Five - Again - classic "(False moniker) Cape" tee shot. Greed is a lost ball, the elevation is deceiving. too far left and you're yelling fore to the Par 3 sixth players where greenside bunkers double as fairway bunkers on this hole. Clever. Hard. This is a bitch to par. From 2007:

Seven - very clever land use, a plateau drops off 60+ feet  with 150 to go, but you can drive the green over the wall (all blind). You don't tee off until you see players on the next tee. Said wall integral and pithy. Not so well-defined in the 2007 photo here.

Eight is the architectural masterpiece of the fours. Left-turning elbow hole to the aforementioned double green, a Biarritz from this side. Simply thrilling.

Nine & Ten show the variety of truly excellent holes available under 350 yards and still fun and challenging due to ANGLES.

Fifteen reached by less than driver at 265 rather often. Or not. Hole high right yielded a birdie.

Seventeen tee is the Blog header photo from the previous visit with Gorse in full bloom.

That's it for today.

Routing - **
Overall quality of individual holes, par 3's, 4's  and 5's- 3 -** 4 - *, 5 - *
Cohesion of the course - **
Green Complexes - **
Bunkering schema - *
Conditioning - **
Appropriate Vegetation - ***
Ideally - **
The rest of the Club - **
Milieu - **