Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2019

A new year, a new start. Everyone is in the deep freeze so far this year, but we do have golf to be played. Televised golf gave us a look at the PGA West Stadium Course, a long-time fave of mine.  It has been softened and over-seeded leading to putting green surface area reductions.

Modern
Last year took me to Ohoopee Match Club in Vidalia Country Georgia for the inaugural Bernard Darwin Matches. I found it a ready-to-go destination with plenty of infrastructure in place, leaving for little to want.

2018 also took me to Silvies, OR, one of the biggest surprises ever with its four (technically) courses and a sense of away quite unlike most anything else. These far and away were my 2018 highlights.

I hope to bring both of these to life soon and revive this nearly left-for-dead blog.

On the Classic side, Shoreacres and Lawsonia Links top the list for 2018. Shoreacres remarkable for the freestyle design from Raynor, eschewing the obvious templates in lieu of originality. Lawsonia Links, perhaps the last hidden Gem in America has undergone a Forse-led renovation that might make it the most under-rated Classic Course around. Ron Forse and I had two long telephone call discussions about this course (And a couple of others near to us both), Ron is über-high on this course and is justifiably proud of his firm's work there.

Cheers, and Happy New Year

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.

Footnote:
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
Plainfield
Sommersett Hills
Ridge at Back Brook
Ridgewood (E&W)
Baltusrol Upper
Bayonne
Hidden Creek
Liberty National
Trump (Old)
Metedeconk
Hamilton Farms
Hollywood
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
Arcola
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)
Deal
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.

Cheers.