Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pine Valley

What can one say about Pine Valley that "It is the number one golf course and club in the USA and the World" doesn't say? It is a very private place, a Sanctuary, a place where religion and disease mingle to a perfect emulsion. I have been very fortunate to be a guest of this wonderful place for almost 25 years now due to a very old, very dear friend. I have found it to be the golfiest place on earth. It is much more friendly a place than one might expect. Golf Matters Here! and everything else is just done right and not over-done.

The Golf Course is magnificent with more architecture per square yard/metre than any course I have ever seen nor will likely see.

The practice area (what is practice???) is second to none.

Accommodations are the best in golf. Here's a couple of views from 2000.

The way it should be


Although they've fancified the place a bit the accommodations are as good as it gets. I have been priviliged to stay in the corner room overlooking the 18th green and also to stay in a room with a view of the fifth hole
Another Room's View of #5

- the diabolical par 3 forever infamous for a "Newspaper" six in Gene Littler's match with Byron Nelson Shell's Wonderful World of Golf Maiden Episode.



Note the Original Colt Drawing on the table when Crump is "In the tent".



As long as these links are good, the rest of the SWW of G continue.

Many architects had a hand in Pine Valley's design but George Crump had the vision and gets the credit. Here's none other than Albert Warren T. on site on the second hole ...


... and the second from 2000



Pine Valley is said to be a second shot course by some - taken to mean that there is more demand on the second shot than on the tee shot and most first-time visitors are struck with the width of the fairways. There is not really any rough to speak of but sandy waste with trees, bushes, scrub and trees of various sizes to deal with. I've probably played 25 times and other than a flip-cupped-wrist unmentionable far right push from the 14th tee I've only lost one ball (The caddie couldn't find it).

Here's the start in 2000

I mean, sure, you've got to carry 200 yards of scrub at times, but what the hell - it can't be that hard in front of everyone on the most famous 1st tee in golf.

There are only two par 5's both Blue-Ribbon Winners. The Famous Hells Half Acre Seventh.


Here's the author aged 49 on the 15th - maybe the better par 5. That's what "good" is when the Hell's Half-Acre is probably surpassed by the other Par 5!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stronger than Ever

An unconfirmed report from Hank Haney notes that Tiger's ED Doctor said that his lips would be stronger than ever after the sutures. Will now be able to overtake Jack's record 18 Majors by February.

Gee, I wish I didn't have to talk to the Florida Highway Patrol if I didn't want to.

WSJ reported basically that Golf was nothing without Tiger, it existed before and will exist long after he is gone. (Gee, I hope so ...)

And that's all I care to say about that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Down East






This club requested privacy rather strongly.

Clyde the Squirrel

Some places I really respect their ethos of privacy.

The guard was very stoic, some might say wooden ....

a redan that is not a redan!

Less well-known ...

More so

Here there is a history of respect for history.

George in Boston

There is a wonderful little Muni in Boston that I promised the locals that I wouldn't drive everyone there, so I'll just say that for a muni, it's a peach.

Designed by Donald Ross and maintained by benign neglect, they have a super who worked at TCC and has done a great job with the greens, the fairways & tees are fine and the land is beautiful.

Here's a few photos:
a super par 4





wonderful par 3 with a superior green


par 4 from elevated green

par 3

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bay Club at Mattapoisett

Their blog



One Tee

I was fortunate to visit the Bay Club at Mattapoisett near fall River, MA. Brad Faxon is a fine putter, but he is also a tour player. Tour players really like fair and putt for a living. Fast smooth true greens are fair, that characterizes the greens at Bay Club. It is one of the very best conditioned courses I have played in the past several years. I believe that this is partly due to the correct grass cultivar for the climate. I don't have to make my living putting so I really like greens with a lot of movement in them. There are a few at Bay Club, but mostly the surfaces are a tour player's dream.
Sixteen green - busiest of the lot


The Bay Club is the work of Brad Booth and Brad Faxon is on the design team credit. It's my first for either. Conscious effort went into strategies as the first ad second holes both par 4's have carry or skirt bunkers to get an advantage or shorten the elbow as neither is a true dogleg. There is a ton of width and I have the 13 fairways hit to prove it (The one I missed I over-hooked, bumped off a hill and wound up 2 yards left of the fairway). Not losing golf balls is a very good thing that makes a course very popular with its members or regulars. Only five holes are at all sharply angled and that includes two par fives. The par 3's range in length from about 150 to 235 on the mixed tees yielding 6800 (very long in the fall) yards on the mixed Blue/Black tee set I played.
Eighth


Short 12th

Thirteen


Notable holes include the sixth, par 5 which has a nice set of bunkers to play over or around to get a chance to go at the green in two. There are some lateral wetlands about 20-60 yards short but off line to keep you from just blasting away and the first two par 5's feature interrupted fairways to give pause about just going for it.
Par 5 Sixth


Par 5 eleventh




Seventeen and eighteen are handicap holes two and four making sure that the stronger player has to finish it out or be up at least three at that point.
Seventeen


Being very close to the ocean makes for windy days although I didn't encounter more than a club and a half and that probably helped my score.

Nice gig if you can get it as there are some very lovely homes graciously and unobtrusively set back from the course.

Routing: All green to tee except a few 100 yard walkbacks and a 500 yard wetlands gap
Conditioning: As good as it gets
Par 3's: Wide range of lengths from 8-iron to rescue club
Par 4's: Left, right, short long straight -lots of variety
Par 5's: Loads of choices through angles with the pictured 11th being my favorite
Cohesion: Very consistent style throughout
Bunkering Scheme: Guiding rather than really penalizing
Greens: Relying on speed, firmness and tilt rather than contour.
Club: No clubhouse, but practice facilities to die for and all the signs point to a first-class operation. No need to go that close to the beach and not get fed and watered well I am sure.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bethpage the Red




The bag visits the Red. Here's the 18th of Black from hole #4 of Red.

Bethpage the Red

Bethpage is more closely laid out and operated in concept more similarly to the Links at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland than any other golf facility in the United States. There is the one great course that you need a bit of help securing a tee time and several other supporting courses of varying quality making up the choices. It is purely daily fee and that sets it apart from the resort at Pinehurst in North Carolina also vying for the title of America’s St. Andrews. That’s another story for another day. Being a New York Resident helps much more at Bethpage than anything at all does at St. Andrews. Access to the Black is very hard for an out-of-stater, the Red is a little less so.

At St Andrews The Old Course stands out as does the Black at Bethpage. It is the clear top course and has the major pedigree to add to its cache. At Bethpage the Red Course stands out as the next best alternative perhaps the Jubilee of Bethpage.

Designed by A.W. Tillinghast, Dev Emmet is said to have had some input, but it reeks of Bethpage State Park lately save spots like 4 green. Joe Burbeck? As for the black? Not going there. The routing gives the player of the Red a joyful, interesting walk tightly knitted to use every cranny of the land. The first and the last give a stern introduction and difficult finish and perhaps as such give a bit of a disparate view of the course. Each is a very demanding par 4 - the first at the Red perhaps being played as a par 5 by most. A markedly elevated green makes the hole all the more interesting and challenging with a smaller rise jutting in from the left just 30 or so yards short of the perched green to soften the roll back of the shot that comes up short. Of note, the excellent par 5 fifth uses a ground feature remarkably similar to this in a manner eerily reminiscent of the first. In between, the Red is a little more friendly.

Overall the routing of the Red is one aspect that gives the golfer great deal of pleasure. It is a very short distance from the green to the tee hole after hole, very intimately put together in a winding path for the first 8 holes set in a gently rolling bit of land that is some of Bethpage’s best. Then through the flat plain routing of the holes through 15 is not an all-too familiar over and back again but rather multiple changes of direction to give importance to the ever present wind given the course proximity to the Atlantic Ocean just to the south. This is much more interesting than the parallel holes often seen in public access courses and various lengths of doglegs and elbows make up this stretch. Then the Tillinghast double dogleg template makes up the lovely 16th before the run home.

Seventeen, a bit disappointingly as with the other par threes, plays a familiar length, the one variety begging at the Red. Certainly, the green settings are rather different and the fourth and seventh greensites are particularly distinctive and somewhat memorable but it’s basically the same club for the set of par 3’s most days.

Bunkering – one is left to wonder at the Red. Holes two and three, each a dogleg right with no bunkering, tree-lining, width with little strategy and one wonders contemplating the delicious par 3 fourth if the remainder of the par 4’s vary as little as two of the first three. Two and three do not make a particularly interesting connection for the golfer to the stretch of 4-7. The greens at the Red are as with the Black relatively devoid of severe contouring relying more on slopes than any other factor to determine weight and break.

However, standing on the fourth tee you are unmistakably on a golden age US Golf Course, the green is faced on the left with a deep, somewhat abruptly faced menace of a bunker. Once on that green, one has a fine panorama of the Black 1 and 15-18. It is this connection to the Black that elevates the Red right at the start. When this early savory par 3 hole leads into the sublime part of the Red routing that is when it really gets the golfer going and holds that feeling for quite a stretch. One sees those lucky golfers with the Black tee times of that day, running for home or perhaps only limping so. The elevated view of those holes stirs the golfer and the stretch of the course that follows rewards those golfers on the Red with their own special thrill of great golf holes.

Fourth Hole



Five as with sixteen are wonderful par 5’s with more of an elbow on five at the end of the relatively flat drive. Given the uphill nature of the second shot and the elbow rather than dog-leg design, one can really go after the drive on five a bit harder as it doesn’t make a big difference whether you are left or right off five too, you just need to be long enough to go for five in two. Sadly there are no bunkers to aid in strategy or excitement to that drive, but the landforms of the remaining 250 yards with a good 30 feet of elevation are the real challenge here.

First hole


I find the first 8 holes of the Red extraordinarily thrilling even with the comments about two and three. If there were just a bunker on each to break up the visual of the trees, the entire stretch would sing. As it is I am not a fan of framing to comfort the golfer, but rather in this instance to give a little visual element, I would like a bunker, there’s just a plethora of trees. My readers know I am not a fan of too many trees as they are generally bad for the turf. The nice thing about many of the early bunkers on the Red is that they are not too penal. The bunkers should not be of the character of those on the black as we are looking at different crowds that visit the courses. I am going to hazard a guess that something in the realm of 60, 000 rounds are recorded on each of the courses that are not the Black every year. As best as I can recall, that is the number Dave Catalano – the superintendent, offered as a statistic. Given the wide range of skill sets possessed by players that visit Bethpage that is remarkable. (That is also why the famous warning sign overlooks the teeing ground of the first of the Black – the other courses function just as local municipal courses). However, the Red is a hearty cut above the remainder and tips out over 7,000 yards.

As is typical of any course where anyone and everyone plays, pace of play is often very slow and players (not that private and resort players do not do it, too!) often play tees beyond their capabilities. There was a big gap since the last players had gone out when I last played. I asked two fellows on the first tee if they minded if I jumped ahead. Unlike the response one gets at the $250 resort course, they said “Sure, we’’ll just hold you up, go ahead”. One never gets that kind of a response at the resort and don’t get me started on the manners of some club players. Once I eventually caught up on the tenth hole, the players I was with were proficient and speedy players (as well as regulars to Bethpage). I sense a real pride in Bethpage as a whole with daily fee players seemingly aware of what a gem the State Park is. That’s the one way Bethpage is different from St. Andrews is that you just don’t see more than 15-20% that are not “regulars”. It is like a publinx club at Bethpage with a clubhouse structure to go with the best of private clubs. The restaurants, bars and dining halls are as first class as the golf.

Holes 9-15 on the Red as I alluded to are not the usual parallel arrangement but take a delightfully constant change of direction for what amounts to nearly half of the golf course on this fairly flat plain. In the middle of the stretch, far away from the clubhouse is the thirteenth. Here sits one of the largest bunker complexes in the center-line of perhaps any public hole in America. At over 400 yards there are very distinct options for varied length of carry over the bunker or trying to thread the needle onto the very narrow left fairway.

Thirteen

Depending on pin location this hole could be played differently every day for perhaps two months. Again, no other hole parallels it in any way. Eight, nine, ten and fourteen are all doglegs that fit against each other but subtlely rotate against the clock as to not be parallel to each other. Great routing and use of the wind direction is evident here.

Fifteen through 18 take a variety of direction changes with all stout holes. Fifteen takes two changes of direction and tilt of the land as it abuts against the green. Sixteen is Tillinghast’s double dog-leg where par is always welcomed and often wins the hole.

There are ways that the red perhaps exceeds the Black in that it a) accommodates a greater range of players – b) it has more subtlety and less brutishness about it (save 1, 16 and 18) and c) it is always there. Black closes for the season, Red does not and its loyal players come out in force. I spoke with the starters as well as the women in the cashier booth and being October with a Giants football Sunday there was that gap that allowed me a period of time to have basically the entire first nine to myself to savor, a rare treat indeed. All said that if it were summer, it would be foursome after foursome group after group ad infinitum. As it should be because for a pure municipal type of operation, Bethpage knows no equal. Parenthetically, I may visit legendary Triggs Memorial in Providence on this coming Monday, so stay tuned for that possibility. I am currently at a meeting and in the evenings I may get caught up a little bit on here.

One hole merits a separate description because of its cleverness. Number six, a sharp right to left “buttonhook” - as I like to call them – dogleg which has several interesting fairway rolls and a more complicated green than most holes on Red. It looks potentially drivable on the card maxing at 325 or so, but a true tree-defined dog-leg makes that impossible. I think other than the profusion of bunkers at the other hole – this landform strongly resembles number 10 at Merion. Among those that have intensely heated arguments about the architectural lineage of Merion, I offer this hole as a suggestion that Mr. Tillinghast if not present to suggest a design such as this perhaps was inspired or inspiring with this hole. I rather like it bunkerless at the Red. The land and the treeline dictate approach.

So how do we sum up the parts of Bethpage the red?
Routing - first class, really really good, worthy of comparison to any with its varied terrains joined together seamlessly and in different fashions.
Par 3’s – playing a similar length I’d like to see a shortie in there, but each on its own is a fine hole.
Par 4’s – Right to left, left to right straight, long, uphill, in cadence, short and clever.
Par 5’s - two really good ones
Trees – not out of control, not much evidence of damage to turf
Conditioning – probably just right for the target groups – lies not too tight, rough not ridiculous, tees hold up fairly well, excellent considering the amount of traffic they see, greens sloping rather than huge mounding with appropriate speeds.
Greens and green complexes – not overdone as 40 handicappers have to play side by side with the scratch golfer and single digit. Most open in front.
Bunkers – sparse, but bunker maintenance is very expensive and tough on the handicap man, so we cannot judge Red by the same standards as Black or a private membership course. We'll give the red a little bit of a pass here.
Intangibles are wonderful everywhere at Bethpage, it is very much like a chapel or cathedral there.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Driving Mr. Crazy

It’s now been over a month since merely driving for a less than two week period in Scotland and I still feel like I’m the one driving abroad. Perhaps that’s five separate episodes now with narrower lanes, kerbs everywhere, smaller trucks/lorries, smaller average vehicle size and my beloved traffic circles that have enforced this change. Perhaps Scotland has the more polite drivers, but I encountered my share of emotionally challenged drivers there, just proportionally much fewer. A simple trip through New Jersey to Bayonne last week gave more than a pause for thought. Never accused of being a pussy-footer in the car, I’ve had my share of the little old ladies’ glares to see just what a maniac looks like. In my defence, 15 m.p.h. on a freeway ramp ought to be considered a punishable offence, Ma’am. I am indeed just like everyone else in adding 10 to whatever the speed limit sign says, but I am also the one actually going 15 in the school zone. So what’s really going on?
Americans just don’t drive fast on the freeway, that’s OK, it is a design based upon the Autobahn – the idea proffered at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, intended not to even have speed limits as is the persistent practice in Germany. No limit works there just fine even though to Americans, it seems just nuts- it isn’t. It is based on mutual trust of drivers’ abilities – something that is very hard to warm up to in the states, if I ever had it in the first place. The Autobahn and its madness seem at odds with the U.K. manner and manners of operating a motor vehicle, but again, it’s all about trust. I can’t seem to find that trust now that I am back.
To explain my difficulty readjusting to how I have driven for most of 40+ years is very simple. Americans are just arrogant and selfish bastards behind the wheel. America has evolved into a culture of the automobile at the expense of public transportation away from metropolitan centers. Even in smaller metropolitan regions such as Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, being an hour from Center City Philadelphia and one and one-half from the Big Apple by automobile (at $0.22 per gallon in the 1960’s) led to General Motors contributing dollars to the removal of passenger train service to these larger centers. Fifty years later there is talk of re-establishment of these services that if enactable and affordable will take another 20years to effect. So in our cars we remain.
Currently cell phones are the flashpoint of the driving discussion, but our beloved beverages, Big Macs and personal hygiene are only a small additional part of the picture. The concept of consideration for another driver or more importantly for traffic flow is just absent. Even foreign. Witness - 115 pound women driving nearly three ton Infinity Q45’s by themselves, self-appointed enforcers of the speed limit purposely blocking what was once defined as a “passing lane”, drivers oblivious to the flow of traffic behind or to the side of them as they jabber gossip and business while directly aside an 18-wheeler all creating absurdly dangerous situations on American highways. I encountered none of these for the first two miles of my 82 mile trip to Bayonne, NJ. But that part did involve the standard cut-off (because there was two car lengths space available in front of my car), the repetitive full throttle followed by full braking manoeuvre worthy of Formula One, the dead stop at the end of the merge lane from the on-ramp to the highway and the wholesale inability to keep a passenger vehicle somewhere within a lane greater than 150% the width of one’s vehicle (adjacent to another full-sized shoulder lane).
One thing narrower lanes on roads without shoulders and with brick kerbing does is teach you the dimensions of your vehicle and just where it is on a road. This is a massively overlooked responsibility of driving in the USA essential to driving for others as well as your self(ish bastard). Mercedes-Benz* introduced on its 2010 E-class model a warning system (already picked up by Ford!) to alert the driver that he or she is drifting out of one’s lane – alerting by a gentle vibration of the steering wheel and an appearance of an icon on the instrument panel in the shape of a steaming cup of coffee suggesting that one ought to find a Dunkin’ Donuts. PRONTO! There is also one to assist you braking for that vehicle you haven’t seen in front of you and for the blind spot as well. All for only a few thousand.
The incessant speeding up and hard braking in the US is probably the single thing that I am getting used to again. With Petrol at basically $10 per gallon, a driver thinks about how he uses fuel a helluva lot more than just limiting trips and carpooling. Clean, quiet diesels getting mid-40’s average fuel consumption makes a huge difference in costs as well as environmental impact (not that I am trying to save the planet, just be efficient and conserve). We have a few smug Prius drivers here in the US, but I’ve personally never seen a single one in the U.K. since its US release. That speaks volumes in its silence to me. The driving habits of having a big V-8 pickup as a personal transportation vehicle with all its torque and ‘pick-up’ include the most aggressive full throttle/full braking drive style in traffic, but this is prevalent in virtually all vehicles.
I love roundabouts (or traffic circles as they are known in New Jersey - perhaps the US state with the majority of these) and they do work. Well, they work if drivers are aware of their vehicle’s physical footprint and have a modest bit of respect and courtesy for fellow drivers. They are relatively easy to master, but part of that is the good and consistent signage that prepares you for your choices.

Another very positive aspect of roundabouts is what it doe s to accidents by how it controls traffic flow. So-called T-bone accidents are eliminated. There are no stop signs nor lights to hurry up and make, but that's what annoys Americans about them - the driver is unable to exercise his (or her) superiority. Everyone follows the same set of rules of the road because there is just no barging through a roundabout. Occasionally busy ones require flow lights, but they are few. If there are accidents they are glancing rather than head-on or T-bone.

It also might be surprising how trusting drivers are at speed on a two lane facing road (where there is no shoulder and a kerb is present) as there are just not a lot of episodes of brake slamming as one turns in front of you. That sort of behavior makes me wonder about the lane widths and shoulders so prominent in the USA lead to a false sense of security. Trust in Continental generally and U.K. drivers specifically has been rather easy for me to come by.

Hopefully I'll gain some in American drivers soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lehigh Again

I had a couple of Lehigh Virgins out today and we could hardly have had a better day for it. Greens running about 10.5, maybe a club + wind, not too many leaves in the way yet, no one in front or behind, Joe took all the photos so I just played. We'll look for his photos to appear. He's good behind a camera so something for the lounge to look forward to. Not even close to a lost ball, under 240 for the three ball.

A set of number 5 pins made for some good exciting shots, but Joe had a birdie birdie start and added #16 to boot.

On Pin #5 (I'll scan the sheets and put 'em up and try to do a feature of the green contours so they mean more) Ron Forse, doing and having done the master plan waxes poetic about these greens.

One is pretty much middle and is a good starter, no brain damage. Two is on the back right shelf and is very testy. Two is our Shinnecock style green, but 1.5 X larger, one of the tougher pins on the tougher greens. Six was front and close to the front right shoulder, had a 25 yard pitch for eagle to finish my basic ringer card for the year (-20, two eagles on the 5's all the rest birdies) very demanding missed teh needed spot by six inches, oh well. Eight pin was awesome, it is the best pin on 8 if they do it right like today. That would be middle and back from fairway orientation or middle right from green entrance, but hard against the big shoulder, very lovable and challenging. Nine was between a two and a five, more left that it should be, but from 3 feet for birdie who cares, another wonderful pin and a great putt from Joe.

Ten at middle right to get close the landing area is very very small, lots of subtle breaks. Eleven, way back and centre, Mark did a great read of two putting from hole high left, waaay better than average. Thirteen was perched in the back 20% right on top of the ridge - almost evil. Fourteen, back left, tons of break. Seventeen, three feet left of perfect in the back. three feet left and near hole breaks magnified 5-fold. And front right on 18 is stellar on that large somewhat dull green.

Those that have been will appreciate these pins, otherwise as I sat down and wondered what to type 10 minutes about, while doing this (the president's Cup was zzz) I decided to do an upcoming feature on the greens of Lehigh.

Cheers, hope your Sunday was as fun as ours.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Bethpage the Black

America’s Championship was played at the Black in just horrendous conditions in June, 2009. It was the people's or common man’s Open to the regulars at the Black. Somewhat marginally better conditions were present in June, 2002 for the first USGA Open Championship played at a course “anyone can play” – in this case anyone who lives in New York State and the few who otherwise get lucky. Bethpage is a course that for me, further study has revealed much more over time and with experience than just about any other. Make no mistake that the Bethpage Black course is far superior to the course at Torrey Pines, the other truly daily fee course to hold an Open. As with the private Oakland Hills, it is architecture so good that The Open Doctor cannot destroy its soul.

Monday 5 October, the experience was easily the best I have personally had at the Black, playing in a three-ball with no one for three or four holes ahead of us and no one behind us with any chance to catch us after a shotgun start. First ball in the air to last bag on the cart was less than 3:30. Starting on number 7 (Par 4 for the Open and Par 5 for regular golfers), we were given the easiest pin position of the day. We were given the exact pins the field faced in the 2009 USGA Open second round. You remember, the one that took three days? We got a 500 yard par 4’s pin playing as a par 5 for us. Our first break! Into a fierce two plus club wind, not quite able to reach in two, an easy two-putt par ensued. After that most pins were 8 or less from any edge, some (such as #15) only three from the edge and on a ledge - marginalization by any stretch of the definition. Twelve pins could easily be considered very front and that was important in revealing a major flaw in the current set-up/design of this most interesting Joe Burbeck course (Ron Whitten, don’t bogart that joint). Haha, had to get that in somewhere, sorry ...

In having the pins so front and corner, the greatest slopes of the greens were brought into play, those obviously created for surface drainage. One negative of that is that it leads to soft approaches limiting the run-up shot. No worries here! This set of pins made apparent just how many greens currently have grass mowing patterns that can only be described as anti-strategic. Many of these front pins were on greens with no run-up but rather 20-30 yards of lush, bluegrass rough from the end of the fairway to the very front of the green. To be fair, where one can run it up, well-thought out pins were used such as hole #1, 4 from the left and about 7 on, up against the edge of a slope such that a drive perfectly positioned could use that feature to keep close. On number 8 the tree was put into play, even from our measly 186 vs. the big boys 215. As one goes further back on the tee of number eight, the more the tree was in play. It dictated that if you drew the ball, you were not getting it close to this pin.

Design-wise the combo of elevation of greens and these bluegrass morasses make the course play perhaps 100-200 yards longer. The professional players love this as much as they love water as a hazard, which is quite a lot. For the day-to day gamer it means three-putt territory after non-regulation number of shots to hit the green, far more often than not. Tedious.

The superintendent and Dick Rugge, head of the committee for balls & implements within the USGA hierarchy were an interesting pair of speakers for the group at lunch. Rugge spent much of his time going over statistics of how every tour in the world catering to world-class players had seen leveling of driving distance 2002-2009. Numbers of players with 300+ yard averages and over 120 m.p.h. swing speed players having actually decreased during this time period as well. The new rules for grooves were discussed at length and are reported much more comprehensively elsewhere than I care to here, so enough of that.

When listening to Craig Currier, the superintendent, one realizes that there are tremendous differences in how the definition of good varies. The Black was much too lush, too green, too soft, even the fairways were rather soft. Fast and firm ought to really be described as fast firm and fun. No fast, no firm, not much fun. Granted the east has had some rain, but not that much lately and I was getting 2-3 yards roll from my pitchmarks on this brute of a course even at 6600 yards. (I asked about the sanding program and they do not sand fairways at Bethpage any longer.) As I have said here before, the setup for elite players is almost becoming antithetical for regular players needs. Few if any can generate the clubhead speed necessary to extricate from 3” lush bluegrass with any useful sort of shot. The idea is that even for the professionals, with their superior club control and clubhead speed, they are unable to obtain any consistency. Funny thing is that short grass and slopes adjacent to greens does the same thing and is much more fun and manageable for the weaker player. Given the choice, I’d rather have good old-fashioned hardpan any day and I think although the aesthetics aren’t too pretty, most regular golfers would prefer hardpan to bluegrass, too. It’s a struggle with bluegrass to love it any way whatsoever. It’s easy to grow and make “healthy”, but it is a rotten surface for golf. It is in massive abundance at Bethpage. I respect the design, but I am less and less of a fan of this sort of golf/set-up. The super really sounded as though he had somehow been cheated by all the rain around this year’s Open as the golf course didn’t play “the way it was supposed to”. Who came up with the “supposed?” Want bluegrass? On the glacier hole, I pulled my second into a shorter left front bunker leaving 40 to the front of the green. Walking up to the bunker for the shot, I was in the middle of what seemed to be 2 acres of the stuff, perfect as paint, but over 3” deep. Amazingly homogenous grass, as perfect a lawn as America could want, but for golf? It then wrapped around all three tees on the fifth hole and I was thinking it was nearing three acres. What are we doing to our golf courses? What would Tillinghast (the true architect, not the consultant) think? I doubt that this was his vision, and just whose vision is it now?

A seventy nine with two birdies was good enough for closest to pin and a skin, so don’t think it’s a litany of complaints from me. At #6, (my last) I finally hit it down the bottom of the hill (One of the USGA’s good ideas) and it left me a 50 yard wedge to less than three feet for my skin. That and nearly the first into lunch from the furthest starting point from the clubhouse made for a great capper, and the day was perfect weather, too. I just continue to worry a bit about what “good design” is becoming.

Some photos:
Behind #2 Green, the maintenance complex just ruins the aesthetics of this hole

Behind the great Fifth green this muni shack does the same. If I were Bethpage Czar (has Obama appointed that one yet?) theses would be gone.

The Glacier, 2009

The fully cut fairway on six - got it to 50ish yards

The day's start on the lovely seventh tee

Eight, two views


Nine 2009

Nine 2007, can't say I care for the addition

Fourteen, note front left titty

Routing: A nice, if healthy walk with great property save the mile of par 4’s on the flat at the turn. 10, 11 always feels sluggish and the new back tee on #9 ads to the feeling. Still well routed to take advantage of the best features including the use of a gentle to not so gentle ridge on 1 and 15-18. Way better than average land and routing.

Cohesion: Several changes in the overall look of the holes transition well as the course starts on the plain, moves to the woods, goes in and out and returns to the plains with a run up and down a last ridge not once but twice. No repetition of how elevation changes are used. Ten and eleven could use some work though, it always seems like such a droll bit.

Greens: far from Tillinghast’s best set, but with tee to green so demanding, especially for the daily (New Yorker) fee player, some break is welcome. Green Complexes - Given how the bluegrass is used, too many greens are islands as one looks at how isolated they are to all but aerial shots way too often. Blah, to be brutally honest.

Par 3’s: 14 is delightful even with its paste-on-titty of a front left, seventeen already has a legend of its own with just Phil Mickleson, forget the elegantly angled and stepped green surface totally out of view. but number 8 with a front pond and an overhanging tree is too much for me. The third is just plain solid, although I think more of the par 3 green surfaces ought to be like 14. Way better than average.

Par 4’s: Emphasis on length and more length with bluegrass surrounded greens (with a few chipping areas to be fair) make them droll. #2 and (maybe #1) six can even begin to be called breathers and 18 bunkering is just hideous (we’ve all seen it) – still a little better than average.

Par 5’s: #4 Glacier has all-world aesthetics, is an all-world golf hole. Seven is wonderful save the ho-hum green, shame it’s a long par 4 these days and 14 is very solid. Far above average, even in the world of private clubs.

Bunkering Schema: Nowadays shouts "REES WAS HERE" which is really too bad because it is an eyesore in places and over-bunkering (such as seen with the new unnecessary fairway bunker on nine) is starting to creep in in the name of "Par Defence". Back Off a bit, I say.

Trees: I've never cared for the tree on eight and now as the hole lengthens and the tree continues to grow, well, do I need to draw a picture? You surely can't draw a ball to the right side - and on a par 3, that's a shame. Otherwise excellent management.

Conditioning: Not my taste but they sure grow some amazing quality grass out there. Honestly ????? hard for me to judge, but on pure agronomy, great job, just not for fun golf. Good God man, it's hard enough for all but one person two time in eight years at the USGA Open (and that's relative) for Joe Blow & Jane Doe, it can be a nightmare. The bluegrass was cut to 2 1/2 inches for the USGA Open down from the day-to-day 3 plus. What does that say?

Experience: Do NOT miss any opportunity to play, but pack at least two meals as it will be unmercifully sloooow. As a public course it puts nearly all others to shame, to compare to Torrey Pines is a pointless exercise. The amenities for a public facility and five courses make this, not Pinehurst with its insufferable price gouging America’s answer to St. Andrews.