Monday, November 22, 2010


The Birth of the Birdie. In 1903 Ab(ner) Smith played a fine shot into the then 12th hole at Atlantic City Country Club. That shot was laid dead as to yield a score of one under the stern par of four. That green today exits as a practice just north of the 18th green. The plaque commemorating the event has been moved to its proper place from where it had been kept adjacent to the current 9th hole. The course has changed quite a bit since then. At the conclusion of the hole a fellow-competitor called it "a bird of a shot" and eventually as it developed and traveled it became birdie - one under par. There are many variations on this story some including William and George Trump as well as A.W. Tillinghast recanted in the club's 100 year History Birth of The Birdie. This version is considered by the club as most true.

As a take off point - a Birdie is one under par, an Eagle two under par and an Albatross three under par (NOT a “Double Eagle” as Americans are wont to say – that would be FOUR under par on a hole), Double Eagle is a very grating term to my ears – just as a hole-in-one. It’s an ACE. Another sticky point – the mis-belief that an ace must be in an 18 – hole round to be legitimate. That’s just wrong – it’s a perpetuation of the Golf Digest requirement for an ace to be a part of an 18-hole round to be recognized by their clearinghouse, lest our Honest Abe American brethren stand out on a par 3 with a bucket of balls and shoot at a par 3 flag all day to say that they holed-in-one. Funny one, that - I was recently in Arizona for a meeting and thanks to a friend was able to play the lovely little Adobe Course at the even lovelier Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece Biltmore Hotel. There was a special hole-in-one event going on taking up half the practice tee (hell, I don’t practice …) for the Fiesta Bowl Charities wherein one buys a number of balls and shoots at a 125 - 140 yard target to try and hole in one –apparently as many as three occur in a day. These are technically holed practice shots, but they do qualify the golfer (as well as the closest on any given day that no one holes) for a final event at the time of the actual Fiesta Bowl (Make that Doritos Fiesta Bowl?) in which each final qualifier tries one time to hole in one for who knows, a million bucks or a KIA Sedona or something else exciting.

Atlantic City Country Club – famous for the invention of the term birdie was renovated in 1876 by Tom Doak to the point that one might even consider it a new course at this point –is a fun little course that is clearly falling very hard on economic downturn. During Monopoly money boom times recently it was a very exclusive course that was almost like a secret society in how it was run and evident in how few had gotten to play it. Now under dire economic stress it is open to the public and last Sunday was available for the enjoyment of a slug-like 5 hour round for a very nice $45. But, sometimes it felt like going to jail without passing go. Slow play is killing golf, I just want to see courses policing pace of play more. 5 hours in mid-40 degree weather escapes me.

The preferred look of the lovely raggedy bunker style fits very well here and is still in place, it looks great in pictures, but the course is sadly getting beaten up Closely mown areas adjacent to greens is perhaps my favorite hazards as it is very egalitarian – foozlers pick their putters and stroke away whilst the skilled golfer considers every one of five or so choices before he makes a mess of it (sometimes). This was one of the great joys of ACCC as it is a windy site and it was a recovery shot often required. Soft, spongy pock-marked closely mown areas have little teeth and are very unattractive. Public golfers are notorious for not fixing ball marks on greens so they sure as hell aren’t going to do it on the approaches and runs-off. Once you fix offending marks on the line of your upcoming putt, the greens are putting very well – once you finally get to them. After waiting on every shot for the first three holes the waits got longer and longer despite the chilly temperatures the players out on Sunday could just not get the lead out. Not fixing these marks certainly didn’t add any time to the round.

The routing is generally lovely but on the 14th a long walk out to the tee on the marsh to wait for the green to clear (that almost no one can drive in cold weather) backs things up. Then from 15 to 17th tee, one feels a bit exposed. The design team cannot really be held accountable for this as the original mission of the re-design was for mostly walking and little play. Still, the routing is a nice one with a lovely bayside stretch from thirteen to seventeen.

The par 3’s are generally a little shorter than one usually sees today - a good thing considering the winds on the property. All five of them are lovely and challenging requiring very precise shot-making to small greens with many places to tuck a pin. Middle green and putting is not a bad option most of the time. The fully exposed wind-swept 15th is one of the more demanding par 3’s anywhere with a marsh in play and nearly always a cross wind or hurting wind never mind the season. It is a lovely hole by anyone’s standards with the skyline of Atlantic City across the marsh as the backdrop. The par 5’s are stout with only the water-guarded left turning dog legged 10th likely reachable in two shots. The par 4’s are quite varies from the very gentle and deceptive 2nd to the demanding 6th and seventeenth – they being barely reachable with very well-protected greens.

Overall the design is an excellent one and the clubhouse is quite a bit of history, but the conditioning and care of the golf course and monitoring of pace of play sorely needs attention. The carts have a Plexiglas-covered pin sheet with summer left-over offers – proffering a mere $100 replay round and a suggested 4:15 to 4:30 pace of play admonishment - both out of reach given the experience Sunday.

ACCC is well-worth playing, but the pace of play needs attention.

Much of the history of the course is from Birth of the Birdie. The club has existed for more than 100 years, the original layout pre-dating 1900 laid out by John Reid the professional. He laid out nine holes at a time and the 5,900 yard par 72 course attracted the 1901 USGA Amateur contested by Charles Blair MacDonald and Walter Travis among others. Mr. Reid who later won the USGA Open for two consecutive years prior to Francis Ouimet's "Shot heard 'round the world" in 1913. Most of the Philadelphia School of Architects who collaborated on Pine Valley visited and played ACCC. However, it was Willie Park, Jr. who added the third nine which persisted through 1950 according to the club. Herbert J. Tweedie from Chicago also tinkered with the design pre-depression with no time frame given. In an interesting frame of reference the tome claims he drank Scotch Whisky heavily while creating deeper and deeper bunkers (none of which remain) on the course. Their recollection is actually quite humorous, unless you are a descendant of Mr. Tweedie! During the period from the Depression through 1950 not much change ensued. Prior to Tom Doak's acclaimed re-design in 2000, only some elevation of the most marshward holes occurred.

The design as it exists today follows the first nine footprint of Flynn fairly well with the exception of shortening the second and lengthening the fifth. Flynn's 10th and 11th were combined to make the par 5 tenth. The footprint of the routing again remains fairly intact through the added 14th, 15th and expanded sixteenth. 14-16 are reviewed in photos below.

Here's a short pictorial tour of the course as it existed while still private and after Doak revised Flynn's 18 hole version.

The approach to the lovely third - on the same footprint as Flynn's hole

The short 4th with Atlantic City across the brackwater marsh

The Par 3 Eighth - Aptly labeled Sycamore

The 9th when known as Adirondack for the viewing chairs and the penultimate (erroneous) resting place of the Birdie Plaque

An Original Doak Hole - #14 drivable under certain conditions

Another Doak Original - The demanding fifteenth par 3 snuck in between 14 & 16

Par 4 Sixteenth from the Tee

Sixteen approach - Tall seaoats encroach on the marsh to the right of the green today

The Hidden 17th - another marvelous hole

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bandon Clarification

Until I have cleared up the Asian Porn sites posting comments on my blog, I will keep "Comments Disabled". Please e-mail me if you wish. I really do want to enable comments, but I don't want any porn stuff.

I want to clarify a misunderstanding that I think occurred.

I am in no way was knocking Bandon, it is by far the most interesting architecture trip in the USA for most good courses at a resort except maybe for Pinehurst with #1, 2, arguably 3 for Ross, #5 for Ellis Maples and #6 (yes, I love #6) for Fazio. You can keep #4 Fazio (A travesty of Ross and even RTJ's works to me), my wife gets absolutely vitriolic about Rees #7 and I get a little riled myself about how hideous parts of Fazio's #8 are.

Don't even think of missing any trip to Bandon,just be prepared to take your time getting there. Even Portland and SF with the small planes are no picnic.

Me? With a Brother-in-law in Portland, Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, just expect me to drive ...

Rowallan Castle

Writing coming. I'm sorry that the photos that I promised have not materialized. I'll see what I can do.

Architects Golf Club NJ

In the far western part of NJ, the Architects Golf Club authored by Steven Kay (with a consultant’s credit given to Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten) is a tribute course to a host of mostly ODG’s or “Old Dead Guys” as they are affectionately known to golf architecture aficionados. The holes are routed in a more or less chronological sequence starting with a tribute to Old Tom Morris at Hole #1 to Robert Trent Jones, Sr. at the 18th. The routing of the course is in two distinct returning nines and only really suffers from a tight spot at the 7th where the so-called Tillinghast hole is located. Hole by hole here’s my take on each hole as to authenticity and interest. Giving due to the original intent of the course being public access, the overall architecture was toned down, I have nick-named the course since its inception Architects’ Lite – reflecting that a certain restraint was necessary to get daily fee players around.
I must say that in its current iteration recently at visit, it was the best conditioned course within at least 30 miles and far more in some directions. Daily fee golfers according to the NGF are most concerned with good putting surfaces and “The Architect” comes in somewhere in the mid 20’s in importance behind such important factors a GPS, beverage cart, quality of carts and paths, restaurant quality and the like.
I’ll state my three biggest negatives at the start to get them out of the way and stick to highlights. After all, that’s what one expects from a critic, honest opinions.
1 – The architecture wasn’t intense enough in reflecting the individual Architects’ style
2 – The trio of C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks were all given par 3’s and those holes in particular did very little to evoke the architects in question.
3- Harry Colt (with Charles Alison) was also given a par 3 which failed miserably to represent the style and character of perhaps the greatest ODG of them all.
Now here goes, no malice intended. I fist played AGC with a Colt expert and have played multiple times over the years. It architecturally has changed little since opening.
1 – Old Tom Morris (Par 5) A very nice revetted bunker fronts the green although not very menacingly and stone walls suggesting an ancient character are off to the side to give an old-timey feel. The hole is a straight-away affair with little to no strategic character. Old Tom is responsible for some of the most famous courses in early design including the sublime Muirfield (HCEG) but his inclusion (and assignment of two holes to Donald Ross) to the exclusion of James Braid and some of the other points noted below are compromises I wish had been avoided. Unfortunately including the customary low-stress Par 5 starter so commonly seen in America adds to glossing over this important man and era of architectural history.
2- C.B. Macdonald (Par 3) An elevated green with more contour than average for the course and a narrow-opening provide a mid iron to hybrid sort of shot early in the round. Again, a common component of an American golf course design encouraging a slow start following the par 5.
3-Hugh Wilson (Par 5)The hole evokes the second at Merion quite a bit but without the key O.B. right and with the green offset to the right rather than the left. Critically speaking, given that Hugh Wilson really uniquely designed little of what exists at Merion, I am not sure that I would have included him in this sequence. More William Flynn exists at Merion East than anyone else, but that’s a saga that has no end.
4-5 Devereux Emmet and Walter Travis (par 4’s) I pair these two holes together because of the distinct differences of the holes and the lack of good examples of said architects’ holes that anyone outside of a very well-connected golfer is likely to ever encounter. Four - A straightforward affair without much of the steeplechase character the course guide suggests, but a moderately stern par 4 nonetheless is not particularly distinctive while Five is really separated from virtually all of the other holes by its very distinct “CopBunker” style seen very commonly in the restoration of Devereaux Emmet’s courses but also some Donald Ross and Herbert Strong. While evoking Garden City Garden City Golf Club is likely to be seen by very few retail golfers (Mike Keiser’s term) and is an amalgam of at least three architects most distinctive style elements. Easily confused with Walter Travis and Jerome Travers by even those familiar with the architects Hole Five is a very interesting architectural reproduction and is visually perhaps the most distinct and memorable on the entire course. It is among my two most favorite holes architecturally and stylistically on the course. Yet, here is a point of significant confusion even for the knowledgeable.
6 – Harry Colt (Par 3) A hole with a comma-shaped green - a short hole of little distinction. I vividly remember the Colt expert on this tee cementing my early opinion of Architects Lite. I suggest that a wild & crazy Macdonald-Raynor “Short” might have done better at this point in the routing. .
7 – Albert Warren Tillinghast (Par 4) America’s “architect without a signature“ has three distinct bunkering styles on the hole. It is a relatively straightforward hole with a short elbow, formed of a valley to an elevated rather than built-up green. Here is a stern, but fairly uni-dimensional hole to represent an architect known for superior strategies.
8 – Seth Raynor(Par 3) A stepped green with several bunkers on the short left, not particularly representative, especially given just the spectacular template holes built on varied sited. A rather large missed opportunity for this bold and dynamic architect to have been better represented.
9 – Donald Ross (early) (Par 4) A stout hole loved by many golfers visiting Architects. One of the real winners. The water hazard’s blind nature is a bit unlike most of Ross’ use of water, but the character of the land and site of green lends a Ross feel better than many selected architects.
10 – George Thomas (Par 4) a version inspired by Riviera #10 with less penalty and reward. The added length for the homage prevents the possible thrill of a driven green for most players. A downwind shot for a bigger hitter is required and the unique feature of the original, a diagonal green is not reproduced. Fun nonetheless, this hole is likely Thomas’s most recognizable hole to most and a better choice than perhaps the sixth at Riviera with a mid-green bunker. Thomas along with Herbert Strong are the two architects towards whom America has been least kind.
11 – William Flynn (Par 5) Highly evocative from tee to green of Shinnecock Hills, Flynn’s most recognizable course to most – but unfortunately lacking a Flynn green. Flynn built a number of greens best described as being shaped similar to a potato chip - very easy to reproduce, even in a toned-down iteration. Eleven is indeed a very fun hole to play, but given that green contours so define Flynn’s work along with routing - impossible to convey in this format – makes a green complex so important.
12 – Charles Banks (Par 3 –“Redan”) Basically, all the parts are there – bunkering location, slope on green (mild) but angulation of green to line of play is absent. Banks was known as Steamshovel - his favorite construction device, he was a little less an architect a constructor. He finished several of Banks courses after Raynor's death. Very sharp, angular severe features normally characterize his work, often very fun to play, dramatic to see, but given the scope of this course three holes for this triumvirate mandatorily leaves out others.
13 – Alister Mackenzie (Par 5). Features culled from multiple holes at Augusta National and Pasatiempo are assembled here to create a rather odd hole. Here the fairway on the far side of the stream is rarely usable due to angle resulting in a three shot play for the norm. I’m not a particular fan of this hole as representative of Dr. Mac – rated the #1 Architect in Ian Andrew’s comprehensive and exquisite series on his older blog - The Caddie Shack. Mac is seemingly always mentioned on a short list of 3-5 great all-time architects.
14 – Perry Maxwell (Par 4) I think this is a great representation of many Maxwell principles and a reproduction of one of the two major green characters that one finds attributable to Maxwell – The “Maxwell Rolls”. The second, the pillows or “poofs” as Bill Coore calls them being would probably not transfer as well to the target audience as do the rolls. I also think Maxwellian style translates well to a very wide range of golfers. This is almost universally recognized as a favorite hole among Architects’ players.
15 – Donald Ross Redux (Par 4) Ross late in his life designed much later into the 20th century than most realize with several courses built in the mid-forties all laying claim to being “Donald Ross’s last course design”. Another long and difficult par 4, little makes this hole Ross specific. A long Par 3 for Ross was much more of a trademark, but not necessarily late in career as he always seemed to include one and often two right from his earliest designs.
16 – Dick Wilson (Par 4) Long considered the architect of Shinnecock Hills and even listed erroneously as the designer in the club history was a great force with his partner Joe Lee. Wilson and RTJ, Sr. being contemporaries shared a number of similarities and one will notice this at AOG with 16 & 18. Wilson doesn’t get enough credit likely because RTJ, Sr. was the first promoter of the Signature Architect. A strongly defended par here completes a 3-hole stretch of stern par 4’s.
17 – Stanley Thompson (Par 3) THE great Canadian architect also had some similarities to Wilson and Jones and probably can be called the best of the lot for strategy, balance and artistry – perhaps one reason this hole stands out so with its bunkering flair. Thompson was also a great router, something very important to an architect’s oeuvre, but impossible to convey in a tribute course.

18 – Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (Par 4) He was added late, chronologically dying after conception and before completion of this course. Some of the hole designs might have changed as a result, but such a giant of modern architecture one must honor here. Thought of universally with cloverleaf bunkering , it is of great interest to view some of the Golf Channel Big Three shows from the Mauna Kea course just after opening. The bunkering there was more akin George Thomas than what we normally attribute to RTJ, Sr. I for one would like to know why he changed. Undeniably, RTJ brought golf course architecture as a profession to attention in the 1960’s .
Overall, I normally don’t like the blow-by-hole description as I have done here, but this sort of amalgam truly deserves it. My own personal preference in the design would have been for more attention to green complexes, appropriateness of hole type to designer and more overall depth of character per hole. The experience of playing the Architects of Golf is a heady one nonetheless and I wholeheartedly endorse it. Certainly more than a collection of famous holes from disparate private courses, Tour Courses or self-tribute for any one architect’s own oeuvre it is a rewarding experience. I reiterate that very few if any will be as critical as I have been but I really want players to be more aware of their architects similar as we are aware of our painters. I would like to help advance thought about design. My sole reason to be so critical is to hopefully encourage one to continue thinking about the role of the architect after the round is done.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ratings and Rankings

There are those that pooh-poo the creation of lists that reflect an average opinion of variously qualified "Raters" to create "Rankings". Golf Digest has been infamous for starting that process with their "200 Toughest Courses" (based upon Rating & Slope) which morphed into Golf Digest's Top 100 USA - America's Oldest Ranking or something like that - massaged by "Tradition" among other things.

For those that do not think that rankings are taken seriously, I'll save 1000 words now...

Case Closed. But, remember "Tradition".

BTW, Eugene does not scare my top 100. The trees are majestic and don't intrude on turf nor play as much as one might suspect, but the course is far too ordinary. It just happens to have a long history with the USGA.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bandon Perspective

Enjoying my Nespresso Ristreto this morning, I was thinking ...

As the season winds down and we get to thinking retrospectively about play this past several months, the most glaring point that comes to me from this year is that I made a trip to Bandon Resort and I also made a trip to Scotland. The Bandon trip included a classic NW US course with evergreen-lined fairways and a Consensus "Golf Digest Top 100" course (Eugene CC) in addition to a family visit, The Willamette Valley Pinot experience, a Portland City stay and a comprehensive tour of the Bandon offerings. The Scotland trip included some extremely good modern offerings from Scottish and American architects, some old favorite courses such as Prestwick!, Ailsa and North Berwick as well as a new old favorite (profiling is still in the works).

Several things stand out:
-Getting to Bandon is far, far more difficult from East of the Mississippi (no less the Eastern Seaboard) than anywhere in Europe. Getting to Scotland is a slam dunk, one-flight affair. Bandon is a tortuous nightmare. Heck, getting on and off Long Island is harder than getting to Scotland some days!

-Driving in Scotland I passed much more interesting alternatives than I did once on the ground in Oregon. More variety in courses, scenery, culture, you name it.

-Driving in Scotland I covered less ground to play more better golf courses.

-Lodging values were better in Scotland

-Golf costs are either less in Scotland or a wash, Bandon is not a frugal trip!

-Scotland's weather is less extreme, yes LESS extreme.

-Pundits are in a tither deciding whether or not Pacific and Bandon and Old Macdonald are "better than" the Pebble Beach Rota. It is moot, both are $$$$$.

-Scotland has real links golf, not what passes for links golf, but both have gorse.

For my money, send me to Scotland, England, Ireland, France and Portugal for a golf trip. My horizons are expanded daily, I play faster because the Swedes are only a small slow play problem vs. a pervasive four-ball slooooooow play problem rampant in America. Bandon for me is not a trip I am itching to do any time soon, but Ayrshire, Fife and East Lothian dominate my daily thoughts these days as I fantasize about the past months.

Recent Bandon-related threads for new readers. Be sure to read #3

One Two Three

Monday, October 11, 2010

Golf Architecture

Golf Digest's Ron Whitten wrote about innovative courses and listed all of his favorites. Then he ranted on how there have been nothing in the way of innovations in golf course architecture for 100 years or so. I have this to say as follows ...

Golf Architecture (Golf is a battle game):

Golf is played on a series or collection of holes.
There are core design concepts offering various degrees of strategy (options, choices) at various places in the hole design.
There are three concepts of holes in play - one, two and three shot holes (also "half-shot" concepts for the "picky")
Golf is played with a ball that gravity insures must eventually be on the ground and come to rest.
Access to putting surfaces is by varying degrees of combination of Air and Ground approach
Agronomy, gravity and geometry determine play and putting surfaces.

That's really all there is. Until the math and physics change, that's all there will be.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Renaissance Club

Crail Craighead



Ryder Cup Redux

After all is said and done, good entertainment came through in the end. The drama of the wait was nearly interminable and hard on the capacity of nearly all TiVOs. I would think that the Golf Channel ought to get the footage and edit it to watchable fare and run it over and over for a while as from all the fans I know, it seems no one has seen it all.

Some quick hits:

Corey Pavin left us all wondering what he was thinking.
Tiger Woods has proven that Steve Stricker is his go-to partner.
Steve Stricker proved again that he is a stud.
Mickleson has us scratching our collective heads yet again.
Cink for all his heroics nearly came away with top billing.
Furyk may have won PGATour POY award, but fell short for the team.
Dustin Johnson should have maybe borrowed Furyk's putter? Poor guy. A year of mightabeen.

Monty proved that he could lead, a great cap for him. Fine lad, he. Kudos
Jiminez, my #1 Euro came through for the old guys.
Fisher will be a strong future force, not a one-off.
Westwood wasa leader and a stud despite losing singles.
Luke Donald proved a worthy pick.
Remember McIlroy is just 21.
Poulter put his skills right up there with his clothes - spot on show!

Celtic Manor makes us wonder if we'll ever see a gret venue for a Ryder Cup again. Valhalla? Celtic Manor? Centenary (of all places) at Gleneagles?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The New Slow

Americans are generally slow players at the game of golf; better – more deliberate players being the culprits and Ladies unjustly receiving the blame. That isn’t far from the truth as virtually nothing is more intolerable than following four single digit players grinding out their match. Those Americans who have had been players for 20 years or more and especially those with at least 40 years experience with the game have seen pace of play in America deteriorate to a remarkable degree. Some comments on slower players in the 1990’s lay the blame on players from Japan. Rather deliberate in their ways respecting a ritual - perhaps cultural manner of playing. It is rather relaxing and somewhat ceremonial in nature and sometimes lead to slower rounds of golf that even the horribly slow Americans noticed. Japanese players in America have done a very good job of accommodating to American golf norms by assimilating their playing character at American Resorts to a much more representative average American style. I certainly respect that approach to the game wherein a nearly three hour nine holes is followed by lunch and then another ceremonial nine. Given how that evolved, I am fine with it as it is closer to religion than disease.
Professional golfers whether at stroke play or match play are maddening to watch I person and on the television isn’t much better with the emphasis on staying “in one’s self”. Club players with five or more years under their belts at their own home course taking five minutes to execute a putt that they’ve had dozens of times before is hard to fathom. Maybe I just read putts better than most or am motivated to get out of the players behind me’s way. Slow play abounds.
Recently in Scotland I noticed at a well-known but not Open Rota club a list of average playing times comparing those of members vs. outsiders. It showed nearly an hour’s difference of time playing this lovely course (3:35) comparing several month’s average time (vs. 4:25) of visitors. I am certain that Americans contribute their fair share and visitors are to be expected to get about slower. However, I learned firsthand at another Club of the new slow. It is the Swedes. They have taken the methodical, ritual pre-shot routine, stay in focus, execute only when you are ready process to previously incomprehensible levels. They must all be trying to shoot 54 it seems. Fortunately it was a lovely day, windy, but not a rainy one. Our two-ball thus became intimately acquainted with the four-ball in front of us as two successive three-balls from Sweden leading our groups executed (badly?) the Swedish routine to perfection. The shots were far from perfection. Tops, foozles, laterals were all in play and the record will reflect that over five hours were required for these groups to complete its round. Our time was in the 4:30 range including perhaps 1:30 of literally standing around, walking backwards, practicing chipping and putting as we literally had nothing else to do and we were the final morning group. A routine is one thing, gross inconsideration is another. Our two cadies and the three in our group ahead were livid and your not-so-even tempered reporter was on very good behavior. Apparently we have a new plague to try and stop as the caddies were all too familiar with the process already.

Deliberate needs to be reworked as golf enters more deeply into the 21st century. Routines can be pared, steps eliminated, confidence in perception can be found with less repetition. Wholesale repeats of the routine can be modified at the point of the grip, the alignment, the stance – somewhere.

Damn, I had really wanted to play golf in Sweden one of these days, I’ve found a couple of interesting courses …

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Charles Banks was generally considered the less-talented member of the trio yet his distinctive style can hardly be called “lite”. He likely had little of his own ideas to input as he was a construction man and in fact once the oeuvre was created in the first five years of their work as a design team, little else was added by anyone. Banks cannot be faulted in any way for lack of creativity. Some of what he did was of course to finish off the work of Raynor when Seth passed on. Macdonald gets most of the credit for introducing the design principles first brought to America in most grand style at NGLA. Chicago Golf Club, Raynor fully gutted to create a “superior design” in Macdonald’s words and much of what we know is done in Raynor’s style at the courses Macdonald Raynor and Banks put their names on. Banks is honored at Forsgate and his design especially at the green complexes has been lovingly preserved and enhanced at Forsgate. The aficionado should seek it out as it is certainly contending for top 25 in golf-rich New Jersey.

Banks is a bit of a forgotten man at the triumvirate with much of his distinction being proffered by critics as more crude and of course more mechanical and angular. The Banks course at Forsgate in Monroe Twp., NJ, is a fine example of Banks work. It is immediate to exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike, exceptionally easy to find. I was first introduced to it years ago and indeed felt fortunate to be playing two Charles Banks in a seven day span. Later that week in Bermuda I had my sole play at the exquisite (N.L.E.) Castle Harbour. Sadly what exists now as Tucker’s Town is not a Banks course and has little of architectural interest or curiosity. Forsgate on the other hand keeps getting loving attention bringing it further forward as a particularly good example of Banks’ work.
Bold Greenside Bunkering

Eden (ish)

Reverse Redan (aka Nader)

A Bold Biarritz, 63 paces deep

Swale in perspective

Routing: Overall a simple affair with a bit of parallelism but extremely walkable without a glitch. The greens are immediate to tees and nine next to ten, rather good; quite efficient if not too dramatic.
Overall quality of individual holes: Par 3’s are exceptional with Biarritz, reverse Redan and Horseshoe (Short) all exceptional. Eden (not really an Eden, but none ever are) is also a fine hole. Par fours have some variety, mostly at greens with little heroics needed to negotiate their play. Par fives, lacking interesting fairway bunkering come down to the greens although the Plateau ninth has excellent rolls in the fairway. These aren’t up to the level of the other holes.
Cohesion of the course: Excellent with such a tight routing and consistent style, it is a pleasure to play and there is never a questioning moment.
Green Complexes: These generally fall into a couple of types – templates, rolling waves and the more simple affairs. Punchbowl is not quite, but the reverse Redan is spot on fallaway, the newly-revved-up Biarritz is astoundingly good (it always was notable,
Bunkering schema: A bit tame except certain spots most notably the Biarritz, recently renovated. Much of the fairway bunkering is un inspired but commensurate with aspirations.
Conditioning: Superior turf on greens, rest more than serviceable for an enjoyable round, a good balance actually.
Use of trees: Kept to the periphery, one struggles to find a criticizable tree.
Ideal: Rather better than average as water is not in play and rough is severe only when far off line.
Rest of Club: Pretty average but that’s far better than over-the-top -matches aspirations. Extremely comfortable.

A Challenge from 93 years ago

Why I am a golfer in 100 words or less

I am a golfer because it is a pastime for a lifetime, somewhere between religion and disease. It is a microcosm of life, continually challenging the body and psyche to different degrees in a satisfying, encouraging way yet never allowing a full measure of satisfaction nor dismay. Allowing us to frequently start anew it refreshes and seduces as no other. Leading us to believe that we are somehow in control, it constantly reminds us that we are not. It allows us our own measure and gives us great pride to merely be a part of it. We are one with her.

my take

Monday, August 09, 2010

State by State - New Jersey today

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.

I would venture to say that regional magazines are not immune to this malady. The traveler wants fair and balanced information on which to make decisions, the private club golfer can get reciprocity from his home club and the public golfer plays in his price range. If one likes Jack Nicklaus designs, Tom Fazio, Jim Engh or some other designer whose teams work across the country, seeking out a known entity often fulfills one's needs. I hope that golfers try to branch out and try new architects work and expand their horizons. Every region has a home architect or two that might very well be worth seeking out.

caveat: be careful who compiles a "Best of" list - ones created by players themselves are notoriously stacked. One really has to be careful with a list such as Golf Digest's Places to Play - perhaps the least reliable guide one can choose for just this reason. The truly best places in any given area are hidden as low as ** ½ and on the other hand **** ½ courses can be just little more than extremely well-conditioned pasture pool palaces.

I'm going to ask my readers to help out on this one. E-mail me with your state's best courses. Reader comments have been turned off due to Asian spam latching onto my blogs comments section. Look for yours.

Here’s a state I really know well (reserved right to edit as I did this fast)

Golf Digest panelists
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 – arguable world #1

Plainfield – most unappreciated great course in America

Sommersett Hills – Tillie’s quirkiest
Ridgewood (Championship)- below R@BB??? In what universe?
Baltusrol Upper – far more interesting than more famous bottom half
Hollywood – among very best “flat” courses
Galloway National – uneven but solid, worst greenhead flies in USA
Atlantic City – nice interpretive restoration
Hidden Creek – really nice “member’s club” by MFA’s

(Now by alpha)
Alpine – deserves more respect
Baltusrol Lower - famous
Bayonne – engineering feat. So what?
Trump (Old) –Trump’s best, very good Fazio

Canoe Brook (N) – fits in about here
Metedeconk – 27 holes of “Hard”
Montclair – four (4!) “nines”
Mountain Ridge – has its fans, wild greens, overall uneven

Better than below +/- equal to some of last 5 above:
Canoe Brook (S)
Echo Lake
Manasquan River

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

- All probably not in top 50 NJ (ALL 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 – every Fazio cliché in the book Doak 4 at best
Ridge at Back Brook – very posh, Doak 4, but posh
Shore Gate – definition of hideous - not posh, don't get this one at all

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Oakmont and the Ladies, The Old Course and The Open

Slow play is killing golf. Fast greens breed slow play, was Oakmont the Mother of slow play?

Not necessarily, but very few of the women (as I suppose most handicap visiting players of Oakmont) had any sort of feel for what was really needed. One can even say that with the tilted flat portions of greens at Oakmont requiring pinpoint precision of shots that not only was Oakmont guilty of prolonging and perhaps even breeding modern slow play, it becomes the ultimate in target golf - hit it here or die.

William Fownes once said "A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost". That is the mantra of Oakmont to the nth degree. They have hundreds of single digit handicaps, so maybe once you are used to the uni-dimensionality of the play requirements, it might just lead to tighter score dispersion amongst members.

Here's a list of Pennsylvania Golfers winning the state Amateur.
Nathan Smith
Mike Van Sickle
Adam Hofmann
Chad Bricker
Alex Knoll
Blaine Peffley
Brandon Knaub
Nathan T. Smith 2nd) John G Jones (Oakmont)
Peter A. Toole
Michael McDermott
Chris Lange

These are the last few years and the only Oakmont golfer in the winner or runner-up spot. Have the conditions at Oakmont day-to-day produced champions?

Fast greens are an end unto themselves and often don't translate well. It becomes difficult to play fast greens for the player of slow greens much more so than the player of fast greens accommodating the other way. Familiarity thus breeds contempt, funny how truism are so. Are the super fast greens at Oakmont nothing more than a mind jerk for the members? I have yet to play there, but I think variety is the lifeblood of golf.

Poor Tiger Woods whined like a 12-year old girl about the greens at The Old course last week at The Open Championship, switched putters twice and was probably perturbed that he was denied a record third Open at st. Andrews that he felt was an entitlement for him (seems no change there). Maybe A) He's no longer the "Best Player in the World" and his time of reign is ending with a whimper not a bang or B) He's similar to most professional golfers in America in that there is a comfort zone that the majority don't like to leave. Either way The R & A have widened the gap over the USGA. The list of USGA Open winners has been comprised of mostly players backing into the title while the R & A have seemed to identify the players most wanting to win that week rather than the one least wanting to lose.

Oakmont for the Ladies put Pebble Beach for the men to shame, even though each provided a deserving winner. Yet The Old Course again welcomed a great win and winner.

Louis Oosthuizen (weist-hoyzen') played surgical golf reminiscent of Sir Nick Faldo as much as anyone else in the era post-Hogan.

Here's to playing quickly - and Louis did!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

To Honesty and Integrity on 4 July

Bits and Bobs

Since nobody pays me I'm slow to get things done here, but I have had a few very nice visits this year already.

Ridgewood (Championship)

The Ridgewood Club (already detailed in depth at is now playing the Championship Course and the "Cart Nine" on a regular basis which is a grand idea. Even with the Championship routing the cart nine has marvelous holes. Not a fan generally of 27-hole clubs (What's the course, you know?) this is one of the best if not the best - each nine is rather good and they thus have Four 18-hole courses. I'm a big fan, always have been.

Routing - Very natural despite being an amalgam of three different nines. No glitches except as how the PGATour plays them.
Overall hole quality is superior. There are wonderful holes in all pars, the last few holes are perhaps the least stirring, but at least one of each type is superior.
Cohesion - Again despite being two nines carved out of three it is a consistent feel 1-18.
Green Complexes - much more compelling than average. Highlights are par 4 "5 & Dime" and par 5 third.
Bunkering Schema - Fairway bunkering is not as well done as greenside, but only relatively. Course unique in that there are two Hell's Half Acre par 5 holes each without sand. Straightforward bunker shapes and style - perfect for the property.
Conditioning - As good as one would expect of this course's pedigree, nearly perfect.
Trees - No real agronomic issues, enough shade for a summer day, but hole 18 could use a trim.
Ideality - Good playability for a weaker player despite overall difficulty.
Rest of Club - Posh Clifford Charles Wendehack Clubhouse on

The Orchards

A marvelous Ross course, very near the magnificent Longmeadow CC, is not in world-class shape except for the greens. It is not a club with an unlimited budget so it actually is more ideal than most courses. World-Class calibre holes in a couple of instances (4, 7, 11, 15?) a taut, superior routing and what more do you need? This is a marvelous place to play.

Routing - two returning nines - Out, up, around and back each time. An adventurous walk using beautiful ground very well.
Holes - Par threes particularly outstanding. Several excellent fours, varied length, up/down hill, etc. Par 5 third is a wonderful use of rolling land with a turret green - needed near wetlands.
Cohesion - Very much a singular golf course with any transition from woods to clearing, flat to hills naturally done.
Green Complexes - Lots of back to front slopes, well-bunkered.
Bunkering Schema - simple and effective, appropriate appearance.
Conditioning - greens excellent, the rest a little ragged by modern standards, but perfectly fine for quality golf. Clearly not a mega-budget, New England practicality.
Trees - Too much, a work in progress, excellent clearing already done at 3rd green.
Ideality - Ross strongpoint, no different here although woods and wetlands increase lost ball count for the wayward.
Rest of Club - a wonderful no-frills neighborhood gem, nicely done.


On the other hand, just down the road is an even more spectacular old New England club which is almost Major Championship ready daily. An elegant stately lady of a club it possesses a superior golf course with one nine being excellent and the other even better.

Routing - Two distinct returning nines, easily reversed. Second nine simple affair with multiple changes of direction on mostly flat land, superior terrain last three and entire first nine.
Hole Quality - Fives fairly simple, vast variety of fours, threes excitingly different with two wonderful short ones.
Cohesion - 1, 10-15 flatter and a different feel than the remainder yet a full sense of coherency. A tribute to great design.
Green Complexes - very interesting contours and angles created
Bunkering - well-placed, clean style.
Conditioning - Extremely high quality in all areas
Trees/Ornamentals - Not too heavy on the flowers for such a posh club, great restraint. No agronomic tree issues.
Ideality Few places to lose balls, Ross excellence in balance of playability and challenges.
Rest of Club -"Sign me up" good. Stately, luxurious, functional, teeming with history.

Misquamicut Club

My favorite photo of the year by far

Located on the shore in Rhode Island, 11 holes are built on rolly-polly glacial dump and the remainder on a seaside marsh. WOW! absolutely exceeds expectations unless you are a jaded world traveler and then you must be dying or something. Right from the first fairway where most drives do not yield a view of much more than the flag itself and often not you know you are on very special golf ground - holy in fact. The green complexes on the seaside are superior and while the land is less dramatic the golf is just as compelling. One of my favorites on so many levels.

Routing - Two separate parcels melded well by the single tee shot across the road. Each parcel utilized in an exciting way.
Hole Quality - Threes a superior set, fours rather varied, par 5's more simple but wind dictates par 5 difficulty.
Cohesion - Each parcel a thrilling, enthusiasm-generating rock-solid part. Marsh holes by necessity about wind and ground control, Morraine terrain creates pleasant blindness and quirk. A compelling dichotomy.
Green Complexes - Each terrain dictates its own excellent style.
Bunkering - No unnecessary, inappropriate frilliness.
Conditioning - Rock-solid and consistent despite differences in the terrain.
Trees - never an issue
Ideal - Some of the severe slopes on the contoured holes very challenging for the handicapper.
Rest of club - Lovely, gracious New England at its most refined. If asked, one should beg for admission. American Golf at its best.

Boston Golf Club
Remaining easily one of America's 100 best courses and as good a modern course as I have seen by a substantial margin, I can only tell you, not show you as BGC is rather private and will remain that way on my sites. Dramatic, compelling, difficult, quirky, playful, respectful to nature and traditions, friendly, extremely well-conditioned. Drop it all when an invite comes.

Routing - Two separate relatively similar plots of land, the second nine containing the clubhouse and formal buildings. Magnificent land present on each, a very interesting walk. I've heard many say the course looks 100 years old.
Hole Quality - Vexing par 4's from massive to nearly drivable although the two shortest can bite you. One of the longest has one of the smallest greens. Extremely good variety. Par threes rather demanding especially the Pine Valley-esque sixth. Eleven a playful roller-coaster of options. One five nearly always reachable, the other two require stringent demands. Nothing resembling a clunker anywhere.
Cohesion - other than ferry across road from nine to ten, seamless.
Bunkering - Very demanding and well-considered. Site appropriate flora enhance rugged nature.
Conditioning - World-Class and consistent.
Trees - Heavily treed property but no conditioning issues or trees limiting options.
Ideal - Too challenging for the high handicapper, an ideal golf club.
Rest of Club - World-Class focus and execution. It's elegant and green using wood harvested from site.

Lehigh CC
Unfortunately, conditioning is a challenge this year as the money is in the clubhouse. It is not the staff's fault by any stretch, hopefully the Members and especially the Board will play around a bit more and be honest and do what must be done. It is a very nice clubhouse and a full membership, nothing to sneeze at these days, I guess ...

Routing - World-Class
Holes - Great design elements, needs length badly to challenge long players and add variety for those that merely canhit solid shots of reasonable length, not withstanding the talented ball-striker.
Green Complexes - Many variations on a theme, elegantly simple.
Bunkering - Very simple and effective, perhaps a bit too many front left & right.
Conditioning - Just appalling this season. Massive clover fields, bumpy greens, irregular coarse fairways, slow, soggy, stressed greens.
Trees - More out, more in. Baffling planting of five hardwoods between 17 & 18 after removal of the dangerous Schwartzwald. Less planting after cleanup between 9 & 10. Much work yet to be done.
Ideality - Despite sad conditioning, playable for all levels, a bit short for modern moderate length players and longer. Should be an interesting Pennsylvania Mid-Amateur Championship this September. Record low scoring not out of the question once the Western Penna. Champions show up.
Rest of Club - Amazing clubhouse renovation, especially considering recent world-wide economic crisis. Not a hair out of place. Country Club excellence.

Morgan Hill
I'm not playing well at all this year, by body is remaining on strike far more than I can tolerate, so I got to see on a nice day when LCC was jammed far too much for a Wednesday, during a round of cartball just how difficult and demanding this lovely Kelly Blake Moran course really is. When the ball doesn't do what you want it to do, this course will make you look foolish. People love it or hate it, I'm in the former camp - solidly.


The Golf Writers had an outing on a perfect day and I decided to go. Too bad they didn't elect to make a wetland rather than a mirror lake on the eighth, evidence Jack put his foot down. I can't find much else to criticize roundly, so it makes the top tier of modern courses. Some of the writers (I didn't) went to The Atlantic the day before. They have been very generous to the writers, media and rater panels over the years and generously extended a round again this year. New in-house bunker work, removal of ridiculous original design mounding and elimination of any pre-conceived ideas about Rees Jones original works will allow one to realize that in this, perhaps THE toughest American Golf Neighborhood, this golf course is very good, can be rather difficult and is a great club. It just suffers by being neighbors to world-class Shinnecock Hills, NGLA, Maidstone, Friar's Head and the aforementioned Sebonack clubs.

Plainfield and Mountain Ridge Comparison

As one who has played both above-mentioned courses in the very recent past I want to comment. (Will be expanded)

Plainfield became what it has because of the land that was there. The rolls of the land is often mirrored in the rolls of the green, the character and scale all line up beautifully, that's one reason the so-called tunnel holes are so distinctly different. In fact hole #15 being closer to the rest of the course is a testament to renovation architect Hanse. It is however a Hanse hole in its present form as much as a Ross hole. #14 is less so, almost a progressive transitional hole from 12 to 16 and actually works well for me. #13 is just an outlier and following the sublimely magnificent hole #12, it is jarring in its differences as an outlier - flat land, flat green, water hazard, just so different in so many ways. A very good hole on many another course, but not at Plainfield, it's "stinker" if you will, the winner of the proverbial "weak hole" on a truly great course. I have heard some call it an eyesore, I can't begin to go there.

Ironically the now defunct Golf Journal magazine of the USGA picked #13 as its first A GREAT HOLE from Plainfield (they showcased about 4 before they were done with the 'field). Plainfield is stunning tee-to-green AND on the putting surfaces and in the green complexes themselves.

Mountain Ridge on the other hand is in my fairly wide Ross experience unique. It is not as good a piece of land as Plainfield but has some small movement to it in spots. Tee-to-green it is one of his most Plain Jane and somewhat devoid of strategic flexibility save by the putting surfaces themselves. It is also very unique as the greens were constructed in a way that I have seen nowhere else by Ross. They are even larger surfaces than Plainfield's largest ones and perhaps are Ross's largest overall. They are a myriad of slopes and ridges, some very interesting some not so - by fighting against local contours (and there is one that does not fit at all [#7] - almost as though Ross was doing something experimental). Dr. Klein in the wonderful Discovering Donald Ross describes several periods of Ross's design career including a mature phase as well as an experimental one. I have not yet had a chance to discuss MR's greens with him in person but will in 2 weeks or so.

Being brutally honest Mountain Ridge stands out as a remarkable set of putting surfaces slightly disconnected from other landforms in places, but overall a magnificent test of golf. It holds the hearts of good players as it is very fair while Plainfield is more whimsical and quirky as well as challenging. Stern and sober vs. quirky and having more of a sense of humour about sums it up. I would think different players would favor one or the other. I think Plainfield is a bigger version of some of the smallish courses Ross built and Mountain Ridge stands alone until I see another like it. It remains different yet a bit more similar to Aronimink and less so to Oakland Hills CC (awesome despite its horrid monolithic bunkering) certainly one of Ross's most remarkable courses and absolutely one of the most difficult on which to score, yet the unique greens define it.

Mountain Ridge
•Routing - simple pair of returning nines although second nine flatter, more back and forth and wetter. Easy to medium walk.
•Overall quality of individual holes - Threes extremely demanding. Some of the pin positions on several require restraint in length of play on a given day. Fours mostly long and relatively straight, one carry bunker elbow hole stands out as the most interesting drive on the course. Fives ask demands on greens.
•Cohesion of the course - Par3 7th doesn't fit, seems more AWT to me, a simple punchbowl pinnable in an area the size of a stately parlor in a Manor House. Overall very much the same golf course hole to hole.
•Green Complexes - among the most complex and complicated in golf, yet never really tedious as some heavily contoured putting surfaces can be
•Bunkering schema - very little in the way of fairway bunkering determining strategy. Putting surfaces hardly need bunkers.
•Conditioning - amazingly good and very fast greens
•Use of trees - much improved to a near-ideal state by Ron Prichard's recent renovation.
•Ideal - very challenging for the unskilled, very unforgiving, not for all, perfect for the accomplished stroke play type. A Player's Course.
•Rest of Club - solid, superior food!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Old Macdonald will do what Charles Blair Macdonald hoped that NGLA would do – expose American golfers to the great holes of the U.K.

Old Macdonald is truly the completion of Charles Blair Macdonald’s dream. It brings to life for the everyman golfer his Gift : Golf. National Golf Links of America on the remote east end of Long Island was intended to show Americans what a proper golf course was – but in its first 100 years only a privileged few were able to do so. Access to America’s finest golf courses is so much more restricted than it is in Scotland, golf’s birthplace as we know the game today. Old Macdonald change all that. The exposure is now available – what the golfer makes of it is yet to be determined. One approaches Old Macdonald with an open mind, hopefully a completely blank slate as it will be for most, unlike anything they have ever seen.
Old Macdonald is the newest course at the arguably best destination golf resort in America. It is best because it is openly available and Bandon is all about the celebration of golf. It is the last piece of the puzzle in so many ways. Unless something extraordinary happens, it is the final course in the collection at Bandon Dunes – a revolutionary resort in America. More importantly it finally makes whole Charles Blair Macdonald’s original intent. Charlie Macdonald was from Chicago, was sent to St. Andrews to receive a proper education at St. Andrews University and became infected by golf in the process. Charlie called his years after St. Andrews the dark years as he was so removed from his beloved golf. In 1911 he opened his gift to America – The National Golf Links of America commonly known by cognoscenti simply as NGLA. It is truly THE National.
With the opening of Old Macdonald this upcoming Tuesday June 1, 2010, Old Macdonald will do for the American player what Charlie originally hoped NGLA would do for American golf – introduce the concepts, the features, the interpretive ideals of the great holes of the British Isles. NGLA managed to expose the wealthy, privileged, country club golfer to these strategies and replica holes – Old Macdonald will now expose to anyone willing to make the somewhat arduous trek to the remote coast of Southern Oregon to what NGLA intended to do 100 years ago.
Old Macdonald will make available to the everyman golfer in America the wonderful nature of strategic and truly classic golf as NGLA was meant to do. Due to its exclusivity this unfortunately never happened. NGLA even today with a new appreciation for its magnificent architecture recognized by American Magazine’s Top 100 lists, it remains a name mostly unfamiliar to the retail golfer (as Owner Mike Keiser has labeled the daily player) not fortunate enough to have received a coveted invitation to NGLA.

Old Macdonald is a true collaboration of many minds. Tom Doak and his assistant Jim Urbina are the official architects of record but an even more unfamiliar name – George Bahto – plays a pertinent part. He is Charlie Macdonald's biographer in The Evangelist of Golf. After a successful career as an owner of a dry cleaning business, George Bahto has become a sought after consultant by courses designed by Macdonald and his protégées Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. Noted author Bradley S. Klein has also had a significant consultant’s role, but George Bahto is the real go-to guy anyone could want for encyclopedic knowledge of Macdonald. The definitive tome on NGLA and Charles Blair Macdonald’s so-called template holes, George’s basement is a candyland for the golf course architecture student. He has hand drawn nearly all of their routings and holes and has archived materials unlike anything outside the Tufts Collection at Pinehurst and the USGA Museum itself. George is a modest man who has greatly played down his role; however he has been on site for much of two years and will continue to be there for the first month of opening.
A lot of site wandering and conversation has gone on in the process of giving birth to Old Macdonald. Jim Urbina, a warm and friendly bear of a man who admits that he never really intended to become an architect has spent so much time and effort on the project meeting with Tom Doak and processing the suggestions and implementing them on an ongoing process that has been non-stop. The large original plain bisected by a tall ridge situated north of Pacific Dunes and south of the legendary Sheep Ranch that was to become Old Macdonald was originally deeply covered in gorse. Routing or the laying of the footprints that are to become golf holes was the first step in creation. A routing map was finalized and drawn. Then the final details took place in the proverbial dirt constantly shaping and arranging features to yield the course you will find today. Mr. Keiser is to be given so much credit first for creating Bandon Dunes and having it exceed all expectations. The, especially for the freedom allowed at Old Macdonald. Every step of the way everyone involved has nothing but praise for his foresight and the opportunity given.
Those familiar with Scottish and English will recognize the names of the holes. Eden, Redan, Biarritz and Short comprise the par 3’s. Long, Littlestone (perhaps better known as its Lido iteration), Westward Ho! and Hogback are the fives. Double Plateau as the opening hole introduces wild features, perhaps unlike any ever seen by many a golfer new to Macdonald and the links inspiration. In fact, the holes rather than being based upon the NGLA or other American templates are inspired by the original holes themselves, George Bahto having been dispatched to the U.K. by owner Mike Keiser to see the originals for himself, otherwise having seen virtually every version Macdonald and partners ever constructed. Sahara, the third hole, is an inspiration and is most unlike its namesake at NGLA. It has a very wild fairway and a very large green with even more intense contours and slopes. I think it is fair to say that at Old Macdonald one generally finds more undulations, dips and hollows on one green than one usually encounters at any complete American Golf Course.
Familiar hole names Cape, Road, Punchbowl, Alps, Maiden, perhaps less so Leven and Bottle coupled with the unique hole (a la CBM’s original the “Cape”) “Ocean” are there to relentlessly engage you. The scale, the massive nature of this project is overwhelming. First seen when one crosses the spine on the Sahara hole, there are at least four other spots where one can see nearly three hundred acres of golf ground in a single sweeping view – something nearly unparalleled in golf – and it does not encompass the entire course. Even Pacific Dunes fourteenth hole affords such a view giving one a tantalizing preview or recollection depending on whether or not one has yet to play Old Macdonald.
On the one hand if you are completely unfamiliar with the strategies, concepts and features of these iconic holes, I won’t spoil the discovery for you, but will comment on architectural specifics elsewhere. Suffice it to say, educated or not, you are likely unprepared for the assault on your perception of golf by Old Macdonald. I think Charlie would wholeheartedly approve.

What NGLA was to do -Old Macdonald will do precisely what Charles Blair Macdonald hoped that NGLA would do – expose American golfers to the great holes of the U.K.

It is done by Doak, Urbina, Bahto and others, but it is their doing what Charlie intended for the 21st century retail golfer.

Additionally, some random and directed thoughts all off the top to expand on my original thoughts.

The "Edges of greens" are very indistinct from the surrounds in many places, I like that.

One thing that really stands out again: Ocean strikes me as a wonderful golf hole, perhaps the hole I most look forward to playing at Bandon, at least today. An original hole, no "Template", no "Replica" - a complete original. All of the holes are pretty much originals based on classic holes and features - actually the sort of design I champion. Strategic over "random".

Going off the specifics of Old Macdonald, I feel overall that par 5's are the least interesting, hardest to build, most overall repetitive strategies in golf. Tillinghast died before writing his "Par 5 Treatise" as he did for 3's and 4's. Most of the fives at OM and at Bandon are the least interesting holes of respective hole types. Hog's Back, Long, Westward Ho!, Littlestone they are at Old Macdonald.

Overall opinions of holes at OM (being extremely critical - as not particularly given to throwing around superlatives am I)

1-good starter, interesting (Double Plateau)
2-v.good (Eden)
3-superior (Sahara)
4-OK (Hogback)
5-rather decent, if perhaps over-done (short)
6-fair, decent green, the new fresh Hell (High(in))
7-outstanding for the view alone, a feel-good hole (Ocean)
8-nice take (Biarritz)
9-meh (Cape) didn't translate well to property

10-very! good (Bottle)
11-OK hole. great evocation of green (Road) corner not at all fearsome (Road)
12-nice take (Redan) bunkerless front right pretty cool
13-very good to superior; not very close to orig. hole - doesn't matter, it's just super tee to green! (Leven)
14-very! good (Maiden)
15-left me a bit cold, least interesting hole to me with Cape (Westward Ho!) - inspired by 18 NGLA - little resemblance, should be more engaging
16-quite good with a slight reservation - 2 alternate routes around bunker (Alps)
17-very! good to superior (Littlestone/Lido) easily most vexing five, demanding!
18-nice! take! (Punchbowl [modified]) would love to hang around and play shots into and around THIS green

I put it solidly into the top 10 GolfWeek Modern class.

But ... the fives as a whole aren't the outstanding hole type.
Also Fives at the rest of the resort:
Bandon Dunes #9 & 18 are steps down from #3 and #12 (I love that one)
Bandon Trails #16 love it!, #3 is a real yawn (done x3 (var.) at Pac Dunes!), #9 extremely, sadly just dull.
Pacific Dunes #3, #12, #15 v.similar play tee to green, varied greens from #3 - excellent, #12- kinda blah to blah +, #15 good to rather good. #18 is a loads of fun 3-shotter (never played in North wind ...)

Doing good fives is just tough, I think. But this is everywhere. I'll do a bit on par fives perhaps this summer.

p.s. Keep checking in as these articles on Bandon are works in progress.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Old Macdonald and Bandon Dunes

A sign of things to come. A few of us pre-opening were rather privileged to receive opening day medals.

As with all the courses at Bandon, Phil the town Barber, in keeping with the everyman spirit will be the FIRST official golfer to put the peg in the earth and ball in the air at Old Macdonald.

Sometime in the next few days as play opens June 1st, pre-opening play has already started for select groups. Debate will be "Which course is now the number one at America's number one golf resort?" Some foolishly wonder if Doak has already done his "best work" but I think that Doak would have done differently on this piece of land with an original design, but we'll never know. All I know is that Old Macdonald is worth the trip and hopefully the resort will vary the near infinite variety of pins available for the guests.

1 Double Plateau

2 Eden

3 Sahara

4 Hogback

5 Short

6 Long

7 Ocean

8 Biarritz

9 Cape

10 Bottle

11 Road

12 a Redan

13 Leven

14 Maiden

15 Westward Ho!

16 Alps

17 Littlestone (Lido)

18 Punchbowl