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!