Saturday, September 24, 2011

North Shore Redux

1 New Leaf 10 Eden
2 Sahara 11Woods
3 Road 12 Hilltop
4 Highlands 13 St. Christopher’s
5 Biarritz 14 Double Plateau
6 Punchbowl 15 Dell
7 Bandon 16 Ravine
8 Pond 17 Short
9 Redan 18 Westward Ho!

Original, unedited post Not to ruffle the club, I followed the release. Doak appears was right in the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses after all. Steve Schaffer and Mark Hissey extensively researched the provenance and the comments after noted the original post. Here's today's take and the link gives you a first impression taking the presentation as given and documenting the course without confrontation. Read in whatever order you prefer. Notedly I used "shenanigans" in each.

North Shore Country Club on Long Island in New York is a special little place; I first visited in 2009 the spring after the financial crisis unfolded. The club had been particularly hard hit and was particularly vulnerable to the forces of the crisis. There had been a significant loss of members and the club had unwittingly become a notice in the Wall Street Journal as a victim directly affected by Bernie Madoff’s shenanigans. Fortunately that part of history is history. The MWGA (Metropolitan Golf Writers Association) was invited to a spring 2009 outing to help foster a more favorable press for the struggling club. A proud notation of Tillinghast as the designer was offered and curiously when all research was completed a single confirmation of Tillinghast ever being on site was uncovered. The club originally thought that Tillie was responsible for their course. An expert on Macdonald, Banks and Raynor thought that they were the architects and even Robert White’s name figured in the discussion since he had been the golf professional in early years. Persistence and diligence in research led to confirmation that this course was indeed the first of Seth Raynor. On-site visits from Charles Blair Macdonald coincided with his working on the nearby design at Piping Rock - one of the few bearing his name as designer of record, a bit of a coup in itself.

Much of the design historical information was eventually found in the records of a German Jewish City Club – The Harmonie Club (some actually in Gothic German) helping clear and confirm the unique and enviable place in the history of American Golf Architecture that the North Shore CC holds. My own first look at the club’s architecture was the then (and now) 13th hole - a challenging par 4 with a very tilted and contoured green; in and of itself, not necessarily a defining hole architecturally but one of considerable merit. It was however the 14th hole that first engaged me and led me to consider that someone other than Tillinghast was the designer. I felt that green was a hybrid Biarritz Double Plateau – having a diagonal trench and two flattish areas within the more than 10,000 square feet of putting surface. The scale and contours were in my experience fairly far out of the realm of Tillinghast’s style. Once I reached the then (and now) third hole with its magnificent Road Hole green complex MB&R came firmly to mind. Much existing architecture was enhanced, some altered and some bold new additions have been and are continuing under the hand of Tom Doak. Mike Butler the caddiemaster was my TourGuide able to answer many varied questions and offer up for review the newest changes and additions.

Every hole is now named; new green complexes responsible for the Biarritz at #5, Punchbowl at six, an expanded and relatively softened green in the hollow now Dell at fifteen and the short seventh – again somewhat drivable at 322? given the moniker “Bandon” honoring the two courses at that most attractive of destination resorts in North America. It most recalls characteristics of #6 at Pacific Dunes (In reach but with death to a hook with a finicky green) to me, but I’ll have to ask Tom to be certain. Green re-work has gone on at 4, 11 & 12 and expansion and/or modification is planned for 8 (Pond), 9 (Redan), 10 (Eden), 13 (St. Christopher’s) and the sublime par 5 sixteenth (Ravine).

The de novo construction of holes 1 & 2 and 17 & 18 constitute the wholesale changes with each pair being rebuilt on the footprint of the other. The new uphill #1 is New Leaf, the second is a drivable Sahara at 311. Seventeen is now a lovely Short (max 125) as of yet to yield an ace. It is one of if not the most contoured green Doak has built to date. Eighteen (Westward Ho!) at 639 will eventually yield to two shots as nothing is out of reach these days and the hole is downhill; a single fairway bunker on the left can easily be cleared by the longest hitters and there is no other hazard until the green complex. It seems to me another of Doak’s apparent homage to Mackenzie’s #16 at Crystal Downs – somewhat similarly devoid of hazards to outright slugging. There as here, it is not a concept I am particularly enamored with as my readers know I am not fond of long par 5’s nor of a fiver at 1, 9, 10 or 18. The green complex is bunkered short left and long right – favoring the draw preferred by long hitting right-handers, but difficult to pull off from a downhill lie. Thoughtful, but not engaging to me.

Planned green renovations are exciting to look forward to and bunkers will be re-worked; The eighth known as Pond has yet to be touched nor is the Redan 9th. North Shore has turned the corner and is a very worthy visit. It always was but not it is getting ready for the big stage. Always a wonderful place to go, it is already notably improved and more is on the way!

Routing - Very efficient and one also would not notice the new holes were you not to be aware of changes. Fairly large elevation change from below the 11th tee to the 12th green is all uphill, but in an appropriate part of the round.

Par 3’s - The four templates of MB&R all well done. From 120 to 250, short to Biarritz. Each is an excellent version whether Doak or Raynor.

Par 4’s - A rather great diversity from drivable at 2 & 7 to a healthy mid or long iron on three.

Par 5’s - Ravine will be the most beautiful as it is one of the most beautiful holes on Long Island - and a wonderful hole.

Cohesion - Integration of new into old is outstanding although the new greens being so new are easy to pick out.

Green Complexes - All very interesting whether new or old

Bunkering Schema - Raynor and Raynor-esque go hand in hand. Relatively forgiving fairway bunkers are welcomed.

Conditioning - It was very exciting to see a pulled core full out aeration of most of the fairways. The greens were perfect.

Appropriate Vegetation - Check. Nothing silly.

Ideality - more geared to the club player but all but the most skilled amateurs and touring pros will be challenged tee to green and all will be tested there, but not beat up.

Rest of Club - NO Kummel, I assume and Single Malts were few. All keeping in line with the relatively light-drinking typicality of such a club.

Milieu - Basically a stone's throw from LaGuardia dn the Long Island Expressway (LIE aka I-495) and even within shouting distance of Manhattan. Despite all of this one senses a very peaceful, relaxed detachment from the mayhem that constitutes a trip on the Cross-Bronx Expressway connecting this part of the world with the majority of the USA. GREAT Milieu.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Playoffs

I've had an obvious layoff for a while, but I haha entered the PGA FedEx Cup playoff scenario yesterday with a round at Plainfield CC - site of this year's Barclay's Championship. Poor Plainfield suffered form about 6X "Normal" rainfall due to human-induced climate change (yeah, right) and was not her usual self. PCC was however universally loved as opposed to this weeks Cog Hill Tempest of architectural discontent. The professionals didn't get the opportunity to play one of Ross's very best sets of greens when they were firm. The greens were not yesterday completely recovered to their usual firmness but were at speeds around 11 and generally firm. One of the ironies of the course is the relatively-maligned holes 13 & 14 of the so-called tunnel (added in 1928)were by far the firmest of the greens on the course. (14 yielded a birdie to my 4-iron to 7 feet, a first for me ever on that hole). The tunnel holes were added when the 17th and 18th were eliminated to create a driving range. The original 12th & 13th were combined to create the gorgeous par 5 12th - which coupled with the 16th pair perhaps the best two par 5's in 9 holes anywhere in North America.

With the recent press given to Phil M's "Hatchet-job" on Rees Jones (see Geoff Shackelford's site) it bears mentioning that the 2011 Fed Ex Cup courses have been re-modeled by either Rees Jones or Gil Hanse. Sure I'm a bit biased towards Gil as he is my personal Most Preferred Architect (MFA) of the modern era. He takes chances while Rees uses a very formulaic approach to design. When one has as I have been privileged enough to play over 900 courses (so far) one notices trends unless they are just plain dense. There is a whole lot more fun playing Gil Hanse's courses than there are playing Rees'. I have to side with Phil (as well as Stricker &others) on this one. I've logged maybe even a couple hundred rounds at the Cog Hill courses. #1 &3 are rather simple affairs but always well cared for. #2 is more difficult and shares some land with Dubsdread aka #4.

#4 started life as a grand Dick Wilson affair with very deep sand in relatively simple shapes thereby enhancing their difficulty. In its youth it was rather long and difficult and then technology changed that all by itself. Irony abounds in the most-hated part of the re-do: the bunkers. When the PGA Tour moved in to Cog Hill, truckloads of sand were removed and the sand was changed to the player's liking. The course became more forgiving and lost some of its "Dread".

The bunkers that Rees company builds are the same hideous affair everywhere. LedgeRock near Reading, PA has exactly the same bunkers as Cog #4 has now and they are not alone. Among aficionados they have earned the moniker "Rees Pieces" becasue of their puzzle-like shapes. I personally don't like them for several reasons: They're just plain ugly and unnatural. Balls don't stay on the faces anywhere. They are broken up into goofy little areas purely unplayable for anyone not a skilled player (due to their depth and contour) making them little fun for most players. (Hanse on the other hand has never built two bunkers the same.) At LedgeRock they are exceptionally egregious as the property is rather hilly and probably would have been passed upon by most architects. It is a rather joyless place to play unless you are part of the S&M club.

Dubsdread also relied very little on the rough as the trees provided challenge and allowed recoveries. Back to Plainfield, there are long vistas over beautiful rolling land that can only be called voluptuous. It is perhaps Ross's most intimate BIG course. What most of the public got to see at The Barclays on TV was a toothless version of PCC due to the monsoons. The widened fairways did not allow balls to bounce deeper into trouble nor did the ball near the greens react to the lovely contours that Ross put in place.

Plainfield remains THE poster child for what Classic Course Memberships should strive for in their restorations. The recovery of the bunker field on the exquisite par 5 16th is nothing short of breath-taking. It is real work to get over in two shots as my 3 wood failed to do so catching the very last very furthest part on the right (a very aggressive play I might add) yet allowing a recovery shot that had a change to be pin high had I not pulled it. That was the beauty of Ross and the sensitivity of Hanse in the work that each respectively did. Some of the scaffolding for the fans is still coming down at PCC but seemingly the entire course is visible from several spots on the course.

Greens have been expanded greatly from their post WWII disc shapes creating pin positions that had been under 3+ inches of bluegrass 12 years ago in some places. One stands on spots such as the back of hte first green, the 11th tee and the back of the 3rd green and nearly 360* views are available with up to 12 holes visible over rolling landscape. THIS is what Ross saw when he built PCC. At 7,125 yards all the way back, it is a bit short by Tour standards but yesterday in the Club Championship Qualifier a 79 was the lowest score from a membership of talented club golfers. That emphasizes the implicit if not specified bifurcation of golfers at clubs vs. Tour level.

Plainfield remains one of America's best Clubs and memberships. The new nearly driveable 18th hole (289 from the "Barclay" tee) yielded no balls on the green yesterday but within 25 paces of the front with 2 decent efforts from the group, recalling the impressive Sergio 3-wood landing just a few feet from the cup and holding the green during the first round. The new bunkering on #18, elimination of the wetlands there and a small waterless "Burn" taking its place constitute the last real changes to the course. In total, the restoration removed over 1,200 trees, green areas were increased at least 20% total, many fairways were restored to proper location and widths, multiple bunkers were restored and most re-built or re-shaped. A little more length in a few spots is possibly to be added when the Barclays returns in 4 years.

The club also assures us that tree removal and occasional replacement will continue.

More Plainfield, less Reese's Pieces, please.

Plainfield on CLICK HERE Note: Most recent photos not completely up to date.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Bandon Summer

In August a return to Bandon Resort yielded a fresh look. I had only been to Bandon with a group previously and this time it was a small family group, just 3 and for one night with a 4th non-golfer. My regular readers know how picky I am. Bandon Dunes is America's Best Resort. Nothing comes close. After the monumental disappointment that was Kohler earlier this year and with time to reflect, there is no doubt in my mind that Bandon Has the most quality golf to offer, the right amount of service, good hearty generous food and drink and even a better shower than Kohler.

My wife's brothers went fishing and missed my ace at Old Macdonald #5. No matter, there were trophies for all.


We chose to play Old Macdonald first as there was a good wind up, no real threat of rain and a fairly open tee sheet at our preferred mid morning time. First time either of us has seen the other's ace out of 6 total.
Here was the shot on Biarritz (short on the direction of roll), the next Par 3, YIKES!

Long View back to the third
Wonder why people like Old Macdonald so much?
The Principal's Snout
A Very Good Eden

Family's Good
in progress, but that poor camera's dead, I'm afraid