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.


Steve said...

I see you've finlly mentioned LedgeRock here. As I've mentioned, I've often thought what KBM or Engh would have done with the site. Rees' bunkers are so formulaic that they can be anywhere...and they are.

the redanman said...

More than the bunkering, Ledge Rock is a real odd duck. To quote Forrest Gump: "My Momma always said if you can't say something nice ..." Steve, you caught me.