Sunday, December 16, 2018

1006. July 7-11, 2014: CO, ID, MT, and WY

1006.  July 7-11, 2014: CO, ID, MT, and WY.


Email 7/8/2014:

Woke up at 3:25am Monday morning to catch a 5:50am flight from Boston to Denver.  Landed at about 8:15am, got car and arrived at Sanctuary around 10:10am.  It is very close to Castle Pines, a Nicklaus couse Pat and I played in 2010 and both of us, to put it nicely, underappreciated.

Sanctuary was built by Dave Liniger, who founded Re/Max International, Inc. a large real estate brokerage.  Dave and his wife are the only 2 members.  Most of the play appears to be reward play for Re/Max brokers and managers who meet goals, as well as a large number of charitable events and outings.  For the latter, Dave and his wife deserve big kudo's.

It's highest USA Top 100 ratings have been #48 on GD (1999), #54 on GW's merged list (2003), and never on GM.  It's last appearance on a top 100 was in GD in 2009 (#96).  It opened in 1997 and was designed by Jim Engh.  

The course is at about 6500' and while the scorecard shows back tees of 7044 yards, adjusting for altitude brings the effective yardage to about 6300 yards, and the course plays net downhill (as you generally go uphill from green to the next tee). So my guess is that it plays to about 6200 yards max from the back.  I played combo tees (mix of tips and next set, or a scorecard yardage of 6613 yards...played like about 5800.  On #1 I played from 574 yard tees and hit a so so drive, good 3 utility, and a 9 nine to pin high, and the course was very soft.  Vertical drop on #1 is 62 yards!

The views everywhere on the course are absolutely spectacular. See following pics.  But the course is built on extremely hilly land...it is essentially unwalkable.   While it has some very good holes, there are only 2 relative flat holes (both par 3's).  Not sure what else Jim Engh could have done with the land, but why try to build a course on land such as this???  Course was very very soft, and greens have been hit by a lot of Poa this year.  Net net, despite the fabulous views this one is not worth a trip. 

Flight Monday night delayed by thunderstorms in Denver...arrived Spokane 12:30am Tuesday...playing Black Rock and Gozzer Ranch near Coeur d'Alene starting at 8am today (tuesday).  Good thing for golf carts!!
Sanctuary #1--downhill par 5 of 604 yds...so this is what if feels like at top of Olympic ski-jump!
Sanctuary #2 par 4 458 yards
One of the few uphill holes at Sanctuary--par 4 8th of 380 yds
Par 3 10th at Sanctuary...206 yards

Email 7/10/2014:

Hertz stayed up late for me on Monday night, so when I arrived at Spokane WA airport, my car was there.  Short drive to hotel and too short a night of sleep.  In morning, met Fergal O'Leary at Black Rock.  Fergal is from Boston by way of Ireland (bet you might have guessed that) and we were introduced a few weeks ago.  He plays to plus one, is a former TCC caddy, a Golf Digest rater, a great guy, and another golf architecture nut.  Has played 95 of World 100 and is hoping to finish these last 5 off Down Under in about 5 months...and he is just a lad of 31 years!

Black Rock sits above the Lake at Coeur d'Alene...an incredibly beautiful resort area in northern ID...about 45 miles east of Spokane. BR is a very upscale club, with a fabulous clubhouse and many beautiful homes.  But, more importantly, on to the golf.  

The golf course was designed by James Engh, the same architect who designed Sanctuary.  What a difference good land makes. This track is gorgeous and sits comfortable on the land.  Current USA ratings...just Golf Digest #58 (highest #27 in 2009); was rated #98 in GW but never reappeared, and never made it on GM.  I do not want to get into detailed specifics of my rating evaluation, but suffice it to say that it is really hurt by its conditioning...BR suffers from the "green disease".  This is a location that (according to weather.com) had zero rain for the prior 10 days, and just 1.9" in the month of June (average for June is 2.0")..and the fairways and greens were soft and in some cases wet.  A good number of drives got all of 3-12" of roll!  What a shame...would play so great as a firm fast track.  I had very strange round...one over thru 4, then 7 over on 5-9, then even par 36 on back (2 under for 11-17) for an weird 80..almost like I caught up on missing sleep from 5-9.  Played from 6489 yards, par 72...course is at about 2400' so probably played about 6300 yards...with soft fairways.  Many many excellent holes, and some fabulous views (even though the phony waterfalls were not to our liking).  Best holes are (yardages from back tees):

#3--611 yd par 5...sharply downhill and turns right with green slightly raised above creek in front (birdied it).  Required smart play and placement of all three shorts as holes has several "plateaus" as it trundles downhill.  
#5--556 yd par 5...uphill and turning left off tee, then right for second, then left to horseshoe shaped green.  Sits perfectly on land and long bunker protects left side for 2nd shot.  Tee shot fooled me into aiming too far right (into creek) but recovered by sinking 7' putt for bogey.
#6--428 yds, down off tee then slightly up to green with water protecting right side as well as front of green on second shot (see picture...but hard to see all of water in pic).  Very tough hole and the real start of my nap.
Black Rock #6 par 4...water right of fairway and short of
green.
#7--233 yd par 3 with large bunker protecting front of green.  In perfect setting with large hill surrounding left, back, and right of green.

#11--413 yd par4 sharp dogleg left, with green raised on top of ledge (surrounded by hill behind it and huge boulders protecting both sides and stream (and The Donald waterfalls in front)...not really great hole since so artificial, but "pretty" picture shown below
Black Rock #11--approach shot on dogleg left 428 yd par 4--be careful!!

#14--157 yd par3 with rock/boulder wall extending around back of green...for you Boston folks, wall reminded me a little of #12 at Putterham
Black Rock #14 par 3 with wide shallow green backed by rock wall

#15--543 yd par 4 uphill all the way, sharp dogleg left...no bunkers on hole and none needed...fits perfectly into setting...wish I had a picture.


In summary, excellent design (except for artificial waterfalls), but conditioning really is negative in ratings...bet the members love the color green, but they don't know what they are missing.

Email 7/10/2014:

After finishing round at Black Rock, Fergal and I each drove around the lake to Gozzer Ranch.  Layout is par 72 and plays to 7317 yds from back.  GR opened in 2008 or 2009...certainly not the time you would want to have opened a new course (at least if you wanted it to be reasonably successful).  It is currently rated #27 in USA on Golf Digest (initial rating),  #68 on my merged Golf Week list (highest on GW was #52 in 2011), and #74 on the GM top 100 in USA (highest was initial rating of #70 in 2011).  It was designed by Tom Fazio, and that was so very hard to believe (quite frankly).

It is far and away the best Tom Fazio track I have ever played.  It doesn't look like a Fazio, feel like a Fazio, or play like a Fazio...and, sorry Tom, but that is all meant as a compliment to GR.  Both Fergal and i thought it looked, felt, and played so much like a Coore & Crenshaw...ragged edges to bunkering, wonderful use of fescue, holes perfectly placed on the land and fitting together beautifully (but without screaming at you).  The front nine is very very good, but the back nine is nothing short of superb.  As with Black Rock, wonderful views of the Lake and surrounding areas, but a much more natural feeling layout.  

There are so so mnay really good holes here.  Best are as follows:

--#4, a 278 yd slightly uphill par 4 (very drivable for non 69 year olds) to a small green tucked right and sitting on a small crest with a severe false front
--#7, 205 yd par 3, shrply downhill to smallish green and The Lake in background (pic)
Gozzer Ranch downhill par 3 7th
--#8, 605 yard par 5 , downhill off tee and then up and turning left; reverse camber fairway makes it tough to feel comfortable (pic)
Gozzer #8
--#11, 475 par 4 fairly flat but rolling gently down to green...and infinity green.  tee shot must be on right side or you can be blocked by some trees (pic)
Par 4 11th at Gozzer
--#12, 364 downhill drivable par 4 , with split fairway (split by bunkers and trees); shorter route is left but that entails carry over "stuff" and fairway bunkers, but if you hit it right you get a good kick.  green sits up on perch and slopes from back left to front right with a wonderful shelf back left.  incredible hole to see and to play...lots of things going on (but they fit together superbly), and tons of options on every shot...loved it (pic)
Outstanding short par 4 12th---so many options off the tee!!


--#15, 431 yd slight dogleg right par 4, very slightly downhill.  From tee looks like a good hole but nothing special...until you get to the landing area...think about this...it is an infinity green that is not perched on a hill (in fact 2nd shot is slightly downhill.  Huge dropoff behind green (16th fairway well below) and Lake beyond.  Green has all sorts of stuff going on, sloping back to front for first part (with false front) and front to back when you get over crest (false back??).  Fabulous hole to play and see...can stand there and marvel for a long time...see 2 pics
Long view of approach on #15
Zoomed in approach to #15
Only ??? about course and club are that the fairways could have been firmer (much better than Black Rock but were not "firm", and that the club seemed a bit helter skelter when we arrive (almost 1970's "hippy skippy").  But we were rushed and that impression may well have been misleading.

I played well on front (40) and then fell apart on back...tired tired and no leg drive.  Played in carts all 36 (BR and Gozzer) but all but three holes so far from paths with most of the greens in bowls, and cart paths well above green level...so lots of up and down walks paid their toll. Wished in retrospect that we had played Gozzer first and then Black Rock

In summary...a must play.  And both Fergal and I still are having a hard time imagining this is a Fazio!!


Email 7/15/2014:

No, I have not disappeared...but this trip is grueling...lots of driving and somehow have found it tough to type emails when driviing...so am well behind and will try to catch up.

After finishing the rounds at Black Rock and Gozzer, took a shower and headed off (160 miles) to Missoula MT to stay overnight and then onto Rock Creek Cattle Co. on Wednesday morning (another 85 miles).  Arrived RCCC about 10am to this vast vast property. Just to give you an idea, you enter the property right off of I-90, and then drive 6.5 miles on a gravel road to get to the golf course, which sits on 350 acres.  Very very rustic feel to the place that is very well done.  

RCCC was designed by Tom Doak, and its rating history is frankly surprising...it has not yet appeared on Golf Magazine's or Golf Digest's USA Top 100 (and therefore never on GM's Global list).  It debuted on GolfWeek's USA "merged" list in 2011 and currently sits at #40, having reached a high of #35 in 2012.  Plays to 7466 yards from tips but at 5000' is more like 6800 (par 71).

Played with an asst pro, Jerard who grew up in Raleigh, NC, and we caught it on a very mild day (5-10mph...very mild for the center of MT).  The land is incredible...long views to snow capped peaks, the land has tons of wonderful heaving movement, but for the most part it was built between the biggest hills so it is very playable even for non mountain goats.  Clearly, Doak did not move much land, and the holes fit beautifully and naturally in the setting.  If we have played a round together when I was rating a course, you probably saw me scribbling notes on a scorecard.  One of my notations is whether the hole is flat, uphill, or downhill and straight, dogleg left, or dogleg right.  The way the holes follow the land at RCCC this led to a lot of scribbling...as many holes went downhill off the tee, then uphill, then down then up to a crested green...plus some movements right and left (or something like that description).  Course filled with big blowout bunkers seemingly randomly placed...but actually superbly placed to guide and affect play...protect the sides of the fairways and greens you would ideally want to aim at.  The very essence of strategic golf.  What was truly impressive was that it felt so natural and not contrived.  

The greens move all over the place and would take quite a while to really understand fully...and that is a good thing.  I was frankly surprised and pleased that the greens did not have many elephants buried under them (although given the location and archeological history of MT, perhaps I should say dinosaurs),  The greens were relatively tame for Doak greens (that is NOT tame when compared to almost any other greens you play), but very very subtle.  I was totally fooled several times, and usually found myself overplaying breaks.  I was told after the round that some of the buried dinosaurs had been removed or shrunk over the past few years.  I liked the greens, very tough, very subtle, but not unfair, whereas some other Doak greens I have played (specifically Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, Australia and Streamsong in FL) seemed too extreme to me.  The entire course and facility look like they have sat on the land for 75-100 years.  Actually the ranch itself it about 95 years old and the course was completed about 5-6 years ago.

We teed off on #10, a 632 yd par 5 that is a prime example of everything i wrote in the above paragraph.  Fairway goes down/up/down then up (weaving through the blowout bunkers) to a green with all sorts of movement (see pics). 




#12--155 par 3 to wide nut shallow green angled slighty from front left to back right and well protected by bunkers.


--#14 is a downhill  par 4 dogleg right of 548 yards (no typo), which, like #3 at Brookline, narrows to passage way between two large mounds for the approach to the green (unless you prefer a blind shot to a very difficult green. (sorry no pic)

#16 I thought was RCCC's toughest.  Plays to 467 yards, turning slightly from right to left and up a hill to a green protected by a large bunker front right.  Real difficulty comes in because the fairway moves/slopes left to right creating a reverse camber...and there is a single tree guarding the right edge of the fairway that makes any attempt at a draw off the tee very dicey...if you push it at all right, it will hit the tree, and if your draw turns into a hook or you tug/yank it left off the tee, the rough on the left ain't the place to be. 


#17 --downhill par 3 191 yards with small pond in front and spectacular backdrop


#18---598yd par 5..from elevated tee down to fairway than turns left and goes back up hill to raised green (seen in front of red roofed bldg on left)..too bad the views aren't dramatic here :-)


Turning to front nine:

#1--435 yd par 4 with split fairway (split by 2 bunkers).  from tee, fairway looks (and is) wide open to right, with very little room to left side of bunkers.  however, the green angles from front left to back right and is well protected by bunkers in front and back...so the only way to have a decent shot to green is by hitting drive to left side of fairway...with little room off tee...very definition of strategic golf...make your choice on tee shot and get rewarded or pay penalty on 2nd shot depending on your choice



#4--457 yd par 4--very tough but fair hole...look here at the naturalness of the terrain when you get off the "golf course"...but remember the fairways are very wide and strategic...the angles are key



#8--193 yd par 3...green slopes sharply from left to right and is well protected...and look at the backdrop here as well


Over all just a wonderful course, that was not "built" but was "found" by Doak.  Not the easiest place to get to but worth it when there. Played firm...but fairway grass was a little long...so while fairways were very firm they were not super fast.  Green were firm and fast.



Email 7/15/2014:

Left Rock Creek Cattle in the middle of MT and drove 315 miles to Jackson Hole, WY...side note here, this trip brought this old man to ID, MT, and WY for the first time leaving me with 4 states i have not set foot in (ND, SD, MS, and AK).  Got to my hotel around 9:30pm...and facing my last real tough day of trip Thursday...36 holes and then a long drive to Salt Lake City.

Thursday morning got up early and drove about 15 miles to Shooting Star, a beautiful course at the base of the Tetons...this is really a spectacular setting...see photo below of #2 (199 yd par 3)



Unfortunately, this was my only photo of the day...but don't bitch about it...the pay on this job ain't so good.

This is a very good golf course designed by Tom Fazio and completed in 2009...tough time to open a new course but apparently things have picked up nicely over the past two years (clear sign of great management of the economy by Obama).  It is a very high end club. Family from Boston area have owned the land for long time..actually met one of the brothers who coached my younger step son in lacrosse in high school.  Stretches to 7568 yds from the back with a bunch of good holes...but this course was "built" on very flat land in the valley next to the Tetons (as can be seen from the pictures)...a ton of dirt was moved to shape the land and while the result is a very good course, i am afraid it lacks the "soul" of some of the others on the trip which were "found", not "built".  In terms of USA ratings, it has not appeared on Golf Digest or Golf Magazine, but debuted on Golf Week in 2011 at #54 and has stayed around that position since (most recently #61).  Back nine is better than front and has 4 excellent holes (12, 14, 17, and 18).  I was tired this morning, and my game showed it.  This is a beautiful place...I need to come back here just to relax with da bride.  Days like this...when you are tired and play poorly are a drag on trips like this.

After round, drove back about 35 miles over mountain pass to Driggs ID (had gone through Driggs last night on drive from RCCC) to play Huntsman Springs (yes the Huntsman family).  As I am in pro shop arranging play, i see a guy in a Cabot Links (Nova Scotia and fabulous) golf shirt, and ask when he played it.  So we start talking and he asks me where I'm from and where i am playing on this trip...as I get half way through he says "I heard about you...you finished the World 100 and are playing with a friend of mine at Sand Hills GC in a few days".  Small world again.  He is from Toronto (Steve, John and Cathy...didn't know you guys) and lives near Buffalo and in Driggs.  Played with Mark and his wife Susan.

Huntsman Springs plays to 7309 (par 72) yards from the back.  Designed by David Kidd (who made his name at Bandon Dunes) and completed about 5 years ago...again, not a great time to open a course.  Its history and ratings history are eerily similar to Shooting Star...never on GD or GM, and appeared in GW in 2011 and climbed to #54 in '13 and was #55 this year...always in same range as SS.

This one also required a lot of land movement...but comes off with more character than Shooting Star.  The greens are in perfect shape and really well done (not surprisingly), but rest of course is sort of an unfinished shape.  Not quite sure how to properly describe it.  Plays well but "aesthetics" not great.  I actually starting hitting the ball quite well...score was 82 as i blew up on 3 holes, but was happy with my game.  Best holes were 4, 7, 12, and 14...only bad one was #2...creek was in awkward place in fairway...lay up left too long a shot into green but tough carry (I just carried it and got my par).  Overall pretty good course, well designed.  If i had my choice between the two of these to play regularly, it would be Huntsman, but SS is clearly the better club.

Left at 5:30 on 290 mile drive to Salt Lake City...flying at 6am from SLC to San Francisco and then on to North Bend OR (35 min from Bandon!!).  Got pulled over for doing 74 in a 65 (can you imagine!!), but just got a warning (stayed about 2-3 above rest of trip...i had always thought <10 above was OK).  Was very pleased to see 80mpg speed limit in UT!!  Got to hotel, returned car at airport and back to hotel for some sleep...it is about 11pm, this puppy is tired and is coming down with a cold :-(

1005. Post Round World--Philly/NY/New England, then Michigan & Canada--May 24-June 3, 2014.

1005.  Post Round World--Philly/NY/New England, then Michigan & Canada--May 24-June 3, 2014.

Email 6/20/2014:

It has been just over a month since I returned from my overseas journey.  Pat & I arrived in Massachusetts on May 25 and have pretty much been here since (except some short trips to NY and around New England).  

Since leaving NC, I have played the following "away" courses:

Gulph Mills, PA
Sleepy Hollow, NY
Quaker Ridge, NY
Eastward Ho!, MA
Fishers Island, NY
Old Sandwich, MA

Of these only Gulph Mills was "first time" for me.  And all are classic old layouts dating back at least 85 years except Old Sandwich, which is 12 years old (and is perhaps misnamed until 2085 or so).

I will be hitting the road again twice between now and mid July:

6/29-7/3:
Essex Golf & Country Club, near Windsor, Canada (the answer to the trivia question...what country is directly south of Detroit)
Forest Dunes, MI
Oakland Hills (South), MI
Oakland Hills (North), MI

7/7-7/16
Sanctuary, CO
Black Rock, ID
Gozzer Ranch, ID
Rock Creek Cattle Co., MT
Shooting Star, WY
Huntsman Springs, ID
Old Macdonald, OR
Bandon Preserve, OR
Prairie Club (Dunes), NE
Dismal River (Red--Doak), NE

If I complete both of these trip successfully, I will have played the current Top 100 for all three magazines (Golf Digest, Golf Week, and Golf Magazine), as well as every course that has ever been in the top 50 in all three magazines.

I will be sending out write-ups of the 6 courses played since May 20, and from the above trips as they happen.

Email 6/27/2014:

I arrived home from Ireland on Tuesday May 20.  It was so wonderful seeing Pat.  She is the very best.  We had talked just about every day of the trip (thank you Skype) but it was wonderful to arrive home.  Three days after we left on the long drive to MA, with a stop planned in Philadelphia and a visit with close friends...and some golf at Gulph Mills Golf Club, established in 1916 by some Merion members who felt that Merion was getting too crowded.

Gulph Mills

I had known that Gulph Mills was a Donald Ross design (the course itself opening in 1919), but I did not know the degree to which the course has ben altered by at least 9 other architects including classic architectural giants such as William Flynn, Perry Maxwell, R.T. Jones, Sr., Tom Fazio, and, most recently, Gil Hanse. Interestingly, despite the fact that at least 10 sets of hands have contributed to GMGC's present course, I did not find it to be at all "discombobulated", a condition that often arises from having "too many cooks" working on the broth.

However, before i get to the course itself, I must comment on what i consider to be the most outstanding aspect of GMGC...its men's locker room (I didn't get to see the ladies locker room, so I cannot comment on it).  Truly a classic...no lockers, just hooks to hold hangers, shirts, etc. in a room richly adorned with deep highly polished wood paneling.  Immediately reminded me of the locker room at Muirfield (Scotland of course...not Muirfield Village).

I really really liked the course.  It is interesting, fun, and challenging.  It is also 6627 yards from the tips (par 71).  Which brings up a quandary and debate regarding what makes a truly great golf course.  There are great championship tests that are not fun and interesting and vice versa.  All of us have different criteria (either implicitly or explicitly) about what makes a great track.  I sometimes try to classify it in two groups:

1.  if you were back in your 30's (and the ego and distance you had back then...and today's equipment...you remember, always playing from the tips) and you had one round left in your life...where would it be?
2.  if you were going to play every day for the rest of your life but always on the same course...where would it be?

Me thinks the above questions tend to get very different answers.  Right now, I do not feel like starting an email war by "naming names", but for sure, while GMGC would rank high on list #2, it would not even sniff a vote on list #1.

GMGC has a wonderful and tough collection of par 4's (unless you hit your drives 300+ yards).  It starts off with three very strong par 4's in one of the toughest starts i can recall.  Best par 4's on the course are #3 (down and up, 460* from tips, with creek about 295-320 off tee angling diagonally across fairway giving player a choice as to which side of fairway to hit, and tough two tiered green), 5 (turns left and fairway and green slope sharply to left...with a devilishly tough back right pin position)...(see pic from back left of green)... and 13 (a great uphill par 4 of 435 yds), plus very special green complexes at 10 and 11.  Best par 3's are 4 and 17.  #4 is a very neat short hole (117 yds) over a quarry with trouble of all sorts surrounding the green, and a large tree protecting the left side...(see pic).  Only thing that surprised me was the 'bowl" in the center of the green. #17 is 215 yds (but plays downhill) with a right side cross bunker about 20 yards short of the green.  Hole begs for a cut coming in from the left and running into the green complex.  To the degree that GMGC has a weakness, in my opinion it is its par 5's.  #7 is a very good hole with a questionable green; #12 is good but nothing special; #18 is only 464 from the back but is strongly uphill so plays more like 510 or so and is a very interesting hole with a wonderful green.  In any case, a fabulous collection of par 4's remain the real strength of the track.  It is an understatement to say that GMGC is a very special club.

Gulph Mills 117 yard par 3 4th over deep quarry.

From back left of 5th green at Gulph Mills 

* all yardages from back tees unless otherwise noted.




Sleepy Hollow

Pat and I went down to the NY area June 7-9 for a close friend's 7"0th bday party, and while there we were able to play Sleepy Hollow and Quaker Ridge..two old friends.  I was a member of QR from 1975-2000 and played Sleepy about 5-6 times in the '70's-'80's.  Both have changed considerably in the past decade...and in both cases thanks to wonderful restorations by Gil Hanse.

First, Sleepy.  I learned a lot reading about Sleepy before we played it.  I had thought it was a CB Macdonald design but learned that William Rockefeller (the force behind the club's founding) fired CBM before his work was completed (Rockefeller didn't want CBM removing a lot of trees...CBM was right and Rockefeller wrong...more later on trees and golf courses).  The Club then hired A. W. Tillinghast who ended up creating holes 1, 8-12, and 18, which were then combined with 11 of CBM's holes to create an 18 hole course and a smaller 9 holer.  

After several efforts to develop a master plan and appropriate restoration, SHCC retained Gil Hanse and George Bahto. Bahto, who spent most of his career as a dry cleaner on LI (I believe), passed away earlier this year and authored one of the great golf books going (Charles Blair Macdonald; The Evangelist of Golf).  The only problem with the book is that it will cost you about the cost of my recent round the world trip to get it ($987 new on Amazon!!).  And just think, these emails are free (yes...you get what you pay for).

Hanse, Bahto and the Club agreed the only way to deal with the "dual design" was to renovate it into a "pure" CBM/Raynor design...partially because (1) the Tillinghast holes did not represent the best of AWT's work, as well as the superb collection of AWT designs within a short driving distance of SHCC (e. g. Winged Foot E&W, Quaker Ridge) which would always overshadow a "Tillinghast" renovation of SHCC.  Also, by bringing George Bahto onto the team, they got as close as you can get to the original thoughts of CBM and Seth Raynor.  Very smart decision making and the results are outstanding.

Before, I describe the course, a word about the property.  It was originally the estate of Vanderbilt's daughter.  A little small (about 80 rooms), but as they say, "it will do."  Magnificent is not strong enough to describe the views of the Hudson River.  We were given a tour of the mansion (which now serves at the clubhouse) by the new GM, Tom Nevin, who I first met in at The Robert Trent Jones Club in VA last year.  You old Citibankers receiving this will remember Sleepy as Bill Spencer's old club...and Bill and Katie's house still sits behind the 17th tee.  No surprise, Bill and Katie are remembered so very fondly here.  The mention of their names to the "old timers" on the club's staff invariably brought radiant smiles to their faces and elicited wonderful old stories.

The course is so much better than the one I remembered from 30-40 years ago.  Large swaths of trees have been cut down opening up beautiful vistas.  The green complexes (both the old CBM ones and the new ones created by Bahto/Hanse) are fascinating and devilish.  Better be on the correct side of the hole.  Great par 3's is a severe understatement.  #7 is a very unusual downhill reverse Redan that works beautifully.  #3 is a superb 167 yarder over a deep deep ravine (which you cross on a seemingly ancient wooden walk bridge that feels like you are in the Himalayas).  Finally, #16, looking down at the mighty Hudson plays to 155 (slightly downhill) (the classic CBM/Raynor "Short" hole).  Innocent looking until one sees some of the slopes on the green...especially on the left side.  Trust me...I thought i hit a perfect bunker shot out of the back bucker...only to discover that in kept trickling into the left bunker.  #16 was a signature hole before signature holes existed.  (see pics, including wifey's tee shot at 16)

Look closely at slopes on 16th green!
Pat tees off on Sleepy's #16 "Short" hole---with Hudson River in distance.


Best par 4's are #5 (up-down-up 441 yarder to skyline/infinity green), #11 (flat, turning right, to fabulous green with huge bank on its back quarter), #13 (uphill to a green on a crest), and #18 (426 yards, again uphill..deceivingly so...hit great 2nd short out of left rough to 5'...me thinks it is the first time I've hit the green here..then missed the birdie putt).  #15 is a wonderful "punch bowl" par 5 headed directly toward the Hudson.  Finally...#17 goes straight downhill and absolutely reminded me of #17 at Gullane #1 (obviously, SHCC's is the copy).  Only one so so (or worse) hole...#6 a short par 5 (475) with fairway running our at 203 yards and re-starting at 245 (uphill) off the back (186 and 228 from the regular tees).  Awfully big carry to the top and too short to the end of the lower fairway.  Clearly transition land and not much could be done here without major major blasting and digging.

One warning if you go there...SHCC is very very very hilly.  Not quite Kawana (Japan) but real mountain goat territory.  I did not remember it as being this hilly, but trust me it is.  You might want a cart.

Quaker Ridge

The next day it was back to Quaker.  For me this place is an example of how you never really appreciate a place until you leave it.  This is especially true given the loving care with which Gil Hanse renovated QR.  Quite frankly, by about 2005 or so, the trees at Quaker were starting to choke the course and it was feeling claustrophobic.  My guess is that at least 1000 trees were taken down, and the turf is now strong and healthy, the course is more strategic, it is more fun and interesting, from the back tees the course is over 250 yards longer (now 7008 yards, par 70), and the vistas are wonderful...otherwise, the tree removal program and renovation had little effect :-). 

The par 4's have always been the backbone of QR, as it is even more true today.  Best of the 4's are 2, 4, 6, 7, 11, 12, and 15-18...hell, they are all great.  Eight of its 12 par 4's are 425+ yards, and interestingly, to my mind, three of the best are below 410 yards (11, 15, and 17).  #11 was always a very good hole but the lowering of the front of the green front to create a false front has dramatically improved this hole.  #15 remains unchanged from tee to green but the clearing out of trees behind the green as well as the extension of the back right corner have had a similar effect on 15...as with the opening up of 17 (tree removal) in combination with reducing the green size to its original dimensions.  I would think that both 11 and 17 could now be played as superb risk/reward par 4's from the forward tees. 

#9, a 164 yard par three with a tiny green surrounded by deep Tillinghast bunkers has been unchanged for at least the last 39 years and remains one of the great short par threes anywhere.  #10 still plays to 201 yards but the green has been brought back to its original dimensions, probably 45-50 yards from front to back with real back to front slope.  More Raynor than Tillinghast to my mind, but a great green complex.  For years, QR's par 5's were its achilles heel.  However, #14 is now a superb par 5 and #1 is a very good 4 1/2.

Thinking back to how QR played in the 1975-1990's period, there have been many many improvements.  However, the two that stand out the most to me are the tree removal program  and the firming up of QR's turf (the first certainly contributed mightily to the second).  In the old days, drives would land and kick backwards a yard or two in the overwatered fairways with weak turf, and the views were blocked by walls of trees.  Today, the turf is healthy, fast, and firm as the trees no longer block air circulation.  This makes the course play easier for high handicappers (increasing roll leads to greater shot distance) and tougher for better players (increased roll means more drives rolling into the rough creating flyer lies more difficult to control into firm greens).  Don't think so?  Remember the old story about a 20 handicap playing with Sam Snead and asking the Slammer how to create backspin?  Sam asked how far he hit his 7 iron.  The 20 handicapper replied "130 yards", to which Sam replied "so then why the hell do you want backspin?"  Get the picture?  To my mind, QR could still get firmer, but it is so so much better now.

Speaking of pictures, let's talk about trees for a second.  Trees are beautiful...but dense growth of trees is not.  Next time you are out on your course, look at a dense growth of trees.  Note that you cannot see individual tress or their shapes...it looks like a green curtain.  Now look at a single tree...you can see the beautiful shape.  Case closed!

Getting back to QR, for years I never quite understood it when some would call QR better than either course at its more famous neighbor, Winged Foot.  For the first time on June 8, I started to have the same feelings.  It peaked at #14 in the 1989 Golf Digest USA Greatest and then fell off the top 100 by 2011.  Back on at #69 in 2013 (coincidentally at #69 in both the Golf Digest and Golf Magazine USA lists) it appears headed back to its glory days.  Fun to see.

Finally, the following link is to a recent Global Golf Post column by John Steinbreder about QR and its annual amateur invitational, The Hochster.


Enough for now.  Next chapter will cover Fishers Island, Eastward Ho!, and Old Sandwich.  But think about the following regarding SHCC and QRGC.  Two courses so much improved  in recent years with the key common element being clearing what had become overgrown tree stands and allowing the turf to get healthy firm and fast.  As you think about your course, if you wonder if it is fast and firm enough, ask yourself how often you break your wooden tee on a drive?  The more frequently, the firmer and faster.  End of speech.

Email 6/30/2014:
One of the reasons I have been able to play so many great great courses (and in some cases highly rated layouts that are not so great) is through the help of others, either directly or through their friends.  Naturally, this process only works if the "back scratching" going both ways.  Also, I try to host a number of raters from Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, and Golf Week at The Country Club in Brookline, MA during the summer, and CCNC in Pinehurst October-May.  Finally, having completed the World 100, I am all of a sudden receiving emails from others who are on their quests...some of whom have never had the chance to play The Country Club.  Where feasible, it is wonderful to be able to help.  Gives me (as well as Pat when she can join us) a chance to meet new friends and catch up with friends made on previous trips.  Only issue, of course, is that very often these folks are a little "nutty" about golf, golf courses, and golf architecture.  But, as always, I have learned to be understanding of these idiosyncrasies. 

During the month of June, we were filled with these opportunities...and these opportunities also opened up chances to play three great tracks within 100 miles of Boston.  I had played all three of these tracks previously...Fishers Island 2x before, Eastward Ho! at least 5x, and Old Sandwich at least 4x...all in the last 7 years.  Have loved all three from my first time at each, and not surprisingly, learned more about each and still love them all.  Two are great classic designs ands Old Sandwich is only 10 years old, but it is a classic Coore-Crenshaw design.  Here goes (again, I am not using the names of my hosts and other raters to ensure their privacy):

Eastward Ho!

On Cape Cod, and constructed from 1921-24, designed by Herbert Fowler, Jr. (who also designed Westward Ho! in southwestern England and Walton Heath outside of London).  It went thru a major renovation in 2004 led by Keith Foster of KY, who has done similar work and many outstanding classic layouts including Colonial (TX), Baltimore CC--Five Farms (MD), Southern Hills (OK), and Garden City GC (NY).  To call it spectacular may be an understatement...the water (either Little Pleasant Bay or Crows Pond) is visible on all 18 holes and the eastern end of the layout sits about 1.5 miles from the Atlantic.  I have never played it when the wind was not blowing at least 10-15 mph, and in 6+ rounds have experienced winds from at least 3 directions.  While it is short (6372 yds par 71), when the wind is blowing it is a bear.  But the best part of EH is its condition.  The very definition of firm fast, yet with receptive greens (but only if you really clip it).  Rolling, heavily heaving land adds great definition to the layout throughout and insures that you probably will not have a level lie aside from the 18 tee boxes.  Truly a track you could play every day and never get bored (but you might freeze you butt off from November thru mid-May).  Best time to play probably Sept 15-Oct 15.  Tough to get on in summer, and if you want to join, you better be young when you get on the wait list (alleged to be 15+ years long...rumor has it that last year more people on the wait list passed away than gained admission).  There simply are no average, bad, or questionable holes.  And the best are:

--par 3 4th (182 yds heading NW on bluff alongside the Bay to a totally exposed green with false front, and slope off back and right and grass bunker to left...no sand bunkers on this hole, 
--par 4 6th (421 yds headed NE downhill to a very small valley and then sharply uphill for last 130 yards to a two tiered green...and if the pin is up front with the wind with, forget about stopping it on the front tier...and it is very easy to putt off the green and have your ball roll down the hill 40-50 yards to the bottom of the hill), 
--par 3 7th 181 uphill headed SW to an infinity green that is narrow and deep, with a huge drop off left and a very tricky swale just to its right...piece of cake..actually birdied it last year)
--short par 4 12th (333 yds to SW through a chute off the tee, down and then up with three ridges to carry (third requiring carry of about 240 yds...and then the fun begins...hittiing to a small crested green...an inverted bowl falling off on all 4 sides and all 4 corners
--par 4 14th 371 yards NE downhill to fairway that slopes sharply R to L and then to a green on a hill sloping from back right to front left and w an exaggerated false front
--par 4 18th at 460 yards...overall flat (across rolling land) for 250 yards, then sharply downhill to the bottom of the fairway and then uphill to green located on top a hill sloping back to front with a false front...trouble in most directions.  A heroic hole with a big reward for a big drive that has lots of risk associated with it.  Gorgeous views...and in some ways the 18th at Sebonac has a similar feel.

Reality is I could have listed all 18.  Until last year, this place was a close to perfect definition of a "hidden gem" (along w Palmetto in Aiken, SC).  But for better or worse, it has been discovered and the secret is out.  Golf Magazine put it as #78 on its USA list in 2014 and GolfWeek this year put it as #58 among Classic course (built prior to 1960) and it came out #103 when you "merge" GW's Classic and Modern lists.  Golf Digest has never had it in its Top 100.  Frankly ridiculous in me humble opinion

I played with another GD rater who lives in Albuquerque, NM (good thing for spell check), is on a 2 month tour of great layouts, and I hosted with 2 other GD raters at TCC the following week.  We were lucky w the weather as the rain held off.  Course was not as firm and fast as usual given early time in the season...so so so good!!  Get there if you can.

Fishers Island Club

Fishers Island is legally part of NY but sits in Long Island Sound less than 2 miles from New London, CT and 10 miles from the closest point on the North Fork on the eastern end of Long Island.  Don't ask why it is not part of CT...apparently a very long story going back over 350 years.  I was playing with the same GD rater as at EH and we took a water taxi to a dock just off the 17th green.  

For years FI was a well kept secret in the golfing world. While it was in the 51-60 bracket of Golf Digest's "100 Best Test's" in the USA in 1969, and was in the 51-100 bracket of GD's first two "100 Greatest" listings in '71 and '73, it then disappeared from the GD 100 until 2001 (at #44), rising rapidly to #9 in 2009 and most recently at #10 in 2013.  Its disappearance was probably a function of GD's minimum of 45 ratings over the prior 8 years to appear on its USA 100 Greatest.  For many years, FI not only did not welcome raters, but it did not want regular guests of members to submit ratings.  I first had the chance to play it in 2011 and my host made me promise not to submit a rating (I kept the rating for my own edification but did not submit it).  One year later, when I was invited back, the ass't pro told me there would be no problem submitting a rating...and now, they are letting us on (outside of the high season) without sponsorship by a member.  As Mrs. Barry (my 8th grade English teacher) told us at times (and moi frequently), "How the mighty have fallen!"

As GM and GW do not have minimums like GD, FI has been on their USA Top 100's since they started in 1997 and 1991 respectively.  On GW it is now #12, after a peak of #9 in 2011, while on GM it is now #15, its highest rating ever.  In GM Worldwide Top 100, it now sits at #24, highest ever, and did not appear on GM's World Top 50 in '79, '81, or '83, or its first two Worldwide Top 100's in '83 and '85.  It is located on a narrow part of the island at its eastern end.  What is truly hard to believe until to get there (or look at it on the satellite view of Google Maps) is that there are perfectly clear views of the water (LI Sound or Atlantic Ocean) on all 18 holes.  

FI was designed by Seth Raynor and completed around the time of Raynor's passing, in 1926.  Raynor was a surveyor in Southampton, NY and was first hired by Charles B. Macdonald to supervise the construction of CMB's great masterpiece (please do not tell me that is redundant) National Golf Links of America in Southampton around 1910.  As CBM decided to reduce architectural efforts over the following 8-or so years, he passed his work on to Raynor who had become a good friend and a superb architect (I think the best ever) even though he never played the game.

FI features many of the great CBM/Raynor adaptations of the great holes from the UK and Europe including Redan (#2), Punch Bowl (#4), Biarritz (#5), Road (#8), and Eden (#11).  Unfortunately, much of the mounding that defines the Redan hole was washed away by the 1938 hurricane and was never rebuilt.  It may surprise many of you to learn that during the 20th century, the northeast was hit by three huge hurricanes (1938, 1954, and 1955).  I remember the last two, Carol and Diane, quite well (we were in camp when they hit).  All three of these hurricanes packed wind speeds and other key meteorological readings greater than 2012's Hurricane Sandy.  Sandy caused more damage because of 2 other factors: substantially increased development (particularly on the coastlines), and the point where the "eye" hit the mainland.  Just imagine...they actually occurred prior to global warming (but after climate chance since climate change has been going on forever)...and no, the two other factors where not caused by global warming (lack of initial caps is purposeful...my sense is that it is not proper to capitalize a hoax).

Moving on to the course itself...spectacular does not begin to describe its natural beauty.  I can only think of a handful of courses that compare to its aesthetics (Cypress Pt., Shanqin Bay, Royal Dornoch, Pebble Beach, and ANGC immediately come to mind).  Like those layouts, FI is also architecturally brilliant.  And like EH, the land had wonderful natural heaves, dunes, and hills throughout, and the flat lies are restricted to the teeing grounds (local rule?).  Favorites are the two infinity greens (3 and 10), the punch bowl (#4) which may be the world's finest punch bowl, #5 Biarritz, #8 Road, and par 4 #12, whose green is impossible to describe.  The views on the downhill par 4 #7 and the up then down par 4 #9 are too spectacular to describe adequately (especially by someone who got a 520 on his verbal SAT's)...both face north and look across Long Island Sound to CT.   As with EH, Fishers is fairly short (about 6600 par 70 from the tips) but again, given its location the wind is almost always blowing (or it is too foggy to play).  

It is also not perfect.  No great layout is...to paraphrase Bob Rotella, "golf architecture is not a profession of perfect".  Think 18 at Cypress, and #8 and 9 at The Old Course.  Also, think about Shadow Creek in Las Vegas by Tom Fazio...and attempt to build a "perfect" golf course from scratch, which exudes zero charm and fails at its objective (in my always humble opinion..IMAHO).  At FI, the "??" are #14 and #15.  14 is a 425 yd dogleg left and is flat as a pancake.  15 is a slightly uphill par 5 of 545 yards that is good but nothing really special.  Issue on these was Raynor had to go over "transition land" to get from 13 to 16.  Cannot imagine what FI's ratings would be if this part of its land was like the rest of it.  But, 14 is very hard, and 15, while not difficult can lull you into complacency.  

For many many years, there have been three great tracks in the USA (to my knowledge) that had not incorporated sprinker systems in their fairways...Maidstone (NY), Newport (RI), and Fishers.  I know that Maidstone installed fairway irrigation as part of the recent Coore-Crenshaw renovation, and on the drive home I realized that I had seen a few sprinklers at FI.  Do any of you know if that is true?  Or was I just seeing greenside sprinklers and did not think about their location?  Sad to see if true, and again reminds me of Mrs. Barry ("how the mighty have fallen").  I am sure these sprinklers at Maidstone and FI (if there) are only intended for use in dire conditions...but that often takes more discipline that most of us have.  Guess i need to go back to find out  :-)

Old Sandwich

First played OS in 2008 and every time I have played it I have liked it more and more.  Located in Plymouth, MA (on the way from Boston to Cape Cod), it is built on a wonderful piece of land...not as unique and spectacular as EH or FI, but just plain old excellent.  Sand dunes run throughout the property, and C-C did their usual superb job of "discovering" the golf holes (as opposed to "building" them).  Only negative about the property is its close proximity to Rt 3 (the road from Boston to the Cape) resulting in traffic noise.  Tough to avoid that in today's world without going to Nebraska (which I am doing in July).

One of the real fun things about this round at OS was having the opportunity to play it with one of the C-C associates who worked on it 10-12 years ago.  It was fascinating to learn of the obstacles that had to be overcome, and the thought process behind the design of some of the holes.  It was also a perfect day weather wise.  Good wind that was challenging but not overpowering, and the condition of OS was impeccable that day...very firm and fast (for the USA, not for Scotland or Melbourne's Sandbelt). From tips it is 6908 yards (par 71)...again not a monster , but all the course you want or need the usual wind.

So many superb holes here, but my favorites are 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, and 17:

--#2...403 yards, doglegs right and uphill after the turn to crested green that is wider and deep, and with a false front.  Principal's Nose bunker placed in middle of fairway at the turn forces a decision as to whether to play right, left, short or over it (the latter not an option for this old man)
--#5...336 yards, that turns slightly left around marshland...huge sand dune crests about 260 yards from back tee and then falls sharply down to green.  Drivable but real risk associated with that blind shot (also, 2nd shot is blind if you play it too conservatively).  Can avoid most of crested dune by playing down left side , but that is also very dangerous.  Fabulous match play hole because there are so many ways to play it and resulting scores can easily vary from 2 to 6/7.  Might be better if this hole came late in the round.
--#7---391 yards, turning slightly left with huge waste bunker protecting entire left side of fairway, and "island",  raised green, surrounded by bunkers.
--#9--131 yards...a real teaser...bunkers protect the front of green which is somewhat shallow with a closely cropped, sharp falloff at its rear...you do not want to be over on this one.  Looks much much easier than it is.
--#11--244 yard heroic par 3 to raised green with false front. Very intimidating hole
--#13--560 yd par 5, slightly down hill to green.  What makes this hole so special is the green setting...perfectly natural and surrounded by hills left, right, and behind...you can just stare at this setting forever...reminds me of C-C's 15th green setting at Bandon Trails in OR as both are so natural
--#14--369 yard uphill par 4 that turns right to a green perched on top of a dune with 2 very deep bunkers fronting the green..and a sharp fall off (again closely cropped) to the next tee behind it.  Lots of players stand in middle of fairway looking at second shot, just talking to themselves and wondering "how the hell...".  Not at all clear whether the hole is tougher downwind (as it becomes so difficult to stop the approach shot on this very firm green) or against the wind.
--#16--486 yds uphill off tee then sharply downhill to green...with the wind the second shot is great fun to play and watch
--#17--191 yards uphill to wild but fair green protected by deep bunkers

Summary

Three fabulous tracks...with great similarities despite varying "ages".  All play firm and fast (which make them more fun and easier to walk), each have their share of blind shots (remember what the Scots say..."a shot is only blind once"), all are exposed to the wind, making their relatively short lengths (in today's golfing world) very very deceiving.  All three are also wonderful clubs.  Most of all, all are layouts you could play every day without getting bored.

Next

Essex Golf &CC (Windsor, Ontario)
Forest Dunes (Northern Michigan)
Oakland Hills North and South (Birmingham, MI)

Am already on the trip.  Played Essex yesterday and hoping weather holds for Forest Dunes today...


Email 7/1/2014:

It is the night of June 30 and I am in Birmingham MI.  Am on a 5 day trip...played Essex Golf & CC near Windsor, ONT, Canada yesterday and Forest Dunes in Roscommon, MI this morning.  Tomorrow will be Oakland Hills CC (South), and Wednesday will be OHCC (North), then back to OHCC South on Thursday before flying home.

Essex Golf & CC

Flew to Detroit Sunday early and then drove over the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor.  Essex in about 5 miles from the bridge and I arrived early, and was able to get off around 10:30am.  Am here as Essex was included on the GM Worldwide Top 100 in 1987 (as #79) and 1989 (#88).  As you may recall, there have been 190 courses that have ever been on the Golf Magazine Top 100 and I had played 176...playing Essex brought me to 177 of 190, and who know if I will try to assault the last 13 (Columbia-1; British Isles-2, Cont Europe-2; Africa-2; Melbourne, Australia-2; and SE Asia-4).  

Essex was established in 1902 and retained Donald Ross to lay out a new facility in 1928, which was completed in 1929.  It hosted the 1976 Canadian Open won by Jerry Pate shortly after his US Open win at Atlanta Athletic Club, the 1996 du Maurier Classic (remember when tobacco companies sponsored PGA and LPGA events, in this case an LPGA major?) won by Brandie Burton, and the 2002 Canadian Senior Open won by Tom Jenkins.

The course is built on very very flat farmland.  It stretches to 6703 yards (par 71).  The fairways are lined with large magnificent trees, in many cases draping over the fairway's edge.  While the greens clearly were Donald Ross greens, I thought they were among the least severe Ross greens that i have played.  The course was also far from firm and fast...it was soft and slow.  Given that rainfall from June 1-29 totaled only 3.5" (slightly less than average for June) this points to overwatering.  Course conditions were impacted by the severity of this past winter's weather.  As of June 1, Essex had 17 temporary greens.  While all 18 regular greens were in use on 6/9, most were still in a recovery phase. Net net, it was very disappointing.  Weather started to turn threatening after 9 holes and we were pulled off the course for 30 minutes due to a small thunder storm cell after my drive on 15.  Got back on the course and completed the round.

After thanking Essex's Director of Golf, Alex McIntyre, I headed n back over the Ambassador Bridge to the town of Roscommon in northern Michigan.  Crossing the bridge, the sight of Detroit's abandoned historic train station and office tower dominating the skyline southwest of downtown Detroit are a depressing reminder of the city's awful condition.  

Forest Dunes Golf Club

About 240 miles later, arrived at Forest Dunes Golf Club just before 6pm.  A storm front had moved through that morning and it was clear, bright, and windy.  With the sun not setting until 9:30pm, I could have played a quick 18, but shockingly, I showed some prudence and just grabbed a cart for a quick tour of the layout.  Built within the Huron National Forest and designed by Tom Weiskopf, it is a beautiful, challenging, very well designed course.  It also has a perfect name, as the front nine is cut through heavily wooded land while the back nine is located on an area filled with natural sand dunes.  I guess if you tee off on 10 you are playing Dunes Forest.  In any case, after a good dinner, got some well needed rest and was looking forward to my round early on Monday.

I played FD w its head pro, Chad Maveus, who came to FD after a number of years as the first ass't at Pebble.  Chad is a wonderful guy, knows a lot about the golf industry, and was fun to play with.  You will have to contact him to see if any of these attributes applies to moi :-).  We went off at 8:06, playing "Forest Dunes" rather than "Dunes Forest" (i.e. we teed off on #1).  I had heard from others that due to restrictions on use of pesticides in the Huron National Forest, the bugs could be pretty bad, and had purchased some insect repellant with DEET on my drive north.  That was a good move.  The no-see-ums were out in force on the front nine as conditions were ripe for them (high humidity, rain the day before, and low wind in the forested area).   By the time we made the turn, the wind had picked up considerably and conditions were much better on the back nine...although the "black bugs" (not sure of type) stayed out of the wind and on the ground, and they loved white golf balls...often crawling on them just as you got over your ball.

The course was just as impressive as it looked the day before...and it plays easier than it look...while it is visually intimidating, it is in fact fair.  Totals 7,116 yds (72) from back and I played it from 6,309.  The first hole is an excellent starting hole, 403 from back dogleg right, with plenty of room left and the option offered by "Tee Cape Holes", of cutting off as much as you can chew...or come to rest in deep bunkers or worse.  I found out that I couldn't chew much.  Greens in general are fairly large with a combination of subtle and large mounds/breaks making them fun to play to and deal with.  Prime example is par 5 #5, stretching to 605 (i played from 521), with a smallish ledge on the back right protected by a "hollow" carved out by Weiskopf.  Superb green and Chad, after reaching in 2, was faced with a 50-60' putt uphill that felt like it would go sharply right if pushed a foot of more, and sharply the left if pulled a foot or more.  One of the hardest putts I have ever seen (and Chad 4 putted).  #6 is an excellent mid length par 4 (378) can be played a drivable par 4 from up front with a split fairway.  A big tree divides the fairway into 2 routes...going right is the direct line but requires a carry of 230 from the back to carry a large cross bunker to a smallish area.  Going left is longer and also requires a long drive to get past the tree in the middle.  A third option to to play right and lay up short of the cross bunker, leaving about 160 to the middle.  #8 is a superb dogleg right 443 yds with a large fairway bunker protecting the corner and a green sloping sharply left to right and a pond protecting the right side of the green.

The back nine is even better.  #10 is an excellent 439 par 4 with a split fairway (straight or dogleg right depending on your choice of fairway) and a horseshoe shaped green with a bunker in the gap...essentially plays as two separate greens and you better not be on the wrong one or your'll be facing a 3 or 4 putt (I was on the correct side and 3 putted by going brain dead on my first putt). Again, a hole giving player lots of options.  I loved #13...straightaway 373 yd...fairly straightforward off the tee but a fabulous green, angles from front left to back right with a bunker protecting the green on the right.  We faced a back pin and the back part of the green is smallish and convex, with runoffs left back and right, making the effective back part of the green tiny.  Smart play to this pin is to hit only front of green (but carrying false front on right side...I neglected to do the latter), but it looks tempting to throw approach to the back...great visual trickery.  #14 is a straight 464 par 4 with water lurking left on your second shot...tough tough heroic hole.  Favorite is par 5 15th, 563 yards turning left to a punchbowl green...neat neat hole and the punchbowl, combined with a simple looking green filled with very subtle breaks works superbly.  #16 plays from 233 and is a heroic par 3 over a huge waste bunker to a green sloping sharply back to front and left to right...hit my best of the day into the wind to 20' and just missed my birdie.  #17 is a world class drivable par 4 with tons of options, and 18 is an excellent par 5 closer.

In terms of conditioning, the course is great.  Despite over 1" of rain over previous 36 hours, course was reasonably fast and firm and greens were perfect.  One does not see too many resort courses in this type of condition. Have also concluded that Weiskopf may be the unsong hero among architects of his time...and his work may indeed be superior to that of his longtime rival as a player, Jack Nicklaus.  He is well recognize as either the inventor or the perfecter of the drivable par 4 and his work in the desert is the best of any modern architect.

Overall, in my mind clearly a USA Top 100, but not World Top 100.  FD has had some interesting ownership history.  The original developers abandoned the property before it was completed and one of the original lenders, the Michigan Carpenters Union Trust Fund took over the property and completed it in 2002...wisely spending $$$$ on important thinks such as $750k for reinforced concrete cart paths.  With losses mounting the indictments facing several officers of the union and directors of the Fund about 4 years ago, they finally unloaded the property to Lew Thompson, a self made shipping magnate from AK.  Too bad the union bosses had to lose their playground.  In any case, Thompson seems to be investing and rebuiiding the property and work may shortly commence on a Doak designed 2nd 18.  Hope it works...nict place and good people working there.  Worth trip, probably best in fall as leaves turn and it gets real firm and fast (greens looks like they can get to lightning speeds).

After lunch headed back south to Birmingham, MI (180 miles) and three days of golf at Oakland Hills CC  with friends from CCNC.  More in a few days...

Email 7/5/2014:

I spent Tues 7/1-today (Thursday 7/3) in Birmingham MI for three days of golf at Oakland Hills CC in Bloomfield Hills, MI, hosted by a friend from CCNC.  OHCC has 2 courses, South and North, both designed by Donald Ross.  I first played South in 1977, and played it one more time in the 1980's. I had never played North.  We played South twice and North once.

South

Opened for play in 1918.  In terms of ratings (USA Top 100) the South Course is currently rated #20 in Golf Digest, #35 in Golf Week, and #22 in Golf Magazine.  It's highest rankings historically have been #8 (2003) in GD, #21 (2007) in GW, and #13 (1991, '93 and '95) in GM.  Quite frankly, its ranking have trended down recently in all three magazines.  Worldwide, it is currently rated #35 in GM.  In 1979 (first year GM rated courses on a worldwide basis) it was in the "Top 12" (these 12 were listed alphabetically), and its position has dropped fairly continuously over time.  Golf Digest's first attempt at a worldwide Top 100 earlier this year has OHCC at #67, and it is not on the Top 100 lists published by Planet Golf or Golf Course Architecture.  What would Mrs Barry say about this?  Ahhh...you forgot about my 8th grade teacher ("How the mighty have fallen!")

Over the years, South has been stretched out several times and now is 7,445 yards from the back (par 72, but playing to par 70 from the same yardage for majors) compared to 6,927 yards for the 1951 US Open and 7,099 yards in 1996.  To date it has hosted 6 US Opens and 3 PGA Championships, or a total of 9 majors.  Obviously, Augusta National leads this list worldwide with 78 Masters, and 6 British tracks have hosted more Open Championships...The Old Course (28), Prestwick (24), Muirfield (16), Royal St. George's (14), Royal Liverpool (12 including this month's), and Royal Lytham & St. Anne's (11).  Remember though, the R&A has always had a limited number of venues for The Open Championship (to date 14 venues for 143 Championships including later this month), so it is not surprising to find these venues with large numbers of majors.  The only USA course with a greater total of US Opens and PGA's is Oakmont with 11, and next in line is Southern Hills with 7.   Yes, the reasons a club is chosen to hold a US Open or PGA are varied and many have nothing to do with the quality of the course (space, location, not to mention the club's willingness to host a major).  However, with rare exception for the US Open and, since about 1970, the PGA the quality of the track seems to have been a critical factor in venue selection by the USGA and PGA.  OHCC has been fortunate in having plenty of room to allow South's tees to be pushed back to accommodate the need for greater distance, and looking around the layout, one can spot several places where additional yardage can be tacked on to offset the increases in distance off the tee, etc. (although some might say this has been unfortunate for the game).

This is a very very tough course.  I can still remember back 37 years ago feeling like I had just gone 15 rounds with Ali.  That was when I was a young turk filled with ego and an ability to hit the ball fairly prodigious distances, given equipment those days.  Of course, I often would hit it into the next fairway (or even 2 fairways over), but with all the space around OHCC's fairways, there I would just end up in deep rough or trees or both.  Being older and wiser these days (those of you who did not know me back then will of course find it hard to believe that I ever hit the ball prodigious distances, or that I was even less wise than I am now), I played South from the Silver (Old Fart) tees that stretch out to 6035 yards!!  In retrospect, playing from this yardage gave me insight into OGCC that I might have missed if I had played from the Whites, Blues, or Golds (6553, 6822, and 7142 yards respectively).  More about this later.

The greens on the South are incredible.  They are large (but not huge), have steep large slopes, and very sharp breaks that can be difficult to read.  While these clearly are Ross greens, there are only about 6 or 7 that I would classify as "turtle back" a la Pinehurst #2. Incredibly, they have not been changed since they were first built almost 100 years ago...same grass and underlying foundations.  They are very very healthy (even after a very difficult winter caused primarily by global warming) and can get very fast (with a big storm dumping almost 1" of rain the night before our first round, they were not as fast as usual).  The bunkers (all 120+ of them), both around the greens and fairway bunkers, are exceptional...deep and tough (as hazards should be).   The fairway contours (with huge heaves of mounds) are also superb with level lies hard to come by.   Best holes are #1 (fabulous green complex), #6 (excellent uphill drivable par 4...surrounded by very difficult bunkers, and a green sloping sharply back to front), #10 (long 462 yd par 4 with fairway rolling left to right and deep fairway bunkers...and a very very tough green), #11 (dogleg right, drive over big mound left of fairway bunkers right, and then uphill to 2 tiered green w false front), #13 (short par 3 of 191 yds w a few very very devilish pin positions back and right), and #15 (dogleg left 405 yd par 4, with fairway bunkers in center of fairway forcing a decision to play short, over or left  of them off tee, then uphill to crested green on 2nd).  #9 and 17 are par 3's that are too difficult for words.

So, with so many attributes, why are OHCC's South course's ranking in various ratings dropping so much?  Perhaps it is the "quest" for US Open and PGA Championships.  Both of these majors have generally striven for narrow fairways surrounded by deep rough, which are part and parcel of "penal" (as opposed to "strategic") golf architecture.  Clearly, this was part of Robert Trent Jones' plan when he renovated OHCC for the 1951 US Open with the objective of severely toughening OHCC (to the point that Ben Hogan called it a "monster" after his victory).  I doubt that Ross' original layout was "tight" off the tee.  While penal courses place an important premium on accuracy off the tee, because narrow fairways limit the angles from which a player can approach a hole, they tend to offer less alternative ways to play each hole, thereby limiting a players options.  On the surface this should make the game harder, it also makes it less interesting...and because choices can lead to indecision, could actually make it easier for a world class player.  At a minimum, it reduces the "mind" part of the game.  

Obviously ,the fairways we played this week were much wider than fairways at a major, so more options were available.  And by playing from about 6000 yards, the course was not overpowering in length (even with my "bunts" off the tee).  As a result, I saw an Oakland Hills that had some truly fabulous characteristics (greens, bunkering, fairway contours).  It would be fascinating to see what OHCC would play like with wide fairways that were very very fast and firm, and some more closely cropped areas around the greens.  I think it would be an exceptional track...but I doubt such a transformation will occur in the foreseeable future...even after the acclaimed changes (excuse me...reversion to original) at Pinehurst #2.  Some others will say that the US Open should be played on tight tracks with deep rough, etc., and that the strategic major is The Open Championship (otherwise known as the British Open to the unknowing).  But I disagree.  Fifteen years ago, two of the four majors usually were conducted on "strategic" courses...The Open Championship and The Masters.  I believe some of the changes implemented at Augusta National eliminated much of the strategic nature of that layout, and made it more penal.  So is it time to get back to the days of two majors conducted on "strategic" designs...or perhaps 1.5 majors...rotating the US Open between strategic and penal designs.  One result of such a move might be that more great classics might revert to their original strategic designs. I, for one, would not like this to be universal, as both schools of design have something to offer...but having more "championship" tracks revert might be interesting, fun and exciting.  Your thoughts are welcome.

North

The North Course is across Maple Road from the clubhouse and the South.  It was completed in 1924 (6 years after the South) and was renovated over the past 12 months under the direction of Arthur Hills to improve drainage on a few holes and in preparation for the 2016 US Amateur (requiring two courses for play during the two days of stroke play qualifying for match play).  Having never played the North before this week, I cannot comment on the changes but I sense they were a major improvement.  The greens on the North are clearly Ross, but with breaks that are much more subtle.  It also is much shorter (6908 yards par 70) and its bunkering is much less severe.  It has a good number of excellent holes, in particular #5, 9, 14, 16, and 17.  Clearly, OHCC made a decision to upgrade the North in recent years without trying to duplicate the South.  This is now a very good course.

Last Thoughts

In my mind, there is a need for great championship courses, and they should not all be of strategic design.  But I think there does need to be a movement back to strategic design in majors...and hopefully Pinehurst #2 is a first step in that direction.  I believe Oakland Hills can work well either way, but I do believe it would be better reverting to strategic design.  Of course, that is easier said than done, an there would be major risks associated with any such change, so don't expect it to happen in the immediate future.  Hopefully the USGA will keep pushing in this direction.  In the meantime, I do think the South is currently underrated.  It is very playable if you play from your appropriate tees, but naturally lots of golfers go as far back as they are allowed to "test themselves" against the "monster."  That is just plain stupid, and not a good test (since most of them cannot reach the real trouble from those tees and cannot go for the green after their tees shots.  They are not seeing the golf course as designed, and blame them, not OHCC.  For PGA Tour caliber players, its 7445 yards at par 70 with its difficult difficult greens, bunkers, and rolling fairways are NOT unfair.  

I leave on the Rockies journey Monday 7/7...and Sand Hills got added to the mix :-).  This looks to be really really good one...