Tuesday, December 24, 2019

141. Finish Up 2019...and New World 100

141. Finish Up 2019...and New World 100

Pinehurst #1, November 30, 2019:  I would assume that most readers of this blog are familiar with a number of industrial magnates from the late 19th century and early 20th century...people such as John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Richard Mellon, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.  To that list you need two add James Walker Tufts, referred to as a "soda fountain magnate" by Wikipedia!!  

Each year Tufts took a train south from Boston to Florida in the fall and returned north in the spring.  The train made a lot of stops, including one in Southern Pines, NC.  In 1895, Tufts decided to inspect the area around Southern Pines, located in an area now knows as the Sandhills.  Tufts purchased (for about $1.25/acre...not inflation adjusted) about 5000 acres of scrubland east of Southern Pines.  Pinehurst Resort, which predates the Village of Pinehurst, dates back to this purchase.  The Village of Pinehurst was not incorporated until 1980.

Tufts would have known of Donald Ross from Ross' position as head professional at Oakley Country Club in Watertown, MA.  Ross immigrated to the USA from Dornoch, Scotland in 1899 and was hired by Oakley immediately.  As a side note, some 63 years later I played Oakley CC for the first time as a member of MIT's Freshman Golf Team.

During the first years of Pinehurst Resort, Tufts noticed an increasing number of guests shagging golf balls in the open fields, and had Dr. Leroy Culver design 9 holes in 1898, with an additional nine added by John Dunn Tucker shortly thereafter.   Tufts hires Ross as head professional and in 1901 he renovated what is now Pinehurst #1.  Ross' more famous Pinehurst #2 opened for play in 1907 and  he was the initial architect of Pinehurst #3 (1910) and Pinehurst #4 (1919).

I first played #1, #3, and #4 in 1974 (#1 was the 73rd course I ever played) and #2 and #5 in 1971.  I had not played #1, #3 or #5 again until my round on #1 this month.  I played #1 this day with Greg O., a fellow GGCC member from Chicago and Pinehurst after hearing some good things about #1 from other players (frankly, I could not remember anything about #1, #3, or #5).

Both Greg and I were very pleasantly surprised.  Yes, from the tips it stretches a mere 6089 yards.  But these early Ross greens make the course.  Ross did a brilliant job of building these greens with sweeping slopes, but camouflaging these slopes at least from the eyes of this player.  The first hole, playing 391 yards is a dogleg left with bunkers the outside of the turn and therefore screams "play down the left side".  But too far left and trees block your approach shot...and a very false front and back third of green sloping towards the back combine to produce a very difficult 2nd shot.  I have driven behind this green on Morganton Road regularly since 1998 without appreciating its subtlety.

The course has terrific greens and is fun to play.  It could use some updating to create better definition   and restore the bunkers which look "tired".  I would think rejuvenating this course would add another jewel to the Pinehurst Resort's crown and prove to be a most worthwhile investment.  Perhaps the second course touched by Ross this historical venue is due for a freshening.

Pinehurst #1 has never been included on a USA Top 100 but from 1902-06 hosted the North and South Open (won by Alec Ross..Donald's brother...in 1902 and 1904 and by Donald Ross in 1903, '05, and '06).  In retrospect, the North and South Open is considered by many to have been a "major" during its existence from 1902-1951.

Forest Creek Golf Club-North, December 9, 2019:  I was a golfing member of Forest Creek from 2000-2010 and eventually fully withdrew my membership four years later.  The North course opened in 2005 (the South Course dates back to the Club's opening in 1996).  I had last played the North in December 2017 and South in December 2016.  Both courses were designed by Tom Fazio and Fazio recently completed an extensive renovation of North.

I played with FC member Bob K. and two other members from Ft. Worth, TX.  As I was undergoing a medical procedure two days later, I limited my play to 11 holes and putted/chipped on the other 7 holes.  Mostly I was there to see the changes to North.

The most important change IMO was the conversion of the greens from Bentgrass to Champion Bermuda.  As the course had just reopened 2-3 months before my round, it was too early to properly evaluate the greens but I was surprised how little "grain" was present on these greens.  Time will tell if that is due to their young age or efforts by the Forest Creek staff and Fazio.

The architectural changes to North were pretty much as described to me by others.  First, the greens are slightly expanded, and with less in the way of "tiers" and more sweeping/gradual slopes.  My sense is that they will take longer to really understand as they are filled with subtle breaks and result in more double-breaking putts.  Second, most of the "love grass" that accented many of North's bunkers is now gone, and that IMHO is a negative aspect of the changes.  The fairways seemed wider and with the larger greens offer more angles and options for play, and that certainly is a positive IMO.  Finally, the elimination of some trees (even the one on the left 160 yards short of the 3rd green) I view as a positive as is the expansion and flattening of some of the bunkering.  At this stage I think the changes are certainly a net plus, with the size of the plus a function of how the greens play after they have grown in for another year or so.  One footnote...these comparisons are with the North Course of the 2005-2007 time frame (when I think the original course was at its best),  as opposed to the period from 2008-2017.

As this was likely to be my last round of 2019 (we are in Massachusetts right now for the Holidays and the weather is not exactly conducive to golf), I should note that I ended the round by parring the 18th hole.  No score was kept during this round or at #1.

Summary of the Year 2019:  Was a good year.  I ended with 161.4 18-hole equivalent rounds (note...if I play 27 holes day 1 and 9 holes day 2...that totals 2.0 "18-hole equivalent rounds").  I played on a total of 119 different courses, of which 28 I had played before 2019, and 91 were "new" to me.  This brought me to 1209 courses played to date.  Comparable numbers for recent years are as follows:

Year            18-hole equiv rds           total courses played         new courses played
2019                 161.4                                   119                                    91
2018                 158.4                                   125                                    99
2017                 222.0                                   157                                  115
2016                 209.7                                   127                                    92
2015                 202.1                                   140                                  110
2014                 159.9                                   104                                    74

Highlights of course were completing the World Top 100 EVER (11 sources) for the third time at Huntercombe GC in England on June 11 and the USA Top 100 EVER (6 sources) for the first time at Treetops--Smith Signature in Michigan on June 17 (sometimes referred to as standing atop Mt. Everest and K-2 simultaneously).  You will recall that immediately after, I announced my retirement from chasing World and USA Top 100's.

Since that time one more USA Top 100 list has been published leaving unblemished my record on the USA Top 100 List.  Two additional World Top 100 lists have been published and while the Golf Magazine list did not affect my status, the recently published Top100golfcourses.com list included two courses that I have not played (Lanhai International--Yangtze Dunes in China, and Santapazienza in Brazil), thereby knocking me off Mount Everest 180 days after my third ascent.  At this point I have no plans to visit either but my travel plans for 2020 are undecided at this point.  To my knowledge, no other golfer has ever conquered either "mountain".

One other bucket list completed in 2019 was the "Five Cups EVER" (Walker, Ryder, Curtis, Solheim, Presidents listed in chronological order of their first Match), with my playing Denver Country Club (CO), host venue for the 1982 Curtis Cup Match on August 22.  These five Cups will have been held at 108 different courses throughout 2020 and as of August 22, 2019, I have played all 108.  I know of no other person who has completed all 108.  I had the chance to meet Joey Hines last month.  Joey is the Head Pro at Cape Fear Country Club (Post #140), and earlier this year he completed the Men's Major Venues EVER bucket list.  I added Ridgemoor (IL) to that list to recognize Hogan's 5th US open in the 1942 Hale America Championship.  If you count Ridgemoor, Joey beat me to it...if not I was first.  Call it a tie.  Joey is attempting to finish the Ryder Cup EVER list and I am cheering him on!

Goals for 2020...have a few more bucket lists to keep me off the streets.  Crossed the "75" barrier this year and hoping to keep this going.   "Reasonable" goals are:

GOAL                                                                           To Go          Cum To Go*

Reclimb World 100 EVER                                                 2                        2
Golf Week USA 100 Classic & 100 Modern EVER               10                      12
Golf Digest USA 101-200 EVER                                         8                      18
Senior Majors EVER                                                         2                      20
Current Women's Majors EVER                                         5                      25
US Senior Amateur EVER**                                               4                      29
PGA Tour "Biggies"***                                                       3                      32

Long term stretch goals would include:
US Junior Amateur EVER**                                             23                    154
US Women's Am, Mid-Am, Sr Am, Jr Am, 4 ball               92                    242
Golf Digest 1966/67 200 Toughest                                  80                    308

Note that completing the above through the next to last line (242 to go) would mean having played every venue to host one one the USGA's current 14 championships.  Probably not doable but that might be something to focus on...

* net of duplicates (courses on more than one bucket list)
** have completed US Amateur, US Mid Amateur, Amateur Championship EVER
*** World Golf Championships and Fed Express Playoff Championships EVER (have completed Tour Championships Venues EVER)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

140. Golf in Carolinas...and Texas...and back to NC/SC...ending at another Hidden Gem

140.  Golf in NC/SC...and Texas...and back to NC/SC...ending at another Hidden Gem

Hope Valley Golf Club, October 24, 2019:  After a few days of doctors appointments, sorting out things around the house, etc., I decided to check out one of the courses in Durham I had never played.  I had a 1:00pm appointment on Thursday 10/24 with my cardiologist at Duke (routine follow up from my aortic valve replacement 6 months prior), and was able to get a tee time at Hope Valley GC, only about 5 miles from the doctor's office.

It was about 45℉ when I left home around 6:15am but when I teed off at 8:15am it was up to 55 and would rise another 15-20℉ by mid afternoon.  Hope Valley was founded in 1926 and its course was designed by Donald Ross and since has undergone renovations by Perry Maxwell, Dan Maples, John LaFay, Brian Silva, and most recently Kris Spence (who renovated CCNC's Dogwood course in 2016).  Byron Nelson won the fourth of his incredible 11 straight PGA Tour victories here in April 1945.  

The land Hope Valley sits on is fairly hilly, and by my count fully 12 of its holes have an uphill approach to the green (3 down hill and 3 flat).  For Donald Ross, the greens appear fairly flat and subdued, but they sure do not putt that way.  I three putted two of the first three holes until I became accustomed to them.  There are also in perfect condition and very very quick...even on uphill putts.  I liked the back nine much more than the front (and my play reflected that shooting a 46 - 38 = 84).  The last 3-4 holes remind me of Mid Pines GC in Southern Pines and that is a strong compliment.  Visually the bunkering could use some updating both in placement and design.  At 6720 yards from the tips the course is long enough for most players and certainly for me.  Overall routing is good but almost all the fairways are lined with homes and the course crosses several roads.

Hope Valley first appeared on the Golf Week USA Top 101-200 Modern list in 2016 at #101, and then reappeared this year (note that I could not locate the 2017 and 2018 lists) at #172...those two listings translated to #201 and #372 respectively on my Merged GW Top 400 which combines Modern and Classic courses.  

Spring Valley Country Club, October 30, 2019:  Over the following six days I had the chance to play both of CCNC's tracks and first suffered through an 89 (Equitable Stroke Control!!) on Dogwood but then followed that with a 78 on Cardinal, so no way of knowing how my game stood.

On 10/30 I left early for a trip to surprise an Australian friend..."Aussie John."  Pat and I met John and Kay (his now wife and then SO) in 2012 in Melbourne, Australia, where John plays at the brilliant Kingston Heath (Post #34).  They visited us in Boston the summer of 2012 and we have seen them in Australia and the USA a few times since.  In May 2014, I was concluding a round-the-world trip to finish my first Golf Magazine World Top 100 and Aussie John surprised me by welcoming me at Dublin airport on my way to my 100th course, The European Club (no...he did not fly from Melbourne to Dublin for that...he was in England as he and Kay were exchanging vows a few days later near Manchester...but I was still blown away by his doing that).  John was scheduled to play Augusta National GC on this day to complete his first (actually I think his first 4 or 5 GM lists).  He was scheduled to play Palmetto GC in Aiken, SC the next day and then drive north to Pinehurst to stay with us (and play more golf) before heading back "down under."

While ANGC's rules kept me from being able to surprise him there, I planned to drive to Aiken on 10/30 and surprise him at the dinner we had set up for him with Jill and Charlie B., friends from Boston who live in Charleston and also belong to Palmetto.  Soo, I figured "why not leave early and play some course in SC on the way?".  

I left home around 5:15am (this is getting to be a habit) and arrived at Spring Valley GC in Columbia, SC (the state's capital) just before 8:00am.  Spring Valley opened in 1961 with an 18 hole course designed by George Cobb and then was renovated by John LaFoy (who also did some renovation work at Hope Valley) in 1999.  From the tips today it is 6,791 yards.  In both 1966 and 1967 it was included in Golf Digest's USA 200 Toughest...but for sure that "toughness" is not obvious today.  It was fairly wet and soft from recent rains and I played fairly quickly (2 hours 3 minutes) as I was trying to play 36 holes in Columbia before the forecast rains arrived.  Given the softness, I chose to play from 5559 yards instead of 6049 and I scored pretty well (39 - 38 = 77).  Course is very flat on the front nine but had some better land on the back.  The morning round was designed to knock another off my GD 200 Toughest bucket list and my guess is that many of the 81 that I have left (as of 11/23/44) will be of this ilk.  As I have written before, those two lists are the earliest "Top" or "Toughest" lists ever, and certainly do not represent a collection of great or tough tracks.  But, of course, a list is a list begging to be conquered.

Columbia Country Club, October 30, 2019:  After a drive of 10 miles I was at Columbia Country Club, which encompasses 27 holes.  Columbia opened in 1962 with 18 holes designed by Ellis Maples (who designed CCNC's Dogwood course and Grandfather G&CC).  Like Spring Valley, Columbia was included on both the 1966 and 1967 GD 200 Toughest lists...and like Spring Valley is not deserving of such notice.  But it is certainly superior to Spring Valley.

Sometime after 1967 a third nine was finished.  The original course encompasses the Ridgewood and Tall Pines nines...and the third nine is known as Lakeside.  The Ridgewood/Tall Pines course totals 7150 yards today, and I played it from 5679 yards.  Like Columbia it was a little soft and wet but I was able to finish in 2:06.  Had a 41 - 41 = 82 and was pleased to have finished before the rain.

After the round I headed straight to Aiken...no word yet from Aussie John on the status of his round.  As I arrived in the town of Aiken I received a call from John...round happened, he was done and relieved and was looking forward to getting over to Aiken and meeting Jill and Charlie B.  It sounded like the surprise was still working.  I congratulated him and told him we were looking forward to seeing him in Pinehurst the next afternoon.

About 90 minutes later, he walked into the dining room (35 minutes late I must add) at the Willcox Hotel in Aiken and was quite surprised to see me and no Jill or Charlie at the table.  We had a great dinner and then headed back to our respective hotels with plans to play Palmetto early the next morning.  Was special to "return the surprise."

Palmetto Golf Club, October 31, 2019:  I first heard about Palmetto about 10-15 years ago from Steve Hinshaw, a very special member of CCNC who belonged to Palmetto as well and passed away about 5-7 years ago.  I played it for the first time on March 15, 2011 (no previous posts...as these were pre-blog days) and simply loved it.  It was a few months after I had become a Golf Digest Panelist and it was the 5th course I ever evaluated.

Palmetto was founded in 1892 and its golf course initially was comprised of four holes designed by founder Thomas Hitchcock.   These holes were located where the practice range and holes 16-18 now sit.  Shortly thereafter, Herbert Leeds, who designed Myopia Hunt Club (Post #56) north of Boston, designed and built five more holes giving the club a full nine.  Three years later Leeds and James Mackrell, Palmetto's first golf professional, added nine more holes to complete today's 18.  The Club believes that Donald Ross installed an irrigation system in 1928 and in 1932; Alister MacKensie (who was building Augusta National Golf Club some 25 miles to the west) converted Palmetto's sand greens to grass and made additional alterations including lengthening the course.  From the late 1980's through 1995 Rees Jones made some bunker renovations and from 2003 to 2005 Tom Doak oversaw a series of bunker renovations to bring back MacKensie's design characteristics.  Presently, Gil Hanse is the club's architect of record.  Today the course plays 6713 yards with a par of 71.  And the clubhouse was designed by Sanford White, who also designed the clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills. Leeds (Myopia Hunt), MacKensie (ANGC, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne), and White for the clubhouse...amazing combination.

When I played it for the first time, I was well into the building of my "Top 100 Spreadsheet" and was astounded to note that it had never been included in a World or USA Top 100.  I remember thinking that this had to be the quintessential "hidden gem", a designation that I firmly believe still applies today.

The bunkering and greens here are nothing short of fabulous.  Best holes are probably #3, #4, #5, #7, and #13...at least according to guys named Rudovsky, Jones and Hogan.  I had a 44 - 41 = 85 (bogeying each of those four favorites).  Did not matter...coming back here is so very special no matter what one shoots.

After the round, John and I started our drive to Pinehurst (about 3 hours 30 minutes).  We had two cars as John would need a car to take him to Charlotte Saturday night for his flights home.  John had GPS so while he would follow me most of the way home, it was not necessary for us to stay together on the road.  After getting from the club to I-20 (about 10 miles) we headed east on I-20 for about 80 miles, and then would have to take smaller roads for the last 100 miles.  About the time I exited I-20 I called John's cell and was transferred to his voice mail...and this happened again 2-3x...and then calls would not connect.  Now I started to get worried.  I pulled over and waited 5 minutes but did not see his car pass by.  I thought about heading back to I-20 but that didn't seem to make sense since he could have gone past the exit and have been re-routed by GPS.  Soo,  I called 911 and was connected to South Carolina's Highway Patrol.  They reported no accidents in the area and would alert their patrols in case he stopped one to ask directions.  I checked in with Pat but she had not heard from John either.  Then I continued on my (not very merry) way wondering what had happened, but knowing that there was not much else I could do.

As I came within a couple of miles of our house, I called John again and all of as sudden got through.  He was sitting in our driveway (Pat was out).  Turns out his cell phone had frozen but retained the GPS map showing the way from I-20 to our house.  When he got to the house he rebooted the phone and everything came back on.  Made for a long afternoon but all was well that ended well.

Dormie Club, November 1, 2019:  John had never played Dormie and wanted to see it and I wanted to see if it continued to improve.  We played with Steve S. of CCNC and St. George's in Toronto.  I had last played Dormie in February of this year and was very presently surprised by the improvement in its condition.  Just looked for my last Post regarding Dormie and it looks like I did not post that round...so the last Post covering Dormie is from 2016 (Post #60).  Deep apologies to my loyal readers!...(all 12 of you!!)

In any case Dormie had opened about 10 years ago as Coore-Crenshaw's only original course in the NC Sandhills.  It never got traction (for a variety of reasons) and 3-4 years ago it was starting to really show the effects of deferred maintenance necessitated by poor cash flow.  About two years ago a group that owned 4 courses at that time (and with deep pockets) purchased Dormie and named its collection of courses after it.  More importantly, they have put their $$ where their mouth is and really cleaned up the place, including rebuilding all the bunkers this past summer.  Lots more to be done, but clubhouse construction is scheduled to start soon and the outlook is looking real good!!  Happy to see it.

To get to the 7th tee at Dormie you must walk around the 14th tee.  To keep folks from playing #14 in error that tee has a wonderful sign pictured below:

Sign on 14th tee at Dormie!

I played fairly well shooting a 42 - 40 = 82 with double bogey 7's on par 5 holes #6 and #10.  Played even par for holes 12-17 and three over on holes 7-18 (including the double on #10)...no complaints.

Dormie was listed as #185 in USA on GD's 2015 list and made my GW merged top 200 from 2012-14, but then started falling followed by a slight uptick in 2019...reflecting the recent improvements.  I would expect continued upticks in the near future (note that ratings generally "lag" actual playing conditions).

Old Town Club, November 2, 2019:  It was up early on Saturday as we had a drive of 1:45 to Winston Salem, NC to play Old Town Club, which sits right next to Wake Forest University.  I first played OTC in 2006 which was in a US Senior Amateur qualifier (I didn't come close).  In 2013 a good friend told me he had played OTC and that the Coore-Crenshaw restoration of this Perry Maxwell masterpiece had literally transformed the course...and how correct he was.

Including the round on 11/1/19, I have now played OTC eight times and love going back there.  It is fun, challenging, relatively easy to walk, and something beautiful to behold.  I have two previous posts regarding rounds there...Posts #65 and #104.  Dunlop W. is the greens chairman who pushed through the restoration.  Dunlop is highly regarded throughout the golf world.  Prior to his efforts at OTC, he directed a highly successful restoration of Donald Ross' Roaring Gap Club (Post #21) which is about 70 minutes west of OTC.

John and I played with OTC's Director of Golf, Charles Frost, a very impressive player and person.  I had a poor front and good back nine 45 - 40 = 85.  The course was in excellent shape even after some heavy rains that kept the fairways and greens a bit slower than normal.

If you are interested in a wonderful description of OTC, go to http://golfclubatlas.com/courses-by-country/usa/old-town-club/  for Ran Morrissett's beautifully written description of OTC and its history.  Aside the fact that I am tired and getting lazy at this point, Ran's far superior command of the English language and an admittedly finer eye for architectural features make his write up far superior to anything I could produce.

I would, however, like to add one historical point to what Ran wrote.  OTC was one of the very few great courses built during The Depression.  Most major industries and companies were literally on their knees and few private clubs had the resources to build new courses during this period.  Winston Salem and the Reynolds family (of Reynolds Tobacco) had such resources as consumers continued to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products even during these extraordinarily difficult times.  Fascinating to this former economics major.

After the round, we had lunch with Charles and Dunlop and talked about OTC and the state of the game.   Finally, and a bit tired, I said goodbye to Aussie John and climbed back into my car for the 1:45 drive home.  Five rounds in four days...plus about 640 miles of driving was taking its toll and it was good to get back home to see Pat and get some rest.

Cape Fear Country Club, November 6, 2019:  You may have seen some media reports this past June regarding a golf pro from North Carolina who completed playing all the venues that have hosted any of the four Men's Majors.  That pro is Joey Hines, head pro at Cape Fear CC located in Wilmington, NC (about 135 miles east of Pinehurst).  You may also recall that on June 12, 2018 I completed the same list when I played Birmingham Country Club (MI) (Post #111).

I contacted Joey to congratulate him and compare notes and stories.  In one fundamental way, Joey's achievement exceeds mine, as I have had the advantage of being retired for the last 11 years, which tends to give one a little more free time.  Joey has a full time job at Cape Fear and his time constraints far exceed mine.

We had a fun discussion including talking about some of the NLE (no longer exist) clubs and courses.  One would think that the list of courses that have hosted a Major are pretty well defined.  Not quite, for example:

--Prestwick GC in Scotland has hosted 24 Open Championships...15 on its original 12 hole course and 9 on its 18 hole course.  The 12 hole course is an NLE and the 18 hole course was built on the same plot of land.  Is this one venue or two?

--Baltusrol GC (NJ) has hosted 9 Majors (7 US Opens and 2 PGA's)...one (1903 US Open) on its original 18 hole course, one (1915 US Open) on a revised version of that original course, one (1936 US Open) on its present Upper Course, and six (4 US opens and 2 PGA's) on its present Lower Course (in the early 1920's the original course was plowed under and 36 holes built by A. W. Tillinghast utilizing all of the land that encompassed the original and revised course).  Is this two venues or four?

--The Country Club (MA) has hosted three US Opens and will host a fourth in 2022.  One Open (1913) was held on its Main course, two (1963 and 1988) on a Composite course incorporating some holes from TCC's Primrose Nine. and the 2022 Open will utilize a Composite course with one different hole than the '63/'88 version.  Is this one, two or three venues?

--In 1942, and until WW II concluded, the USGA did not conduct any US Championships; however, in 1942 a Hale America Open (held to raise $$ to support the Navy Relief Fund and USO) was held at Ridgemoor CC (IL) and run just like a US Open (btw...Ben Hogan won it).  Does this count as a Major (US Open) venue?

--Shinnecock Hills GC hosted the 2nd US Open in 1896 on the "Dunn" course and then four additional US Opens from 1986-2018 on the "Flynn" course.  The Flynn course incorporates only 5 holes from the Dunn course.  Does this count as one or two venues?

There are at least another 10-12 questions of the above nature where answers are far from obvious.  Joey counted 118 venues and I count 130...but I could also count as many as 132.  One point that I need to make clear...I did not play Ridgemoor CC (IL) (site of the 1942 Hale America Open) until July 23, 2019, and Joey had it on his list of 118.  So if you include that one, he did it first.  I think Joey and I would agree there was a tie!!

In any case, Joey invited me out to play Cape Fear when we returned to NC.  I left Pinehurst at 5:30am and arrive at Cape Fear just before 8am.  Joey was already at work and we talked for about 20 minutes before I teed off.  Cape Fear was founded in 1896 as a gathering of some men to enjoy the new game of golf in a public park.  The club moved a couple of times and retained Donald Ross to build its present course in 1926.  The building of a new clubhouse in 2005 necessitated replacing the old par 3 10th hole with a new par 3 14th hole (the old holes 11-14 became holes 10-13 in the process) which was overseen (along with other renovations) by Kris Spence (who renovated CCNC's Dogwood course 3 years ago).  Last year Andrew Green started a renovation project that was just completed and restored many Ross architectural features to the course.  Green has become a very hot commodity in the golf architecture space of late.  His restoration of Inverness (OH) has been received with tremendous praise and he is working now on restorations at Congressional CC (MD), Oak Hill CC (NY) (Post #82), Scioto CC (OH), and CC of York (PA) (Post #139).  Talk about a full plate!

The course features wide fairways, very well placed fairway bunkers, cross bunkers, and greenside bunkers...all featuring well implemented "cut lines" (the fairway runs to the front edge of the bunker allowing misdirected shots to run into the bunkers...as they were designed...at all too many courses, bunkers are fronted by high rough, which keeps the ball from running into the hazard).  Tree removal had opened up the course to wide vistas thereby allowing the grass to receive necessary sunlight and constant air flow.  Turf conditions were excellent.  Hard to judge without have seen the "before" but the "after" looks very special.

My favorite holes were # 4, 5, 9, 11, 13, and 16.  Think this one will move up in the ratings over the next 5 years.  Not a USA Top 100 but should be in Best in State and possibly 101-200 grouping.

Played well...finally put two good nines together for a 39 - 39 = 78.  Avoided double bogeys and 6's and that always helps.  Fun meeting Joey who has been at Cape Fear for 30 years!

One final note: Cape Fear brought my courses played total to 1199.


OK...Texas.  You will recall I have a group of primary bucket lists (and some behind those) that I am working on, and the major areas that needed work are Texas and Oregon/Washington.  The latter is not the place to visit this time of year (lots of rain and cold rain) but Texas is usually good this time of year and a review of Pat's calendar and mine showed an opening for November 11-13.  With a concentration of courses to play in the Houston area, I figured this should work especially since Houston's weather is normally good in November (average high of 70 and low of 54...only 6 days of rain).

So I received permission and booked flights departing Sunday night 11/10 and returning Wednesday night 11/13...and was able to set up games at six courses I needed to play (the 7th, River Oaks was rebuilding six holes damaged during flooding and would not be finished until late March earliest).   With only one of the six courses outside metropolitan Houston, 2 courses per day looked pretty doable, even with shorter daylight hours in November.

Then ten days before the trip I looked at the weather forecast which called for very cold temps and heavy rain all three days...but I figured that would probably change and my tickets were already booked.  Over the next 6-7 days the forecast became slightly more positive (really slightly less negative) with rain Monday afternoon and very cold Tuesday and Wednesday.  I left Pinehurst Sunday afternoon 11/10 saying to myself that I will be lucky to get in three rounds and might only get in one.

Memorial Park Golf Course, November 11, 2019:  Memorial Park started in 1912 as a 9 hole course with sand greens in Houston's Memorial Park.  In 1935, architect John Bredemus expanded the course to 18 holes and it reopened (with grass greens) in July 1936.  Bredemus had previous designed the likes of Colonial CC in Fort Worth and Garden Glen CC (also in Fort Worth).  If the latter rings a bell it is where two young men by the names of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson caddied and first played the game.

Over the past few years money was raised and Tom Doak oversaw a major renovation of Memorial Park that was "completed" (quotation marks to be explained shortly) about a week before I played it.  The PGA Tour's Houston Open will be conducted at Memorial Park in November 2020.  Please note that I had never played the "old" version so cannot accurately comment on the changes (of course that rarely keeps me from commenting).

I played with Leigh E. (a friend and GW panelist from Houston), Greg T. (a fellow MIT alum from Houston), and Dan K., a friend of Greg's.  David W. (a friend and GD panelist from Houston) walked along with us, but did not play as we ended up as a 5-some due to miscommunication on the part of Greg and moi.  We were the first group off at 7:30am..and the weather for the day looked somewhat better...62-70 most of the day and no rain until 3pm.

The land here is very flat...all 18 holes.  It was obvious to me that lots of large trees were cut down (as many of the stumps were still being removed) and the guys with me confirmed that it had been overgrown with trees and the changes in terms of openness are awesome.  Doak countered the flatness of the land with terrific use of creeks running thought the property, contours around greens, wide fairways with lots of interesting options created by hazard placement and angles, and by shaping contours into the fairways.  From an architectural standpoint, this place is a lesson in creating superb bones from a "boneless body".  The greens are for the most part large, varied, and filled with devilish slopes, and false fronts, sides, and backs.  For now they are very slow to give the grass a chance to build strength and grow, but I sensed they will be excellent in a year.  The course really gets going on the dogleg left 6th hole, a 443 yard par 4 that makes perfect use of a creek/ditch by placing the green just to its right and sloping the green from left to right.  Hitting into the ditch will frequently leave the player with a sharply downhill pitch to a green running away from them.  Aside from 6 (which is my favorite hole) I really liked 7, 9, 11-13, and 15.  The only hole I did thought was pedestrian was #8.  The course plays 7292 yards from the tips and probably can be extended for the Tour players.

I started off with 7 straight pars and had a one over 37 on the front...but gave it back with a lackluster 43 of the back for an 80.  We had to play "cart paths only" (fully understandable with a brand new course) which usually slows play but our foursome finished 18 in 3:30...well done guys!

OK...now the bad news.  In order to host the Houston Open in November 2020, the course had to open at least a year earlier.  The sodded rough had not "kneaded" and for sure will be severely damaged by play over the next few months.  But Houston's hot climate should allow replacement grass to take hold quickly starting in April or so.  This will cost $$ but I expect the course will be in fine shape next November.

Oh...and this was course #1200 for me.

Club at Carlton Woods--Nicklaus Course, November 11, 2019:  David W. and I left Memorial Park in his car as soon as our round there concluded and we had a chance to say thanks and goodbye.  The drive north to Carlton Woods was about 40 miles and we arrived around 11:55am.  In 1998 developers of The Woodlands announced plans for The Club at Carlton Woods with two courses.  Jack Nicklaus designed the club's first course which opened for play in June 2001 and its clubhouse was completed in March 2003.

As a group was teeing off #1, we went to the third tee and played #3-9 before running into another group at 10...and  responded by heading to #11 and playing #11-18 followed by holes #10, 2 and 1.  Net net, we played the whole course (David had played here numerous times) and the really good news was no rain yet.  The Nicklaus is a good course, in excellent condition and very well laid out.  However, the contrast after playing Doak's Memorial Park was stark.  Frankly, the Nicklaus felt "manufactured" compared to Doak's which felt much more natural.  To be fair we played it fairly quickly but I doubt my reaction would have been materially different if we had taken 3+ hours playing it.  It plays to 7407 yards (par 72) and a strong course rating of 76.8.

The Nicklaus Course has never made a USA Top 100; its highest rating was #175 on the Golf Digest USA list in 2013.

No score on this 18...we were in too much of a hurry.  During the round we decided that if the rain held off, we would try to get in at least 9 on the Fazio after the 18 on Nicklaus.  It started raining as we were playing the last two holes on Nicklaus, but not very hard....so we dashed off to Fazio (about 3 miles away).

Club at Carlton Woods--Fazio Course, November 11, 2019: The Fazio Course opened in April 2006 and its separate clubhouse opened in 2007.  On this day it was hosting a charity event with a shotgun start that commenced at 10am.  We arrived at the pro shop at 3:20.  The morning event had just concluded and participants were flowing into the clubhouse.  The event in the morning featured Champions Tour player Jeff Maggart (who is a member at Carlton Woods).  This was the morning after he had holed a wedge on the 72nd hole to win the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix.  Word is he was about the first person to arrive for this morning's event...good for him!

The assistant pro was unaware that the head pro had said we could go out, but David knows everyone in Houston golf and we were all set to play.  Then I glanced out a pro shop window and saw three members of the staff struggling to hold down a mini-tent that almost was blown away by a squall...it was also pouring rain!  David and I displayed a rare modicum of wisdom; we waited out the squall for a while and our brilliant decision paid off.  After 10 minutes the rain stopped and the wind backed down to about 10-15mph.  We dashed off to #10 (figuring that Wednesday afternoon the front nine was more likely to be empty than the back nine).  Played the back nine in about 1:15.  It rained a little but not too bad...and we had no problem finishing the back nine.  I liked the Fazio more than the Nicklaus.  Fazio's course is more open, on slightly better land, had better hole variety and is in better condition.  The greens on Fazio were close to perfect.

The Fazio course also has never made a USA Top 100 and its highest rating was also in Golf Digest on 2013 at #152.

We returned to the clubhouse to say thanks.  My car was back at Memorial so first David and I went for a delicious seafood dinner, then he dropped me off at my car and I drove back north to my hotel.  But first I had to deal with one issue.  I was scheduled to play 36 on Tuesday, first at Lochinvar Golf Club at 8:15 and then to meet my hosts at Houston CC for lunch around 12:15.  However, the forecast was for temps of about 37-39℉ at 8am with winds of 17-20mph.  The afternoon would be more manageable.  My Lochinvar host had texted me to say he could not play in those conditions...certainly more than understandable.  After trading some texts he arranged for me to play unaccompanied in the morning...I would call the pro shop first thing to see how long the inevitable frost delay would last.  But that would be tomorrow's problem.  By getting in 45 holes today we had relieved time pressures for Wednesday so all of a sudden the chances of getting in 5 or even all 6 rounds were no longer remote...it might be possible.

When I arrived at my hotel it was about 9:30 and I was exhausted.  The winds were howling...no other word for it...higher than last month at NGLA and I would guess 30mph steady.  Golf could be tough tomorrow but I had plenty of clothes to deal with it.

Lochinvar Golf Club, November 12, 2019:  I talked to Head Pro Rodney Houston (can't make up that name) around 8am and he said I should be able to go out by 9am or so...if I wanted to.  I laughed and told him I would be there.  The club was less than 10 minutes from my hotel, and the "good news" was that the winds had subsided to about 15-20mph.

Lochinvar opened in 1980 and was the 4th course designed by Jack Nicklaus.  The club lies just west of Bush Intercontinental airport..and with today's wind out of the northwest, the take offs were continuous.  It is an all male club with a fabulous clubhouse and an immaculate course.  However, the land on which it was built is very very flat.  It was cold but semi-bearable when I arrived and Rodney said the frost delay would end at 9am...which was good timing for me.

The best holes on the course IMO are the par 5 4th and the par 4 12th...and my latter choice has nothing to do with my holing out for a birdie with a gap wedge on a 72 yard shot into the wind.  Knowing you would want to see a photo...here we go:

Lochinvar #12...note the creek and stone wall guarding the green and the difficult left pin position!!
By the way, based on another blog description of Lochinvar, if you have played it before you may know this hole as #3.  At some point in the past the nines were reversed from their initial rotation.

Aside from this hole out, my game was just OK...had a 43 - 42 = 85.  The club has never been included on a USA Top 100 (probably in part because  it is very difficult to obtain access to it).  It hosted the 1989 US Senior Amateur won by R. S. Williams.

By my 14th hole it had warmed up enough for me to remove one of my five layers of clothing.  When I finished I was happy to get in to the clubhouse and in front of the roaring fire.  Apparently I was there only person to play at least that morning.  Talked with Rodney for a few minutes...first class guy.   He knows a former head pro at Brookline (Don Callahan) fairly well from Don's work with Butch Harmon (but Don was "before my time").

Then it was time to run as I had a 35 minute drive to Houston Country Club and wanted to get there by noon.  Maybe I will get in all 6 courses...now it was looking more likely than not.

Houston Country Club, November 12, 2019: Founded in 1908, Houston CC was located southeast of Houston's downtown until 1956 when it moved to its present location (about 7 miles west of downtown) to a new course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.  In 1988 Coore-Crenshaw completed a restoration which maintained most of RTJ Sr.'s architectural features.  Right now, HCC is in the midst of a massive renovation of its clubhouse (with some additional work scheduled for the golf course).  The budget for this renovation is a cool $85 million (no typo there) based on various news reports.

I have friend at Brookline who is originally from Houston and is a member of HCC and he set me up to play it on this trip.  I wanted to play it for two main reasons.  First it was included on GD's 1966 and 1967 lists of USA's 200 Toughest.  Second, it was the site of a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match featuring Sam Snead against Ben Hogan, with commentary by Gene Sarazen and Herb Warren Wind.  The match was conducted in May 1964 and broadcast the following year; it would be the last time Hogan and Snead competed against each other.  Hogan won with a 69 over Snead 's 72 but the real story was the brilliance of Hogan's play from tee to green.  He hit every fairway and every green in regulation (and never had a birdie putt longer than 25') but on the greens he was affected by the "yips" that affected his putting late in his glorious career.  Many Hogan devotees consider this to have been the greatest display from tee to green in the history of the game.  The full broadcast (2 hours) is available on Amazon for $130!!

I was playing with two long term members, Loren S. and Bob P. (friends of the Brookline member mentioned above).  I had met Loren a few years ago at Brookline and Bob is also a golf course affection-ado...with focus primarily in GB&I.  After a good lunch and a few minutes hitting some balls on the range, we went off the 10th tee.  Some other guest by the name of Phil Mickelson was at HCC that day and he was assigned the first tee!!  Imagine!

The weather in the afternoon was far more reasonable...very light wind and temps in the high 40's.  Much more comfortable than this morning!

The first thing that struck me at HCC was how similar it is to Denver CC (Post #135).  Specifically:

             1.  both clubs are the primary "old money waspy" clubs in major cities
             2.  both clubs are located close to downtown
             3.  the layout of the practice range at both is very similar
             4.  the architecture of the clubhouse at both is very similar.

The influence of R. Trent Jones is very obvious...and I think this is one of Jones' better designs.  From a golf architecture standpoint, it reminded me of Wilmington Country Club-South (DE) with large, deep fairway and greenside bunkers with high fronts, large greens with sweeping slopes, and runway tees.  But the most "different thing" about HCC is the wonderful ground movement related mainly to the adjacent bayou...especially when compared with other courses in Houston (as a side note, I should also point out that both courses at Carlton Woods have reasonable land movement but not as much as HCC).  The bayou is another example of a "double edged sword".  While it contributes to this site's very good land contours, erosion caused by the bayou is responsible for some very costly renovations at HCC through the years and ongoing.  My favorite holes were #6 (nothing to do with my birdie there) and #8 (absolutely nothing to do with my double bogey there)...and the green on the 7th hole is nothing short of perfect for a short, drivable par 4.  The course is tighter than I generally like but overall I liked it a lot....and no question this is a wonderful club.  I had a 41 - 41 = 82.

After the round we had a brief drink and I headed back north...amazed that I had thus far played 4.5 rounds and the outlook for Wednesday was cold but pretty good.  I had talked with David regarding Wednesday and he suggested I get rid of my rental car this evening and he would pick me up first thing and drop me off at Houston's Hobby airport in the evening.  We had to drive about 125 miles to Lufkin early Wednesday to play Crown Colony CC...and then return to Carlton Woods to play the front nine of its Fazio Course.  My flight out of Hobby departed at 8:20pm so it looked like plenty of time available tomorrow.

Crown Colony Country Club, November 13, 2019:  Located in Lufkin, TX (about 125 miles north of Houston), Crown Colony CC opened in 1979.  Arthur Temple, who founded a predecessor company to Temple-Inland, Inc. wanted a first rate golf course near its headquarters in Lufkin to entertain customers.  The course was designed by Robert von Hagge and Bruce Devlin and was usually named the #1 course in Texas by the Dallas Morning News in the late 1990's.  My Texas golfing friends generally confirm this assessment.

In 2012 Temple-Inland, Inc. was acquired by International Paper and before then people started to notice a deterioration in the course's condition.  It was included on GW's Top 100 Modern Course list from 2003-08 and then totally disappeared...see the following table showing its ratings during that period on the Modern list and my GW "Merged" list:

                      Modern    Merged          
           2003          85          170
           2004          67          134
           2005          72          155
           2006          87          171
           2007          75          153
           2008          93          181                        
It would not be any great surprise to find that Temple was underwriting a portion of the club's expenses and decided to reduce or terminate that support with an anticipated sale in the works.

David picked me up around 6:45am and we arrived at the course around 8:50.  There was a frost delay until 10am (it had been as low as 27℉ overnight but was about 40℉ when we teed off...but no wind made a huge difference).

The course no question has excellent bones.  The land is superb, and it is a challenging design.  Greens are mostly small (for example the par 3 7th green is only 12 yards deep) and have plenty of slope.  It seemed clear that at one time this was a vibrant club, but today signs of deferred maintenance are obvious.

We played in about 2:20 and I had a lackluster 44 - 43 = 87.  Then we drove back to Carlton Woods Fazio...where there was a light rainfall...and played the front nine...thereby completing the six course/six round/three day tour!!!  Best thing was a good hot shower at the club, then David dropped me at Hobby airport with lots of time before my flight.  The flight to RDU was in a little early and I arrived home at 1:00am.


Texas Golf:  Texas is the largest state among the USA's contiguous 48 states and has the highest population of all the states except California.  It also has had more than its share of brilliant golfers.

So please explain to me how there have been 373 course to ever be on a USA Top 100 list...and only 11 in Texas...and only two Classic Courses (opened prior to 1960) namely Colonial and Champions-Cypress Creek...and only one Classic on any list in the 21st Century (Colonial).

And while you are at it...explain why there have not been any Texas Classic courses on any World 100 listing since 2005...and the only two Modern courses (1960 or later) this century have been Austin Golf Club and Wolf Point which only appeared on golfclubatlas.com in the 147 Custodians list last year.



This past week I had a couple of free days and the weather looked decent.  As I sorted through my golf to-do list, two easy day trips became obvious...both pretty doable even with November's limited daylight hours.

Alamance Country Club, November 20, 2019:  One of Donald Ross' last designs, Alamance CC opened in 1946 (Ross passed away in 1948).  Located in Burlington, NC, about 20 miles east of Greensboro and a 1:35 drive from our house in Pinehurst, I was able to arrange a tee time at 9am and left our house at 6:30 to play it safe.  Upon entering the club ground, it was very evident that this is a very well maintained club (with a wide variety of amenities for families) and golf course.

Alamance was on the 1966 and 1967 GD 200 Toughest lists.  I played poorly on the front and well on the back (44 - 40 = 84)

I found it to be a very fun course...that had some good challenging holes.  It is a club that one could play every day...and in many ways a great example of what most clubs should be...a place to its members to enjoy golf and other sports.  Remember...the top 200 courses in the USA comprise some 1.25% of USA tracks...but that does not mean that thousands of other courses cannot be wonderful places for people to enjoy the ages.

Bryan Park Golf & Conference Center-Champions, November 20, 2019:  Bryan Park is about 15 miles north of Greensboro and is a public facility with 36 holes (Champions and Players).  In 2010 the Champions course hosted the US Amateur Public Links Championship.  The course sits alongside  Lake Townsend and the Lake is in play on holes 3, 4, and 10-15...and water also is in play on holes 1,  6, and 7.  The course opened in 1990 and was designed by Rees Jones.  In summary a big contrast with Alamance and not one I would want to play every day.

The wind started whipping off the lake making it seem much colder than the actual temperature.  I had a similar round... 44 - 39 = 83 and was glad to have this one under my belt.  Tough but certainly not fun.

Good news was the round went quickly as the course was fairly empty and I was able to get back home before 4pm.

Orangeburg Country Club, November 21, 2019:  Orangeburg CC is located about 40 miles south of Columbia, SC.  The club was founded in 1921 and soon after purchased 142 acres and constructed a golf course ands swimming/dock facilities along the Edisto River which bordered the property.  About 40 years later the club accepted an offer to swap its land for a 200 acre parcel of land owned by Mr. A. D. Griffith.  Architect Ellis Maples of Pinehurst was chosen to design the new course.  On the parcel Griffiths acquired in the swap, he built a large number of private homes.  In 2009, architect Richard Mandell, also of Pinehurst, redesigned the course to enhance its original Maples design characteristics.

Today it stretches to 7032 yards and if out was anything like that length in the 1960's that probably explains how it was included on GD's 1966 and '67 100 Toughest lists.  The front nine is very very flat and there is very little definition to this nine.  For the back nine the golf comes back across a road to the other side of the clubhouse and this nine has much better routing, topography, definition and angles.  Overall the course will never be included in a USA top 100 list again but its new clubhouse (constructed about 10 years ago) is a fine facility.  Playing Orangeburg brought my Golf Week 100+100 EVER unplayed list down to 81 (249 different courseS appeared on one or both of these lists...of which 10 NLE, and I have played 158).  Not sure this Bucket list will ever be completed as for the most part these are not great courses....but as I travel I will continue to try to whittle it down.

Florence Country Club, November 21, 2019:  .  The drive from Orangeburg to Florence was about 90 miles and 1:40.  I arriveD at Florence at 12:10pm and was able to get out right away.  I was playing Florence for two reasons.  First, it had host both a US Junior Amateur Championship (1963) and a US Girls' Junior Championship (1955).  Second, a friend and member of CCNC (Gordon "Buddy" Baker) grew up in Florence and won the US Junior Amateur in 1958.  Buddy still has plenty of game and I thought it would be interesting to see where he learned to play.

Florence CC was founded in 1925 and today plays to a mere 6430 yards from its tips...but don't let that fool you.  Merion played to 6498 yards in 1979.  In many ways Florence is similar to Merion.  Aside from the length (ignoring for the moment that Merion was lengthened to about 7000 yards over past 40 years), both courses are built are very small acreage (Merion on 125 acres, Florence on about 105 acres based on my measurements...warning, I am not a professional surveyor), both have relatively small greens with devilish breaks and slopes.  Before you go nuts...I am not saying Florence is equal to or even close to equal to Merion..but I will say it is an outstanding test and has some interesting similarities.  Like Merion, it really makes you think about what shot to play.   And one must analyze each hole backwards, deciding tee shot length and direction based on where one want to come into the green from.  Best hole IMO is the par 5 #14 (511 yards from the tips and the longest hole on the course). Other superb holes are #2, 3, 6, 7, and 11-13.  But it is the bunkering and greens that really make this course.  The greens are very small...I would guess about 3400-3500 sq. ft. on average..with lots of tiers and slopes...but plenty of pin positions on each hole.

Interestingly, the club is not sure who the original designer was.  It looked to me like a Donald Ross design, but apparently their board minutes etc. etc. do not give a hint.

I had to play pretty quickly to get home at a reasonable hour...but hope to play it again before we head north in May...hopefully with Buddy, and look at it more and ask more questions.  I would also want to play it when it was firm and fast...with recent rains it was hardly either of those when I played it.

Two basic conclusions from this round:

                  1.  I now know where Buddy got his game!, and
                  2.  This one is a hidden gem for sure!!


Bucket List Status

My lifetime course count is now 1209 courses and 21,295 holes.

I need to get this Post out...and am working to get my Bucket List status together in a more understandable format...so you will have to wait for that (no tears, please).


New Golf Magazine Top 100 List Published

As many of you probably already know, Golf Magazine published its latest World 100 listing late last week (go to:  https://www.golf.com/top-100/courses/).  This is GM’s 21st biannual World list going back to 1979.  The first three lists (1979, 1981, and 1983) covered World Top 50’s and the 1985 list through the 2017 list covered World Top 100’s.  

This most recent list (which I was not sure whether to call 2019 or 2020) covers a Top 150, with the first 100 listed in numerical order and #101-150 listed alphabetically as a group (go to: https://www.golf.com/top-one-hundred/courses/2019/11/22/top-100-courses-ranking-next-best-50/).  

Some may consider this expansion to 150 to be an example of “list inflation”.  I do not.  The wave of:

(1) outstanding new courses constructed over the last 25 years, and 

(2) the renovation/restoration movement which has rejuvenated dozens upon dozens (if not hundreds) of outstanding courses built before World War II

has, in my always humble opinion, resulted in the a highly significant growth in the number of outstanding courses throughout the world.  Put simply…THE BAR HAS BEEN RAISED.

I would expect top100golfcourses.com to publish its 2019 (2020?) World and USA lists some time in the next two months and plan to update my spreadsheet when these lists are released.  If you are not on the distribution list for updates to my spreadsheet and wish to be placed on that distribution list,  please advise.

Finally…best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 8, 2019

139. Another short trip to Long Island and Drive from MA to NC.

139.  Another short trip to Long Island and Drive from MA to NC.

Sooo, last left you folks after taking the ferry back from Hamptons on Monday October 7.  Prior to leaving for the Hampton's I had made arrangements for a two day trip to NY on Thursday and Friday 10/10 &11, and most of that trip was firmed up soon after I got home on October 7.  This would be a quick one, playing three courses and driving too many miles (535 miles) in a period of some 40 hours.

Rockaway Hunting Club, October 10, 2019:  Another early morning start on this one, this time around 3:30am.  Rockaway Hunt is located about 2-3 miles (via flying crow) east of JFK airport on Long Island in an area known as "Five Towns" (Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Inwood, and Hewlett).  In the late 1950's and early 1960's many Jewish families moved from New York City to the Five Towns (which was in Nassau County just east of the city line).  During my senior year in high school I played in a golf tournament at Seawane Country Club in Hewlett, originally designed by Devereux Emmet and opened in 1927.  Seawane was the 14th course I ever played.  The trip home after the round tournament was easy as I was not burdened with any trophies or prizes to carry home.

Rockaway Hunt was founded in 1878 and claims to be the nation's first country club (as I was less than 10 years old at that time I cannot recall enough to verify that claim).  In 1884 the club moved to its present location in Lawrence, NY.  The club was originally focused on polo, steeplechase, and other equestrian sports.  There seemed to be several historical versions of the the club's golf origins, but the list of architects often associated with the course include Horace Hutchinson, Tom Bendelow,  Tom Dunn, Devereux Emmet, A. W. Tillinghast in 1926 (who is generally credited with today's design), and Perry and Press Maxwell after WW II.  From 2009-2015 Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner completed a major restoration/renovation.  Not a bad collection of architects.

It is a facility steeped in history and tradition and today seems almost shoe horned into a suburban community as you are driving to it...but very different once you are on the first tee.   For a long period this was a very WASPy club located in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.  Now neither may be true.

The clubhouse makes one feel like they have stepped back 120-140 years.  The course sits mostly on low lying land with just the Atlantic Beach barrier island and the marshes of Brosewere Bay separating the course from the Atlantic Ocean...which makes for a superb golf setting.  Note however, this portion of Long Island is not true links land, as the advancing glacier of the last ice age stopped about 8 miles north of the club's location.  I should also point out that while sitting where it does makes for a superb golf setting, it also makes for some real damage when Hurricane Sandy visited NY...including depositing a boat open the club's 15th fairway.  Further proof that most things in life are double edged swords.

Highwater Mark from Sandy above door at Half Way House 

I had tried to set up a round at Rockaway one year earlier but the club was punching the greens.  In my back and forth with head pro Ryan George, we got into the history of the famous Lido Golf Club (Post #13) by C. B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, which had been located some 5 miles east of here.  Ryan put me in touch with a Rockaway member, Andrew C., whose father form any years was the operator of Lido Golf Club ("#2") designed and built after WWII by Robert Trent Jones Sr.  Andrew and I exchanged some interesting emails (although some readers of this blog might question the use of the adjective "interesting") regarding the original Lido; I contacted Andrew in September and he was able to host me at Rockaway.  Andrew is a good player and good guy, who works at a major private equity firm in NYC and is well versed in Rockaway history.  It was great fun spending the morning with him, and learning about the history of this place.  

From the tips it stretches to 6236 yards...not short, but very short by today's standards.  However, when the wind blows (which is not unusual...and it did this morning), this is a fun, interesting and challenging track.  Fully 11 holes run alongside or have greens situated on Brosewere Bay or the channels coming off the Bay.  The bunkering, all redone by Hanse & Co. is perfectly placed and beautifully sculpted.  Three holes lie behind the clubhouse almost within a neighbor of homes and the most interesting of these was #5, a 147 yard par 3 squeezed between two out of bounds lines and with deep large bunker stretched between the tee and the green (see pic below).  
Par 3 5th hole 147 yards...bunkers tee to green reminded me a little of Hirono's (Japan) 7th
IMO the best hole on the course is the par 4 8th, only 328 yards but doglegging right alongside the Bay.  In the wind this one requires well thought out plans.  Next best were:

-- #9, a tough 441 yards turning slightly right with the Bay along the right side, 
-- #12, a 567 yard par 5 heading south towards the Atlantic and into prevailing southerly winds, 
--#14, 209 yard par 3 angled over Woodmere Channel, and 
--#18, 382 yards slightly uphill to a small raised green well guarded on all four sides.

Rockaway has never been  included on a USA Top 100 or 200...but who cares...this is a very special place and is great fun...and not just for golf.  The club has 24 grass tennis courts!!  Its location is not ideal...not a long distance from Manhattan but several miles of sides streets and Long Island's infamous traffic.  But well worth the trip of you love classic old courses.  This is a beaut.

I played like a sick dog on the front nine (blamed it on the long drive from 3:30am to 7:15am).  But I came alive on the back finishing birdie-par-par for a 45 - 37 = 82.  Want to come back here next year, and have Andrew at Brookline.  Also, our caddy (Dennis) was from Quincy, MA and a special guy...will get Andrew and Dennis and a friend in Boston who Dennis remembers from his early days growing up there!

Old Oaks Country Club, October 10, 2019:  After a quick lunch at Rockaway,  I had to drive up to Purchase in Westchester county...a trip of 39 miles that took almost 90 minutes.  From 1988-2005 I lived about a mile from Old Oaks but had never played it.  Drives like these remind me why I do not live in the NYC area anymore.

Old Oaks CC was formed in 1925 as an offshoot of Progress City Club in Manhattan.   Over the next 11 years it went through a number of mergers and name changes and became Old Oaks CC in 1936.  It has always been located at its present facility.  The clubhouse is magnificent...its construction took 3 years (1890-1893), was called Hill Crest and was the country residence of Trenor Luther Park.  In 1906 the property was purchased by William Read (as in Dillon Read & Co.), who passed away in 1916 and his family sold the property to the new club in 1925.

Tillinghast designed an 18 hole course and a 9 holer (but in 1968 the 9 holer was closed as a good chuck of its land was acquired via eminent domain for the construction of I-684).  For reasons unknown to your truly (but I might be able to guess) the original courses were built out by Charles Alison and Harry Colt (not a bad pair of substitutes off the bench).  

The clubhouse has has it share of fame.  It was the scene of two parties in "Goodbye Columbus" (including one with Ali McGraw swimming naked) and more recently was used as the White House in "Madame Secretary" (so I am told...not a show I would ever watch).

Now to more mundane aspects, like the golf course.  The course was renovated by Ken Dye (no relation to Pete) in 2000 and then by Rees Jones in 2009.  It is very green and well maintained but far from fast and firm.  This is a beautiful club with a very fine golf course...but it pales in comparison to a place like Rockaway Hunt IMO.  A few very good holes (really liked uphill par 5 18th) but far too many holes that are not memorable...and basically had one way to play them.

Old Oaks has never been included on a USA Top 100 listing.  I played so so and was tired, so did not keep score...very long day starting as early as I did at 3:30am.

Sands Point Golf Club, October 11, 2019:  For some reason I had been unaware of this club until hearing about it earlier this year...and then I heard from several folks whose opinions I respect that this was a hidden gem that needed to be played.  It is located in Port Washington on the north shore of Long Island...only about 5 miles from the New York City line (note...it may only be 5 miles from the NYC line but that is as the crow flies...driving wise it is a bit of a "schlep" from the closest major highway, but who am I to complain).

The club's origins begin in 1918 when George Reynolds (Reynolds Tobacco family) purchased the property and build a nine hole course.  In 1921, it was purchased by Julius Fleischman who added a polo field in 1922.  Sands Point Club was formed under the leadership of Averell Harriman in 1927 (Harriman was Governor of New York 1955-1959 and unsuccessfully sought the the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952 and 1956) and purchased the property.  Membership included the likes of Vincent Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Bernard Baruch, Irving Berlin, Walter Chrysler, William Paley, John Whitney, James Forrestal, Robert Lehman, and Marshall Field.  Unlike most private clubs at that time (and for the following 5+ decades), Sands Point's founding members included Protestants, Catholics, and Jews...and that diverse make-up has marked its membership ever since.

A. W. Tillinghast was retained to revamp the existing nine holes and build another nine...while leaving the polo field firmly in place, and the course opened for play in July 1928.  Some 15 months the the Great Depression commenced and the club fell upon hard times until the mortgage holders foreclosed on the property in 1938.  Members of the old club were permitted to continue to play the course and then in 1940, a new club, Sands Point Golf Club was formed including golf, skeet shooting,  tennis, and horse riding as its main activities (but, alas, sans polo field...which now is a splendid practice facility).

In the 1960's, the golf course was renovated by Frank Duane of Robert Trent Jones' firm...resulting in a loss of some of Tillinghast's touches.  In 1983 Ron Forse was brought in to reestablish many of these Tillie characteristics, including his well placed, deep bunkering.

Finally, in 2012 Keith Foster completed a major renovation...and based on what I saw this day the results are simply wonderful.  I have been told that when Foster was called about this project he advised that he was pretty well booked with projects but asked the course's history.  Upon being told that this was a Tillinghast design, he advised that he could be there to take a tour the next day.

The course is firm and fast and in spectacular condition.  The greens are mostly raised, loaded with relatively steep slopes, beautiful mounding, and offer false fronts, sides and backs that have to be seem to be appreciated.  And yes, these greens are very quick...and fun; the bunkering is very "Tillinghastesque".  Most memorable holes probably 7, 8, 9, 11(I birdied 😀), 14, and 15.  There are no weak holes here.

Sands Point has never been included on a USA Top 100...probably in part because it has succeeded in staying below the radar.  From the back tees a relatively short 6851 yards (par 72).  Absolutely worth the visit...not too many hidden gems left as good as this one.

After the round had lunch with my hosts, thanked all and tried to get to Bull's Bridge GC in northwestern CT to squeeze in another 18.  However, given NYC traffic and earlier sunsets this time of year, that will have to wait until 2020.  Headed to Milton, MA to see me bride and rest up a bit.

One final note:  Sands Point GC is not to be confused with the Village Club of Sands Point, which is a superb municipal track.  Back in the 1959 I played the Village Club when it was owned by IBM Corporation (it was the 7th course I ever played).  Back then IBM owned two courses...this one and one in Poughkeepsie NY.  IBM sold both courses/clubs in 1994 (Sands Point) and 2010 (Poughkeepsie).


One week later, it was time to head south to Pinehurst.  I left Milton very early on Friday 10/18 and would take three days to get to Pinehurst, and Pat would fly south on Monday 10/21 and I would pick her up at Raleigh-Durham Airport.  After evaluating my various Bucket Lists, I finalized an itinerary for my journey which would hopefully allow me to play six courses over these three days, but that would depend on weather and traffic.

Shuttle Meadow Country Club, October 18, 2019:  I left home at 5:30am with a car stuffed to the gills.  Shuttle Meadow is located southwest of Hartford in Berlin, CT which brought back lots of memories.  Back before I-91 and I-84 were built, the drive from New York to Boston always meant a pit stop on the "Berlin Turnpike" a 12 mile stretch consisting of lots of traffic lights, cut rate gas stations (this was in the 1960's when gas was $0.25-$0.30/gallon) and fast food stores (pre MacDonald days).  It was where I first enjoyed a foot long hot dog.

Anyhow, Shuttle Meadow CC was founded in 1899 (actually before my time) and in 1917 opened its 18 hole course designed and constructed by Willie Park, Jr.  I had never heard of Shuttle Meadow but recently noted its presence on Golf Week's expanded list of Classic golf courses (1960 and prior).  In 2011 GW expanded this list from 100 to 200 (while also expanded its Modern (post 1960) list in a similar fashion.  On my world famous spreadsheet, I merge these two lists (based on individual GW courses ratings (to create what is now a Top 400 course list).  In 2019 Shuttle Meadow was #387 (highest rating was #339 in 2014).  While 400 courses seems like a lot for a list (especially when inputting the necessary data to update the spreadsheet!!), any course on this list is in the top 2.67% of courses in the USA.

Willie Park is credited with designing some 170 golf courses (including The Maidstone Club (Post #138), Olympia Fields CC (Post #133), Huntercombe GC in England (Post  #131), and Mt Bruno GC near Montreal) and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.  He won The Open Championship in 1887 and 1889 (at Prestwick GC and Musselburgh GC...Posts #96 and #100 respectively).  According to the folks at Shuttle Meadow, of Park's extensive list of designs, he only supervised the building of 13 courses, and Shuttle Meadow was the earliest of these in the USA.

I played it with Jerry D., the current Greens Comm. chair and then after the round talked with Jerry and head pro Tim Gavronski.  Course clearly has superb "bones" and is a very good course at this point, but is to some degree showing its age.

After thanking both Jerry and Tim, it was off to northern NJ, specifically Upper Montclair CC in Clifton NJ...a drive of about 120 miles.

Upper Montclair Country Club--West/South, October 18, 2019: Upper Montclair CC was founded in 1901 with an initial 5 hole course that was expanded to 9 holes a few months later.  Some 20 years later additional land was acquired and A. W. Tillinghast was retained to design a new 18 hole course, and the new clubhouse opened for business a few weeks after the crash that signaled in the Great Depression.

Over 20 years later Robert Trent Jones Sr. oversaw a major renovation of all 27 holes, and in 1962, 1967, 1968, and 1970 the club hosted the Thunderbird Classic (a precursor to the Westchester Classic).  It has also hosted Senior Tour and LPGA events.

The three nines at UMCC are West, South, and East.  I played West & South, and then toured the East nine in a cart.  I played poorly, shooting a 44(W) - 42(S) = 86.

The Thunderbird, Senior Tour, and LPGA events were all played on the West/South combination, although it was my opinion that the East is the best nine (better and more rolling land, more interesting greens by far, and fewer holes oriented in a N-->S or S-->N direction).  The course is a very good condition, but way too green and soft.  It also could use some serious tree trimming and green expansion.  There are some very good Tillinghast features buried in its bones under the weight of the Jones renovation.

After the round had a good talk with Head Pro Michael Holiday, and then headed north up into New York State's Hudson Valley, a drive of 49 miles which took about 90 minutes.  Needed some sleep after a long day...and Saturday was looking like there would be frost delays.

West Point Golf Course, October 19, 2019: Bright sunshine Saturday morning after some strong Friday night storms usually means north winds and plunging temperatures in this part of the world...and this morning was no exception.  I was scheduled to play Tarry Brae in the morning and then West Point in the afternoon, but the temps were colder at Tarry Brae (further north and higher elevation in the Catskill Mountains) so I flipped the times and was at West Point at 8am.  Frost delay was only 30 minutes and I was able to join the first group off (after the Cadet golf team).

The course here measures only 6036 yards from the back tees but trust me, it plays much longer.  I usually make notes on my scorecard that serve as a reminder about holes.  If a hole is gently uphill, it gets a U, if it is moderately uphill it gets a UU, a strongly uphill gets UUU and a hole built for a nanny goat gets a UUUU.  Suffice it to say the this track has:

 --1  UUUUU hole
 --2  UUUU holes
 --4  UUU holes
 --3  DDDD holes
 --1  DDD hole
 --2  DD holes

The Cadets ahead of us walked and carried...if I had tried that I would still be out there.  BTW, the Cadets did not repair their ball marks but they had disappeared before we finished the last hole so I was not able to talk to them about that.

I played poorly on the front nine (43) but got hot on the back nine (even par 35) with 3 birdies (13, 14, and 17)...something that was certainly not expected given how I was playing...but I'll take it.  Two guys from Westchester who I played with were wondering who this old fxxt was.

I was here because West Point was included in Golf Digest's 1966 and 1967 USA 200 Toughest lists.  It can be tough because of the hills and a few nutty greens (built on slopes), but certainly not among the country's 200 Toughest.

After the round came a 58 mile drive to Tarry Brae, just north of the town of Monticello, NY, in the heart of the Borscht Belt!!

Tarry Brae Golf Course, October 19, 2019:  Well, this was another one from the 1966 and 1967 200 Toughest, and even less deserving of this honor than West Point.  It is almost a cow pasture....but after 6 holes I was even par (actually hitting it quite well), then finished the front nine double bogey, bogey, par for a 39.  My dreams of finally shooting my age had quickly faded thanks to a fluffed bunker shot on the easy 7th hole.  But then somehow, on holes 10-15 I played one under...leaving me two over for the round...and even par golf would bring me in at 2 over to match my age.  Alas, a pulled drive at #16 buried my chances and my 20' birdie putt on 18 never really had a chance.  So in the end my 39 - 36 = 75 missed shooting my age by 34 days (or 0.09315 years!).  Almost snuck up on it this time but almost only counts in horseshoes.  Trust me...you can be sure that if I had bagged my 74, I would not have opened this paragraph with its first line...this would have been heralded as one of the toughest tracks in the entire country!!

Anyhow, had to move on...was heading to York, PA, to play CC of York, a drive of some 220 miles.  Highlight of this drive was driving past an exit for Honesdale, PA where I played my first 9 holes of golf at Honesdale Country Club in August 1955.  But no time to stop...I was getting tired and needed to get to York.  And the forecast for my 36 holes (CC of York and Manor CC in Rockville, MD) looked like lots of rain Sunday.

Country Club of York, October 20, 2019:  Yes...playing all these courses means playing some semi-dog tracks and the occasional true dog track.  But those hours are more than offset by the times I am playing a generally unknown and unappreciated hidden gem, and enjoying a personal sense of "discovery."  This morning proved to be one of those times.

York, PA lies off I-83 about 20-25 miles south of Harrisburg, PA.  Country Club of York lies about 2 miles southwest of downtown York and was founded in 1899.  Golf at CC of York started with a nine hole course the following year and in 1926 the club decided to build a new 18 hole course at its present site selecting Donald Ross to design and construct the course.  The new course opened in August 1927 playing 6550 yards (par 72).  The clubhouse opened the following year...with an exterior of quartzite mined from a quarry found while building the course.  In 1962 the clubhouse was expanded to its present size.  It is simply stunning! go to:https://www.ccyork.org

Little was done to alter the course during its first 85 years, and more recently Andrew Green  developed a plan which is being implemented to restore the course to Ross' original intent.  The work he has done already at York is superb.  In the past few years Green has become one of the game's hot new architects, having completed highly acclaimed work at Inverness (OH), Bidermann (DE), Whitemarsh Valley (PA), and more recently Cape Fear CC (NC) (just played and should be in my next post, #140).  Additionally, Greens is working now at the following other tracks:  Oak Hill-East (NY) (Post #82), Scioto (OH), and Congressional-Blue (MD)

I arrived in a light drizzle just before 8:00am and was able to play right away...given the forecast, it was not surprising that the club was empty this early on a Sunday.  After playing holes 1-4, I knew this one was a beauty.  The greens are classic Ross without being overdone.  My 20' birdie putt on #4 ended up about 25' off line and off the green.  The best holes IMO are the 489 yard par 4 #9, uphill off the tee doglegging right with the fairway sloping left to right, and the 204 yard slightly uphill par 3 #12.  Other outstanding holes are #1, 3, 4, 5, 11, 14, and 16...with the 16th green being one of the wildest greens I have played.  The property is located in the midst of some farms and the view from the 10th fairway of the surrounding countryside is outstanding.  The land here (especially on the back nine) is nothing short of outstanding and Ross used it superbly...the holes look like they have sat on this land forever.  In sum and substance...at 6722 yards today (par 72) it looks, plays and feels like a short version of Aronimink CC (PA) (post #122).

York appeared in Golf Week's USA Top 200 Classic Courses as #194 in 2016 and thereby made my GW Merged list for that year as #387.  It hosted the 1999 US Junior Championship won by Hunter Mahan in a final match against Camilo Villegas.

I played well and had a 41 - 41 = 82 with a simple scorecard of 8 pars and 10 bogies (started by bogeying 1-5 and ended by bogeying 16-18...pretty good from 6-15).  Was lucky in that the drizzle stopped after a few holes and the rain held off until; after I finished.  Rather be lucky than good (not that I have a choice in the matter).

After the round I talked for a while about the course and club with head pro Kevin Bales.  Thanked Kevin and his staff and headed south towards Rockville, MD with plans to play Manor CC that afternoon.  Always feels great to find a hidden gem...and this one absolutely qualifies.

After being on the road for about 10 minutes, the rain started pretty hard.  I called Manor and they told me it was raining hard there, carts would be cart path only, and literally no one had set foot on the course all day.  I figured I was pretty tired, had a long drive ahead (435 miles) and the course will be there next May when I drive north.  Was a good move as the drive home took 9 hours 30 minutes, getting me home at 10pm.  With no traffic it should take 6 hours 30 minutes.  Such is traffic around Washington DC...and another measure of how deep the Deep State is.

After arriving home was up for all out 5 hours getting the cable/internet and phone systems up, unloading the overstuffed car and unpacking.  Monday morning I slept until around 9am and then it was up to RDU airport to pick up Pat, another 150 miles round trip.  Was good for both of us to be back in Pinehurst.