Friday, September 18, 2015

18. Rest of Midwest Swing

Rest of Midwest Swing

September 3, 2015—Oakmont CC:  OK, first some history.  Founded in 1903 by Henry Fownes, one of the great benevolent dictators to create a magnificent course (but careful though…you don’t want to end up with the wrong benevolent dictator).  He and his son, William ruled Oakmont until 1946.  William was a graduate of MIT and both Henry and William built homes in Pinehurst (in fact, we have friends who live in William’s old home).  They were totally in synch with each other about what they wanted in a course…a tough, tough test of golf, and boy did they create it.  It is often cited as the toughest course in the USA, and generally shares the title of Toughest Course in the World with Carnoustie  (Scotland). 

In terms of historical ratings, Oakmont of course had appeared on every Top 100 USA and World list ever.  Its highest ratings ever have been USA #4 and World #7 and its highest current rating is #6 USA and #8 World.

Oakmont is also a wonderful, superb club.  It has a singularity of purpose that is shared by virtually all of its members…basically to be the toughest course on the block, while being fair.  That means greens that stimp at speeds of 15’ weather permitting for member guests and having the USGA slow them down for US Opens.  One does not play Oakmont for a relaxing “walk in the park”.

Our host is a long term member and a member of Oakmont’s SWAT…a regular intra-club game that has been ongoing for decades, with, of course, meticulous written records (since digitized) of every SWAT match in history.  He is also one of the nicest guys I have met.  I look forward to hosting him at Brookline in 2016.

This was my fifth trip to Oakmont.  My 4th was a year ago, and due to events at Oakmont that day my visit was limited to just wandering around the property and clubhouse.  Since Oakmont removed all of the interior trees (except one) on its property (more on this later), the view form the clubhouse is simply spectactular…perhaps the most impressive in golf.  One can clearly see all the way to the third green (the furthest point on the property…a distance of about 1200 yards from the clubhouse).  Visits #2 and 3 were in the summers of 1976 and approximately 1980, when I had the opportunity to play it three times during those two visits.  Visit #1 was on February 27, 1971, to attend the wedding reception of a close friend (and still close friend) from business school and work (Ford Motor and Citibank).  During the reception, I was talking to Dale Johnson, another close friend from business school who was a superb golfer (and a great guy) but who unfortunately lost his life in an accident about 18 years ago.  Dale and I were looking out a large picture window from the clubhouse to Oakmont’s snow covered practice green/9th green when I said to him…”why the fxxx did Fraz decide to get married in February?”

Getting back to this visit, despite 5 straight days of 90+degrees/90% humidity, the golf course was in absolutely perfect condition.  Due to the heat, the greens were not rolled so they were stimping at about 11.5’ that day, a little slow of Oakmont.  Interestingly, they double cut the greens, first with a rider mower and the second time with a hand mower.  

I hardly know how to describe all of the fabulous holes, but on every hole:

            ---the bunkers are deep and penal;
            ---the grass leading to the bunkers has been cut down to 1st cut height…no rough to save you from trundling into the bunkers;
            ---the greens are not just fast, but break in every direction, are hard to read, and often slope from front to back
            ---the entire course is fast and firm, but the greens are receptive to a well hit shot;
            ---the rough is not fun, as tough or worse than TCC’s; and
            ---the fairways are not being narrowed for the US Open…proving that Oakmont is always “Open ready”.

Best holes are:
--- #1 (482 par 4…flat for about 280 yards then straight downhill to a green sloping sharply away…yes, it will be driven at least in practice rounds)
---#3 (428 yards uphill with Church Pew left…uphill to turtle-back green)
---#9 (477 yds sharply uphill to huge green with practice green right behind it and in play
---#12 (667 par 5, turning right w fairway sloping sharply left to right and downhill…one of world’s great par 5’s but will be reached during Open)
---#15 (499 yd par 4 with Church Pew bunkers left)
---#17 (313 yard simply perfect drivable par 4…superb risk reward)
---#18 (484 par 4 downhill then uphill to huge finishing green)

I hit the ball well and ended up with an 88.  Fownes’ legacy lives on: “a shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost”. 

Put simply, I can’t wait to see the 2016 US Open next June…what a place!!  Oh, forgot to mention, they also serve the world’s greatest potato chips.  And Fraz…having had the chance to play it four times, you are forgiven for getting married in February!!  And you got yourself a fabulous bride!!!

September 4, 2015…Fox Chapel:  Right across the Alleghany River from Oakmont lies Fox Chapel GC, designed by Seth Raynor in 1923.  In terms of ratings, FCGC debuted on the Golf Magazine USA Top 100 in 2013 at #88 and has yet to appear on a World 100.  This past week GM’s 2015 USA Top 100 was released and FCGC had dropped to #95, perhaps because of severe ice damage to its greens last winter and the need to re-sod a number of greens this past spring. 

I played Fox Chapel for the first time in September 2013 and was looking forward to the return.  It is a classic Raynor design with one of the great Biarritz holes anywhere (#17).  Other great holes certainly include #2 (a short uphill par 5 to a punchbowl green), #3 (a downhill Eden par 3), #6 (a wonderful Redan par 3), #8 (a tough long par 4, uphill to a brilliantly situated green), as well as #11, 13, 16, and 18 on the back.  Playing a course such as Fox Chapel reaffirms my belief that Seth Raynor is golf’s the most brilliant course architect.

My round was another “tale of two cities” where I sunk virtually every putt I looked at from #1 through #13, and then hit a rough patch from 14-17 before almost holing a full 5 iron on par 5 #18 (tapped in from 6” for par after dumping second shot into a creek crossing the fairway).  Had a 38-43=81. 

The club is just finishing off a major expansion to its clubhouse, which is beautifully done.  Addiitonally, it is almost finished rebuilding a good number of its tee boxes.  Overall, its condition was excellent, and in particular the greens were perfect, showing absolutely zero evidence of the damage sustained last winter.

Simply a superb club and course.  Certainly overshadowed by Oakmont across the Alleghany River, but there are only a handful or two of courses anywhere that would not be.  These last two days were (as expected) a wonderful way to top off a fun trip!

Mini Trips September 9-14: Yale, Royal Montreal, and Newport

Yale September 9, 2015:  Drove down to New Haven for the day with Pat and Carnie & Sharon Lawson.  The Lawson’s are friends from Pinehurst (they spend their summers in NH).  Carnie spent his undergraduate days at Yale (Class of about ’57) and was at Citibank before I got there.

Third time playing Yale and I marvel at the place.  Build on land (some 500 acres) that was donated to Yale for golf (originally supposed to be 36 holes but 2nd course never built), designed by C. B. Macdonald and constructed by Seth Raynor.  It is an engineering marvel.  Obviously cut out of think forest on very hilly land especially on the back nine, it is simply astounding that a golf course could have been built on such land in the 1920’s without modern earthmoving equipment.  It is both tough (although at 6779 yards par 70 short for today’s long hitters) and fun…that wonderful duo. 

It has been a regular on Golf Week and Golf Magazine’s USA Top 100 but disappeared from Golf Digest’s USA Top 100 back in the late 1970’s…probably due to conditioning problems.  Highest rating on the USA Top 100 include #45 on GM (1991), #69 on GW (2014), and #37 on Links Magazines final list (12/2014).  In World 100 listings, it was on GM’s list from 1985-1996, peaking at #71 in 1985 and 1991, and finished #77 on the final Links World 100. 

It seems clear that the issue w Yale is conditioning, as golf is not the number one priority at Yale (frankly, I am shocked that the faculty has not demanded that it be shut down…being such a symbol of capitalism).  The greens were good, but the fairways very spotty and inconsistent with healthy turf in most areas, mingled with areas that were heavily damaged by winterkill probably during the last two winters.

It is also another example of how my love for courses impacts my play and vice versa.  Who knows which is the chicken and which the egg, but I fired a 75 from 5984 yards…and loved every minute being on this track.  If Yale could do a “deal” with Mike Keiser (who knows if he would be interested but he does love Macdonald and Raynor), this could really be something special and a world top 50…it is that good.  Given the land that was donated, this is one of the world’s great masterpieces of architecture.

Royal Montreal GC September 12-13, 2015:  The longest running international interclub match in the world is played each fall between The Country Club, and Royal Montreal GC.  It alternates between the two clubs, and this month was up in Montreal.  As usual, we journeyed by bus (7-8 hours each way) for 45 holes of golf squeezed in between many hours of eating and drinking.  Both clubs field teams of 28 players for a series of matches.  I have had the pleasure of being part of TCC’s team for four years.

RMGC has two 18 hole courses (Red and Blue) and a nine holer (Dixie).  The Blue hosted a Presidents Cup Match in 2007 and was included on GM’s World 100 from 1985-95 (peaking at #69 in 1985). 

This year, the weatherman was not our friend, especially on Sunday when play went on in brutal conditions.  And the word brutal is perfect to describe the results of the match (at least from TCC’s perspective).  We were shellacked, quite frankly.  Our Captain, Chuck Farrington, put it best in announcing the final results:  TCC 46 points, and RMGC…the rest of them.  Yes, 46 points will always win a Walker, Ryder, or Presidents Cup, but… 

As always, it was a great time, and wonderful renewing friendships built through the years…exactly what amateur golf is all about.

Newport CC September 14, 2015:  After arriving home from the return bus ride (see above) around 10pm, it was up early to play in a pro-am outing at Newport CC.  Newport was one of the USGA’s five founding member clubs (as was TCC, Chicago Golf, Shinnecock Hills, and St. Andrews GC) and is truly a golf museum piece.  It hosted the initial 1895 and 1995 US Amateur (the latter won by Tiger Woods), the 1895 US Open, and the 2006 US Woman’s Open (with Annika Sorenstam winning).

The course started in 1894 as a nine holer designed by the club's first professional, William Davis, who proceeded to expand the course to 18 holes in 1899.  In 1923, A. W. Tillinghast completed a major renovation of the course and further renovation work was led by Ron Forse after 1995.

In terms of ratings, it has been a regular on GW’s USA Top 100 (my merged list) and hit its highest GW rating this year at #62.  On GM, it peaked at #57 in 2013.  To date, it has not appeared on a prime World Top 100 listing.

One of only two great courses in the USA which still refuses to install fairway sprinklers (the other being Fishers Island), it is much more than a “Classic”.  Fun is one of the best words to describe it.  Best holes are 4, 5, 7, 9.11, 13, 14, 15…an absolute must play if you have the opportunity.

Our team thought we played OK and had a best net best ball 60, losing by a hair to the 50 that won!!  Currently the FBI is investigating the handicaps of the winning team and results of this investigation are expected shortly after the Justice Dept./FBI completes in investigation of the IRS and Hillary.
The pro-am was sponsored by FTI Consulting and was superbly run.  The pros representing FTI were Charles Howell III (a very bright interesting guy), and Webb Simpson.  Webb of course was the 2013 US Open champion, is an honorary member of CCNC, and a wonderful guy.


On September 10 and 11, Golf Magazine released its 2015 World 100 and USA 100 listings.  While there were six new courses on each (some of which were not totally new…they had appeared prior to 2013), I have played all six of the “new” USA courses, and four of the “new” World courses.  So all in all, not too much damage to my bucket lists.

So, here is where I stand today:

11.     Worldwide Top 100 Ever from seven sources: 263 courses on list, 244 played, and 19 to go (Asia—11, Australia/NZ—5; Europe, USA, and Caribbean 1 each).
22.     US Open Venues: 54 in total, 52 played and two to go (Skokie-IL and Brae Burn-MA)
33.     1939 “First Top 100” (spoof): 101 courses (two tied for 100 spot), 78 played, 5 no longer exist, and 18 to go (England-6; USA-4; Cont Europe-3; S Africa-2; Canada-1; Sri Lanka-1; Vietnam-1)
44.     USA Top 100 Ever from five sources: 338 courses on list, 286 played, 2 no longer exist, and 50 to play
55.     Men’s Major Venues Ever:  total of 121 courses, 93 played, 1 no longer exists, and 27 to go (2 US Open...see #2 above; 25 PGA)
66.     “Cups”—Walker, Ryder, and President’s: total of 70 courses, 56 played, and 14 to play (WC-1; RC-10; PC-1)

Next trips…Long Island this weekend and NJ on way south in early October,  Stay tuned.

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