Friday, September 18, 2015

17. Midwest Trip to meet Australian Friend August 29-September 4, 2015

Midwest Trip to meet Australian Friend August 29-September 4, 2015

In early 2012, Pat and visited New Zealand and Australia for five weeks.  Was a very special trip from both a golf and sightseeing standpoint.  I had been to both in the 1970’s (including a 4 week trip to both and New Guinea) and it was wonderful to return with my bride. 

Melbourne probably has the finest collection of world-class courses of any city in the world.  In terms of a 30-50 mile radius, only New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Columbus, OH compare in any way.  During our visit we of course played Kingston Heath GC in Melbourne’s Sandbelt (about 15-20 miles SE of downtown), a superb design (originally by Dan Soutar with bunkering revised by Alister Mackenzie in 1926) that I consider one of the two best examples of simple, brilliant strategic architecture in the world (the other being The Old Course in St. Andrews).  We played KHGC with a member we had been introduced to virtually before our arrival (again, names not revealed) and became fast friends.  He visited us in Boston the summer of 2012, and also was there when I finished the Golf Magazine 2013 World 100 in May 2014.  But I will warn you, he had horrible taste in Vietnam restaurants.  Therefore, if you are in Melbourne, play KHGC with an Aussie named John (probably more than one member with that first name) and he suggests going to a Vietnamese restaurant with him, finish the round at KHGC and then duck out of dinner in any way possible.

John started talking (mostly emailing) about a trip to the Midwest (US, not AUS…the Midwest in AUS is the Outback…firm and fast but not much else positive for golf) about 5-6 months ago.  His trip is to Chicago Golf, Medinah, Shoreacres, Crystal Downs, The Dunes Club, Oakland Hills, Inverness, The Golf Club, Muirfield Village, Oakmont, and Fox Chapel (Chicago/SW and N Michigan/Detroit/Toledo/Columbus/Pittsburgh for you uneducated).  I was able to help setting up a couple of clubs, and others helped John with the rest.  I decided to tag along for The Golf Club, Oakmont, and Fox Chapel after research showed a lack of cheap Vietnamese restaurants in Columbus and Pittsburgh.  I ended up scheduling a seven-day trip to Detroit/Dayton/Cincinnati/Columbus/Cleveland-Canton/Pittsburgh encompassing 11 courses in those 7 days.  Eight of the 11 are new to me…so progress will be made on bucket lists.  Plus I can see John several days and play some great ones with him (and I’ll pick the restaurants).  Only issues might be weather and surviving another of these nutty journeys (golf carts will get a serious workout).

Saturday August 29—Franklin Hills:  A Donald Ross design (1927) renovated by Ron Prichard in 2004.   Listed in last Links Magazine USA Top 100 as #100 which is its only entry on my USA Top 100 spreadsheet.  It has been a regular on Golf Week’s USA Top 100 Classic lists since GW started these lists in 1997///starting off with a strong #52, falling lower and then getting to #62 in 2007 and 2011…the improvement after 2004 coming as a result of Prichard’s renovation (currently #77).   Course in superb shape even though too green for my taste…but even as green as it is, the turf is very firm, healthy, as reasonably fast with good run out.   Wonderful use of land to reward is taking tee shots with clear views of greens and punish layups unless they are very accurate and well thought out.  For example, on #1, a 451 yard down hill par 4, there is a rise in the fairway out about 260 yards…with two fairway bunkers beyond the rise.  If you layup and are in center of fairway, you have a clear view of the green…but if you are left or right…your view is blocked by the rise and your 2nd is blind.  If you take your chances and go over the rise, you are rewarded with a clean view of the putting surface.  Greens are typical Ross efforts are superb…unless you are above the hole, and then your are dead!!

Hole #13 is a fabulous short par 4..uphill to small green perched on top of a hill fronted by a deep bunker. 

Course’s one real weak point is its par 5’s which from tips are 535/521/477/460 yards…should be a par 70 instead of 72.

Sunday Aug. 30—Indianwood—Old:  Up early and drive about 15 miles north to Pontiac area.  Designed by Wilfred Reid and completed in 1925, Ironwood was a first class resort and then a private club in 1942 and a gathering place for Detroit’s elite until a long slide commenced in the 1950’s.  Under new ownership starting in 1981, it commenced its rebound and hosted two US Woman’s Opens in 1989 and 1994 and the US Senior Open in 2012.  Had the pleasure of playing it with another Golf Digest rater, Clif Haka from Lansing, MI.  We had traded emails two years back and this proved to be a good opportunity to get together.  Clif had played Indianwood once before about 7-8 years ago..  It made the Golf Magazine USA Top 100 consistently from 1991-2003 peaking at #64 in 1997, and my merged Golf Week Top 100 in 1999 and 2000 with a highest ranking of #89.

I loved it.  Wide open with very few trees, it is built on a glorious piece of property and was in excellent condition.  We were the “dew sweepers” with a 7:18am tee time and it had rained the evening before, so course was very wet, but played firm.  Greens are very tough with big time slopes from back to front and often with even greater slopes (from back to front and out of the rough) over the greens, so best not too be long on your approaches.  Best holes are punch bowls #4 and #9, 201 yard par 3 4th to smallish green with major back to front slope, short but well designed #10, long tough par 4 #12, and #16.  In summary, a true hidden gem very much worthy of a visit…could use some “refreshening” but absolutely great bones.

Sunday afternoon Aug. 30—NCR Country Club--South:  This was to be a very long day.  Left Indianwood around 10:45am for a long (255 mile) drive to Dayton, OH and NCR Country Club.  The club has a long and rich history, including the 1969 PGA Championship, won by Ray Floyd by one stroke over Gary Player, the target of anti-Apartheid protests during the event), the 1986 US Woman’s Open, and the 2005 US Senior Open.  NCR opened its doors in 1954 with two courses, North and South, both designed by Dick Wilson (with the South being the tougher Championship venue). It was started as a benefit for NCR employees owned by NCR Corporation until it was spun off in later years and is now open to non NCR folks.

NCR was a regular on the USA Top 100 lists until about 10 years ago.  It was on Golf Digest’s Top 100’s from 1969-2003 (except for 1985 and ’87) peaking at #70 in 1991, but did not fare as well on Golf Week (one appearance at #99 on my merged list in initial 1997 listing) or Golf Magazine (included in first two USA lists in 1991 and ’93 at #79 and #81 respectively).

I arrived around 3:15pm and was able to get off on #10 shortly thereafter.  However, after playing #16, the warning siren went off, and we went back to the clubhouse for a delay that lasted almost two hours.  Faced with 11 holes to play with just 90 minutes before sunset, it was a made dash with a cart, playing those 11 holes in 70 minutes.  Don’t ask me what those holes were like (actually I do semi-remember them).  Course is not among my favorites.  Had been punched about 9 days earlier and I was surprised at how soft it still was.  Mud all over the ball after every shot.  Hard to really tell about the course given condition, but also no question that the trees lining both sides of every fairway had a lot to do with the time required for the fairways to heal from aerification.

Monday afternoon Aug 31—Coldstream CC, Cincinnati:  Few things as enjoyable as sleeping late, especially after a day as long as yesterday!  Monday’s are tough on these trips as most clubs are closed for outings or maintenance.  After many phone calls hit pay dirt and was able to arrange a game at Coldstream for Monday 8/31.  Setting up these trips requires lots of favors, and it is always a pleasure to be able to reciprocate, or help another “bucket-lister” so long as their request is reasonable and doable.

Played with a member and two other guests of his (they all work in the same office).  Coldstream opened in 1960, was designed by Dick Wilson and Joe Lee and remodeled by Robert von Hagge in 2005.  Was on Golf Digest Top 100 from 1969 through 1989, a total of 11 consecutive lists, with a peak of inclusion in the #51-60 grouping in 1969 and then peaking again as #70 in 1987 (note that from 1971-1983, a total of 7 consecutive lists, it was in the #51-100 grouping, so who knows where it actually stood?).  On my GW merged list, it just made the top 100 on GW’s initial list in 1997 (#88…due to its #44 rating on GW’s Modern list). 

This is a very tough course with very large greens (at least three that are over 50 yards deep) but not one that I would want to play every day.  The trees lining every fairway cut off angles on many holes, leaving few options for playing the holes, and of course, they cut off air circulation.  Interestingly, the club experienced a loss of many ash trees on the back nine due to a beetle known as the emerald ash beetle (EAB), and the greens that had been surrounded by the now dead ash trees are now the healthiest on the course.

After the round, drove up to Columbus, and met “Aussie John” for dinner…great to catch up with him.  Will be playing with him at The Golf Club, Oakmont, and Fox Chapel on 9/1, 3, and 4 respectively.

Tuesday morning Sept 1—The Golf Club, New Albany, OH:  Designed by Pete & Alice Dye, TGC, located about 10-12 miles west of Columbus, opened in 1967 (one of their earlier courses), fulfilling the dream of its owner, Fred Jones.  It has been on every USA Top 100 list starting in 1969 with only two listings at #40 or higher and as high as #6 in Golf Week in 1999.  On Worldwide Top 100 lists, TGC has been a “regular” since 1983 (missing only the first two Golf Magazine Top 50’s in 1979 and 1981 and the Architects Society survey).  Highest rating was #32 on Golf Magazine in 1993.  Simply put, this is a true Top 100 track.

I had the privilege of playing TGC for the first time in 1980 and have wanted to return ever since.  I remember it having the feel of a golf course just plucked down in the middle of farmland.  I also remember the locker room being similar to Seminole’s famous men’s locker room, with lockers on the perimeter and seating in the center.  A fabulous design, but one that necessitates a small membership.  In fact, apparently membership at TGC is limited to 150 members (equal to the number of lockers).

The course was recently renovated extensively, adding a couple of hundred yards (now 7439 from the tips) and changing a couple of greens.  Pete Dye, now 89 years old, led the renovation efforts.   I don’t think any architect in history has as much experience in “making something from nothing” as Pete Dye.  Think about some of his creations that arose out of swamps, flat deserts, and in this case, very flat farmland (as evidenced by the land surrounding TGC).  He built a 13th hole here that looks more like a hole at Harbor Town than one in Ohio, yet somehow it fits in beautifully (as is followed by one of the best par 5’s I have played).

Best holes are #6 (dogleg left 470 yards, with creek angling in front of green, and a very tricky angled setting of the green itself…making it shallower than it appears), and #12-15.  However, for unknown reasons, the course was very very wet when we played it.  While there was some rain that eek, not enough to account for the softness. My sense is that the renovation included a regressing of the fairways etc. and this newer grass must ne kept cool in the heat.

In summary, a fabulous club, but time will tell if the course retains its historical greatness.  Hope so!

Tuesday Sept 1--Ohio State-Scarlet:  Renovated nine years ago by Jack Nicklaus, this former Alister Mackensie masterpiece now stretches to 7455 yards and does not exactly remind one of the Mackensie’s work at the Melbourne Sunbelt, Cypress Point, ANGC, Crystal Downs, and Lahinch to name just a few.  Yes is it very very tough, retains some excellent holes (particularly #13 and #16), and would be a fine place for members of OSU’s varsity to hone their games…but for my tastes, no thank you.  Back when it was a Mackensie, Scarlet was on the GM USA Top 100 (1991-95, with a peak of #69 in 1991).  Them days is gonezo.  Time to drive on to Cleveland.

Wednesday Sept 2—Mayfield Sand Ridge Club—Sand Ridge:  Located about 25 miles east of downtown Cleveland, The Sand Ridge Golf Club opened for play in 1998, featuring a Tom Fazio course built on top of a natural sand ridge about 10 miles from the shores of Lake Erie.  From a business/financial standpoint, the club never reached cruising speed, and in 2006 merged with (or more accurately, was absorbed by Mayfield CC to become Mayfield Sand Ridge with two separate campuses.  Sand Ridge was on the Golf Digest 100 in 2001, ’05, and ’07 (highest being #52 in 2005).  Fazio as usual created a beautiful setting foe the course, and this time provided some good width and alternative angles.  Really likes homes #6 and #16.  Played well till last three holes.  Might be getting tired.

Wednesday Sept 2—Brookside CC:  Located in Canton Ohio, and founded in 1922, Brookside was designed by Donald Ross and built on a fabulous piece of land and pitches and rolls in many direction and reminded me of Minneapolis GC and White Bear Yacht Club.  Club was very active and seemed to be first rate.  Brookside was rated #97 in the USAon Links Magazine’s final 12/31/14 USA Top 100.

Played with three members, one of whom is active in the Donald Ross Society.  The greens, I was told, have never been reconfigured since the course was first built.  As a result, they are sloped to the extreme…probably designed for speeds of about 7-8 max on the Stimp, and now playing to about a 10 or 11 speed.  Yes, one needed to stay below the hole, but his was taken to too great an extreme.  I really did love the course, but the greens are too extreme and several of them (particularly #16) are unfair at these speeds.  While it is exciting to boast that your greens are original Donald Ross designs, they can become unplayable (and really slow down play) at today’s conditioning standards.

Rest of Trip

September 3 and 4 was spent at Oakmont CC and Fox Chapel CC in Pittsburgh, PA.  And then played Yale (CT) on September 9.  Going to publish what I have now, and catch up on those three great tracks in a few days.  Plus, the Golf Magazine Top 100 World and USA lists are out this week.  Stay tuned.

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