Wednesday, October 28, 2015

22. Central CO October 22-24, 2015

Central CO October 22-24, 2015
YES…a hole in one!!  By my step-son, Clark Woolley on the 7th hole of Lakota Canyon Ranch (went off on 10 so it was our 16th hole of round), New Castle, CO (about 200 miles west of Denver) on October 24, 2015.  Hole played about 187 yards, slightly uphill, against a slight breeze.  Hole is a punch bowl and no part of the flagstick was visible.  Clark, who is a superb athlete, hardly plays any golf (I think this was his 3rd round of the year) but can really launch it (hit a 7 iron, which is pretty strong even with a 10% reduction in yardage because of altitude…I figure the hole was playing about 175 yards adjusting for uphill/wind/altitude).  Twosome playing ahead of us was on 8th tee (about 50’ above 7th green) saw it go in and cheered!!  This was Clark’s first, and no doubt about it, he nailed it.  He was happy as can be, and when we got to the clubhouse 30 minutes later, no one was around for him to buy drinks.

Pat and I were in CO to see Clark, his bride Alexander, and their daughter Sarah (3 years 8 months) and son Owen (just past his 1st bday) in their new home on Glenwood Springs, CO (about 50 miles west of Vail and 40 miles north of Aspen).  They moved there from Washington, DC and love it.  It was wonderful seeing all four of them for a few days.  Pat is flying back to NC, and I am heading west with my usual crazy itinerary.  Planning to play between now and November 12 the following courses:

Seattle GC
Harding Park, San Francisco
Pronghorn GC—Fazio, Bend, OR
Crosswater Club, Bend, OR

South Korea
Anyang CC
Whistling Rock
Haesley Nine Bridges
South Cape
Jack Nicklaus GC Korea (host of President’s Cup 2 weeks ago)

Singapore Island CC-Bukit Course

Bali Handara
Nirwana Bali

Spring City-Lake Course
Spring City-Mountain Course
Stone Forest- C Course (Leaders Peak)
Stone Forest-A Course
Mission Hills Haikou—Shadow Dunes
Mission Hills Haikou—Lava Fields
Sheshan International (host of HKSB Championship Nov 5-8)

Hoping for good weather and on time flights!!  If I can get all of the above in, will have made some serious progress on my bucket lists.

Clark and I played two local courses near their home, Ironbridge (which is literally in their backyard as they live off the 17th tee, and joined the club), and Lakota Canyon, about 20 miles west of their home.  Both were built on mountainous terrain, which presents a lot of challenges for golf architects.  Outside of nanny goats, I doubt anyone had walked either course since they opened.  Par 5’s are a very real design challenge as it is difficult to find a stretch of land over 550 yards in length without a gorge intervening…and these gorges often create long carries without the possibility of a reasonable layup.

Weather was beautiful both Friday afternoon 10/23 (Ironbridge) and Saturday afternoon (Lakota).  Given the heavy rains Thursday through Friday morning, both courses proved to drain quite well.  Ironbridge is the tougher of the two (and at times too tough and bordering on unfair), and Tom Lehman has been renovating it to make some of the holes “softer”, which I applaud.  Lakota (designed by James Engh) is the better of the two courses and very forgiving (too much so) with slopes along both side of most fairways and greens typically surrounded on three sides by large mounds, causing many misdirected shots to kick towards the fairway or green.  Of course, the views on both are simply spectacular.  Both play to about 7100 yards from the tips (par 72) and we played both from about 6300.  Finishing late in the afternoon on both days, it became very chilly once the sun started hiding behind the mountains, but we got both rounds in.  In summary, both are good courses, but not  “top100 quality”…remember with some 15,500 course in the USA, the top 100 represents the top 0.6% and with some 35,000 courses in the world (I am guessing), the top 100 worldwide represent the top 0.3%...fairly lofty territory.

Lakota was #46 on Golf Week’s 2006 Top 100 Modern Courses in the USA list, but on the merged list of Modern and Classic, that came out to #105.  In 2007, Lakota dropped to #97 on the Modern list and then dropped off. 

Am now flying to Seattle, hoping the rain does not start till late this afternoon…

Seattle Golf Club October 25, 2015:  Made a very short visit to Seattle to play Seattle GC.  Main reason was to finish a mini-bucket list---playing every course that has hosted a Walker Cup Match.  There will have been 45 matches played to date, 23 in GB&I and 22 in the USA.  The 23 held in GB&I have been hosted by 13 different clubs, and I had played all of these 13 by 2013.  The 22 held in the USA have been hosted by 18 different clubs, and with my playing Seattle GC, I have now played all 18.  Additionally, I have played the announced venues for future Matches (2017, 2019, and 2021). 

To be completely forthcoming, I should point out that a Match had been originally scheduled at The Town & Country Club in St. Paul, MN to be played in 1940, but that Match was cancelled due to the start of World War II hostilities.  I have not played Town & Country, but since that Match was never held, believe that does not blemish my completion of the Walker Cup venues.

Seattle GC was founded in 1900 and hosted the 1952 US Amateur as well as the 1961 Walker Cup Match (which, as a historical note, was the last important Amateur event played by Jack Nicklaus before he turned professional in late 1961).  In terms of Top 100 listings, its only appearances were on Golf Week’s first six Top 100 Classic Course listings (from 1997-2002) including a peak of #79 in 1999.  However, it never appears on my “merged” Golf Week lists.

Seattle is a beautiful and superb club and is generally regarded to be the most prestigious Golf Club in the State of Washington.  The golf course (which was redesigned about 20 years ago by Arnold Palmer) is very very good, and is one I could play every day without being bored.  The greens are difficult and while the course is relatively short by today’s standards (6836 yards par 72), the climate in the Seattle area makes the course play much longer.

TPC Harding Park October 26, 2015:  Harding Park Golf Course (named after President Warren Harding) was completed in 1925 (originally designed by Sam Whiting, who also designed The Olympic Club’s Lake Course which sits directly across Lake Merced) and has been a municipal course owned by the City of San Francisco ever since.  About 12 years ago, an extensive renovation led by Sandy Tatum was completed which extended the course to its current 7169 yards.  Since then, it has hosted the President’s Cup (2009, and scheduled for 2025), the 2005 American Express Championship (part of the WGC series), and the 2015 Cadillac Match Play (also part of the WGC series).  The 2020 PGA Championship is scheduled for Harding Park.  Its only appearance on a “Top” listing was in Golf Digest initial “200 Toughest Courses in the USA” list published in 1966.  As you will recall, that list was purely alphabetical.

The course is very good and while its condition is very good for a municipal course, it is too wet, soft and slow to be considered to be in very good condition.  Played it with two members of California Club (where I stayed the nights of 10/25 and 27) and we were the first group off and finished playing in about 3:30.  Then back to Cal Club for lunch with a former club president who shepherded Cal Club’s phenomenal renovation completed in 2008.  Then it was off to Bend, OR to see a couple we met at our ISAGS trip to South Africa in March, and play 36 holes on Tuesday.

Pronghorn Golf Club (Fazio) October 27, 2015:  After my flight was delayed, arrived at our friend’s house around 9:30pm.  My first time here in the Oregon high desert and was interested in seeing Bend as I had heard wonderful things about it.  It is very late in their season and getting in 36 will require some luck, as there usually are frost delays here this time of year.  Sure enough, frost was on the ground Tuesday morning but we were able to tee off on Pronghorn Fazio by 9:45am.  This gave us time for a quick “drive-by” tour of Bend which is an old lumber mining town that is now a premier “destination town” for golf and skiing with tons of other activities.  Oregon’s Cascade Mountains provide a fabulous backdrop for a neat neat area.  Got the sense that the Chamber of Commerce boasts are pretty accurate.

This upscale club opened in 2004 with a course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio’s course opened in 2006.  In terms of my Top 100 listings, the Fazio course was on the Golf Week merged list in 2010 and 2012 (highest rating was #88 in 2010).  Plan was to play the Fazio and the Crosswater Club (20 miles south of Pronghorn) as both have been on my USA Top 100 lists (always keeping bucket lists in mind) rather than both at Pronghorn.  The Fazio course is very private and the Nicklaus course is open to the public.

The Fazio course is really very very good…one of the best Fazio tracks I have played (note:  I am not a big Fazio fan).  It is not in the same league as Gozzer Ranch (ID) which I played last year, and Wade Hampton (NC) is clearly better (in my always humble opinion) but otherwise it is one of the best Fazio’s I have played…in the same league as Diamond Creek (NC), Estancia (AZ), John’s Island-West (FL), and Martis Camp (CA) among others.  Back better than front and best holes are #7, 12, 14, and 15 and most interesting is #8:

            #7…tough 496 yard par 4 that starts with a fairly mundane looking tee shot and a superb setting of the approach (in that regard, similar to the brilliant #15 at Gozzer Ranch);

#8…187 yard downhill par 3 created by blasting out tons of volcanic rock which uncovered a long, deep lava tube underground (now visible from the “crater” created by the blasting and excavation) and created a green setting surrounded on three sides by a 10’ high wall of lava rock;
#12 is a short 500 yard par 5 that gets very interesting in its final 100 yards due to a small green (with a “false left side”) hidden behind a large fairway bunker positioned about 65-80 yards from the center of the green (and at the base of a small hill that blocks any view of the green if you lay up short of the bunker);

#14 is a short/drivable 312 yard par 4 uphill to a very very narrow but deep (56 yards) green that slopes from front to back over a crest and surrounded by small dunes left and right; off the tee, the player must decide whether to try to carry a very large bunker in the center of the fairway about 75-100 yards short of the green center;

#15 is a tough tough 515 yd par 5 favoring a draw off the tee and a fading second to a raised green angled from right front to back left.

At 7456 yards (par 72), this is a big course which includes a 676 yard par 5 ninth hole. 

While it would be hard to consider this to be a “natural” course, it is really very well done.  We were the first played off and finished in exactly three hours…and it was off to Crosswater.

Crosswater Club October 27, 2015:  Located in Sunriver, OR about 20 miles south of Bend.  Opened just over 10 years ago, Crosswater was completed just over 20 years ago.   It is a very big course…stretching to 7683 yards (par 72).  The Little Deschutes River crosses the course seven times and results in a lot of wetlands coming into play.  It was designed by Robert Cupp and in terms of Top 100’s, it has been:

            --on Golf Digest’s USA list in 1999 and 2001 (peak rating #80 in 1999)
            --on my merged Golf Week USA list 1997-2002 (peak #58 in 2001)

It is relatively flat, obviously long, and very tough.  But it is also somewhat dated.  Good course but not Top 100 quality today.  It did however win the “battle of the par 5’s” having extended its 12th hole to 687 yards, thereby beating Pronghorn’s #9 by 11 yards.  I played from the White/Senior tees…6138 yards total and 572 yards on this 12th…and somehow did not reach #12 in three.  Not my style of course (although I sunk a 6 footer on 18 for a 79). 

We played Crosswater in three hours but it was chilly and damp especially on the back.  Got all 6 USA courses in over the past 5 days.  Actually made the 36 today with plenty of time to spare. 

List Status:
OK…where do we stand?  First, now have played:

            --785 courses over my lifetime;
            --125 courses to date in 2015 (94 of which were new for me)
            --166.5 rounds to date this year

In terms of bucket list, aside from completing all Walker Cup Match host courses, the following improvements (items in italics) in my lists were made:

1.     Worldwide Top 100 Ever from seven sources: 263 courses on list, 245 played, and 18 to go (Asia—11, Australia/NZ—5; Europe and Caribbean 1 each).
2.     US Open Venues: 54 in total, 52 played and two to go (Skokie-IL and Brae Burn-MA)
3.     1939 “First Top 100” (spoof): 101 courses (two tied for 100 spot), 81 played, 5 no longer exist, and 15 to go (England-6; USA-1; Cont Europe-3; S Africa-2; Canada-1; Sri Lanka-1; Vietnam-1)
4.     USA Top 100 Ever from five sources: 338 courses on list, 293 played, 2 no longer exist, and 43 to play
5.     Men’s Major Venues Ever:  total of 121 courses, 93 played, 1 no longer exists, and 29 to go (2 US Open...see #2 above; 27 PGA)
6.     “Cups”—Walker, Ryder, and Presidents: total of 69 courses, 56 played, and 13 to play (RC-12; PC-1)

The next 16 days or so will make major improvements in #1 and a small improvement in #6 if the trip goes as planned.  Will feed you updates as the trip proceeds.

Flight back to San Francisco went smoothly and again stayed at Cal Club.  It is now Wednesday mid-day as I get ready to fly to Seoul this afternoon.

Interesting Ride:

Made good use of Uber on this trip as I did not rent cars in Seattle or San Francisco.  Sunday night on my ride from SFO to Cal Club, I asked my driver a few questions…they are summarized below with his answers in italics:

1.     Where are you from?  Beirut Lebanon
2.     How long have you been driving for Uber?  Two years
3.     Do you have another job?  I am studying at U of Cal (Berkeley)
4.     What field and what degree are you seeking?  Masters degree in Nuclear Engineering.
5.     What do you plan to do when you get the degree?  Go back to Beirut.

You can draw your own conclusions, but my bet is that he has a federally funded grant paying his way for his studying here.

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