Thursday, June 9, 2016

46. NC-MA drive May 10-13, 2016

As I was way way behind, I posted a very brief catch-up to the Blog on May 28.  I am now trying to catch up, so the following post is for my drive north from NC to MA May 10-13.  After I post this, I will start describing in more detail my trip to GB&I, France, and Sweden May 16-28.

Drive North for the Summer…May 10-13, 2016

Each May, we head north to Milton, MA for the summer months (and then back south to Pinehurst in late September or early October).  The trip is about 800 miles each way. Almost always involves getting through some major construction projects, and includes at least two major bottlenecks…the cities of New York and Washington, DC.  Like many (or most) married couples, Pat and I can usually go about 50-100 miles driving together without getting on each other’s nerves, so these trips have never been the highlight of our marriage.  Additionally, she hates long drives in cars, and I view them as opportunities to play some new courses.  Finally, several years ago, we came up with the obvious solution that works for both of us…she flies and I drive (playing some golf along the way), thereby bringing peace back into the household!

Pat flew up to Boston on May 11, and I left early on May 10, finally arriving in Milton the afternoon of Friday, May 13.  My trip included 6 new courses for me, located in MD (1),  PA (2), NJ (2), and NY (1).  These trips with lots of driving do not leave much time for keeping up with this blog, so here I am a full five days after completing the journey drafting the write-up (and finishing it almost 4 weeks after the trip ended!).  Sorry folks, you get what you pay for…no apologies rendered.

Chevy Chase Club, May 10, 2016:  First day of the trip is the tough one.  It starts with a drive of about 360 miles from Pinehurst to the MD suburbs of Washington.  CCC has been one of Washington DC’s more venerable and waspy institutions for most of its 124 years (founded in 1892 originally as a riding and hunt club on some 40 acres).  Donald Ross was hired to design a golf course around 1910 and over the years the course has been renovated by the likes of Harry Colt/Charles Alison (1924), Robert Trent Jones (1948) and Arthur Hills (1990).  The club today is very active and its facilities include a heavily used hockey rink, 8 duck pin bowling alleys, 21 tennis courts, 3 swimming pools, and 7 paddle tennis courts.  Upon arrival at the club, I needed directions to the golf bag drop area, and asked a woman member, who was very helpful, but shockingly was wearing jeans…attire that historically was banned from institutions like CCC.  Times change, and CCC has lightened up in an effort to become more relevant to the younger generations…or has lost its way trying to deal with the younger set, depending on your view of these things.

Through all the architectural changes, the influence of Donald Ross is the most prevalent.  Today, modern equipment has reduced the effective length of this land locked course, which once was feared for its long par 4’s.  The greens, with sharp large sweeping slopes remain the course’s main line of defense…and they can be very difficult to putt if you end up above the hole.  I played it with Mitch R, a second generation member of CCC and more recently the latest member of the “Golf Magazine Top 100 Club”, having recently completed the 2007 list (thereby earning the title of “Mr. 31”…yours truly has the title of “Mr. 25”).  Mitch completed his feat without being a “rater” and that would be a tough tough task…kudos for that!  He is now trying to figure out what golf course challenges to take on at this point and seems to have more wisdom that moi in terms of keeping his tasks to a more manageable size.

Overall I liked CCC, although it appears that the 1990 Arthur Hills renovation pushed too hard to move par from 69 to 70 (total yardage today is 6918 from the tips) by converting a long par 4 to the now 481 yard par 5 10th…a hole that is way too short to be a par 5 in today’s world, and more importantly, does not architecturally “fit” with the other 17 holes.  It was in excellent shape, and we were very lucky…the rain forecast for the day consisted of just two 5-10 minute light showers.   In sum, not a World or USA Top 100, but a course you could happily play every day.

We finished the round about 4:30, and Mitch gave me a tour of CCC’s impressive facilities while I waited out DC’s rush hour.  Finally around 6:30 I headed north to the Bethlehem/Allentown area of PA (about 50 miles north of Philadelphia).  I was lucky with the traffic and got to my hotel around 9:30pm. A long day…and 36 holes on the program for both Wednesday and Thursday!

Saucon Valley Country Club—Weyhill, May 11, 2016:  Saucon Valley CC, located near Bethlehem PA includes three championship courses and had played host to seven USGA Championships.  I first played the Grace Course in 1980, the Old Course in 2014, and now the Weyhill, located on an old farm adjoining SVCC’s original campus.  It was completed in 1968 and designed by William and David Gordon (who also designed the Grace Course) and subsequently renovated by Tom Fazio in 2010.  Today it stretches to 7099 yards. 

In terms of Top 100’s, the Grace Course was included in the GM World Top 100 in 1985,’87 and ’91, peaking at #83 in 1987.  Weyhill has not made a USA Top 100 list but is now #176 on the GW merged Top 100 (as a result of its position on GW’s Top 100 Modern list).  Both Grace and Old were formally included on a variety of USA Top 100 lists, with Grace peaking within the 31-40 bracket on Golf Digest in the 1970’s through 1983.

Weyhill a very good course and in excellent condition, but to my mind, like many Fazio tracks seems to lack that “something special” to place it among the greats.  Best hole by far is #13…a 393 yard sharp dogleg right par four, with a “reverse camber” fairway slope and an elevated very small green.  The back nine includes several holes around and near a large rock quarry that I believe created a real architectural challenge.  Hole #15 in particular (a 419 yard narrow par 4 to a severely elevated green) seems to be contorted to fit a difficult piece of land.

In summary, another “good but not great course”. 

Country Club of Scranton, May 11, 2016: Was well ahead of schedule leaving Weyhill but figured maybe I can get off Scranton’s first tee early and get to Melissa and Steve L’s in NJ at a reasonable time.  Got caught in traffic on the way and almost turned around and said forget about it…that would have been a huge mistake. 

The Clubhouse at Scranton is very simple and sits on top of a big hill overlooking the entire course.  Holes #1 and 10 head straight downhill from the clubhouse, and, you guessed it, #9 and #18 head straight uphill…and that was the last predictable thing about this fabulous track.

The head pro, Mike Molino, is new to his job and clearly loves it.  He is a very nice guy and justifiably proud of his club and course.  It is a Walter Travis gem, originally constructed in 1927.  In 1988 a third nine, designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan opened for play.  I played the Travis 18.

Before I teed off, Mike introduced me to Greg Boring (you can’t make up that name…I told him my wife would think he was a long lost cousin of mine) the head Greenskeeper.  Greg had apprenticed at Oakmont previously and has led and overseen a huge transformation at Scranton.  Over 3000 trees have been removed, opening up spectacular vistas, allowing air to circulate, and the sun to reach the turf a higher % of time…resulting in a firm and fast course that is a joy to play, a challenge to score on, and a course that brings out the true brilliance of Walter Travis’ design features.  By the way, in case you didn’t notice, I loved this track.

Better bring you ground game here…flying it to the pin will leave you behind the pin and possibly green with a straight downhill chip or putt that you will not be able to control.  And you better start thinking about the contours around the green when you are hitting an approach from either 100 or 190 yards.  Excellent practice for my up and coming trip to GB&I.

Here are a few pictures that may give you a “sense”.  There are two from where my 2nd shot ended up on the downhill par 4 406 yard 10th hole…just to the left of the green on a tight tight lie with a big mound between me and the pin, all of 30’ away.  I played two balls from here and ended up with 6’s on both!!  

Lying here in 2 on #10, it took me four shots to get down (and another 4 shots when I gave it another try!!)...from about 30'.
There is also a shot from the 18th tee looking at the back right of the 10th green…take a look at the mounding that has been exposed…simply brilliant.  

Back right of 10th greek (from 18th tee)...look at the terrain...and creek about 25 yards over.

There is also a shot of the 248 yard par 3 17th…I did par this but from a very different tee.

248 yard 17th (par 3)

Go play this track…it is simply wonderful and getting better as Greg Boring continues his fabulous respiration work.  And a very active membership…great to see.

By the way, turns out that Ran Morrissett was here the day before…playing it with Joe A (the Golf Magazine rater who Pat and I saw at LAX in early February on our way to Aus/NZ).  Turns out Joe is originally from the Scranton area and is a member.

After the round it was back on the road and headed to Steve L’s house in NJ.  Was good to catch up, even if both of us had to suffer through listening to the other!!  For sure I got the worst of that deal.  J.  Steve’s bride Melissa and their daughters Sydney and Whitney brought some sanity to the evening.

Mountain Ridge Country Club May 12, 2016:  Mountain Ridge is one of the truly great designs and clubs in New Jersey.  Opened in 1929, this Donald Ross design features a fabulous set of Donald Ross greens.  It stretches to 7122 yards (par 71) and flies well under the radar…assiduously avoiding the spotlight.  The playing conditions were close to perfect, and trust me you do not want to be above the hole anyplace near these greens. 

Mountain Ridge’s clubhouse dominates the property and is a beautiful old Tudor that in many ways reminded me (both inside and out) of CC of Detroit located in Grosse Point MI.  The clubhouse sits high on a hill and overlooks the entire course.  In another way, Mountain Ridge reminded me of another great Donald Ross design, Oakland Hills-South.  I believe both courses have some of the finest green complexes and bunkering in the game, but that in both cases, have been “tightened” and “narrowed” and have lost some their original strategic design elements.  In the case of OHCC, this was done by RT Jones, Sr. and resulted in the “Monster” tag for the 1951 US Open (won by Ben Hogan) which has been its calling card ever since.  In the case of MRCC, the narrowness is obvious from examining Ross’s original hole-by-hole blueprints hanging in the clubhouse.  The original design featured fairways that generally ranged from 50-60+ yards wide (this is clearly obvious from the scaling and grid overlaid on the blueprints)…while today’s fairways are generally 30-35 yards wide.  When combined with tough rough and many trees, angles created by Ross’ original design become much more limited and less interesting, and in many cases, a heroic recovery option is not available.

Correcting this would be easy and make these courses more fun, just as tough as now, and much more interesting…at least in the eyes of this observer.  And I think it would give both OHCC and MRCC a big boost in Top 100 ratings.  MRCC has only appeared in GolfWeek’s USA Top 100 Classic course list. Peaking at #91 in 2004 and reappearing in the mid 90’s from 2012-14 (it has never made the GW merged Top 100…only the Classic Top 100).

Observant followers of this Blog will recall that Pat and I were originally scheduled to play MRCC on April 9 of this year…but cancelled due to very cold and wet weather.  Glad I finally got to play it, and only wish it could be brought to its true brilliant potential.

Liberty National Golf Club, May 12, 2016:  You may recall that Liberty National hosted the one of the PGA Tour Federal Express playoff championship events about 5 years ago.  At the time, this Tom Kite design (which was built over a former toxic waste dump) was severely criticized by members of the Tour.  One unnamed player was quoted as saying “…you mean they ruined a perfectly good toxic waste dump to build this?... (ouch).  Having heard that major improvements had been made and with the course scheduled to host the Presidents Cup in 2017, I put it on my schedule.  I will be brief and simply say that the views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, and Lower Manhattan (see pic) 

View of Lower Manhattan from Liberty National GC

are spectacular, and the head pro (Steve Napoli, originally from Newport, RI) is a wonderful guy.  Other than those, I can think of no redeeming factors.  I am not sure what they “fixed”, but today’s product wouldn’t be in my Top 1000!!!.  If this thing ever makes a Top 100, those listings from that publication will be immediately be removed from my spreadsheet.  Oh, and btw, the views from Bayonne GC are better.  Enough said.

Whippoorwill Club May 13, 2016:  Ahhh…a fun golf course again!!  For some reason, I had never played Whippoorwill even though I knew some members and it is only about 10 miles from Quaker Ridge.  Built on VERY hilly terrain, this relatively short (6636 yard par 71) course is simply fun to play.  Designed by Donald Ross and Charles Banks (Seth Raynor’s protégé) it shows much more Banks than Ross influence today.  It was special to play it and catch up regarding old friends who belonged (including a couple who are among our closest friends in Pinehurst), as well as the head pro, Jim Wahl, whom I knew from when he was an assistant pro at Quaker Ridge in the 1990’s.  Whippoorwill has never made the GD, GM, or GW merged USA Top 100, but has consistently been included in the GW USA Top 100 Classic annual list from 2003-2016, ranging from #73 to #94 (and currently is #83 on the 2016 list).  I think that level is about right as this is a difficult piece of land for a golf course, but an excellent example of what a wonderful architect can accomplish with substandard land.  Best hole is #8, an excellent Biarritz (see pic), and best stretch of holes is #4-9.

#8 Biarritz 188 yards

That afternoon I drove home to our Milton condo.  Pat had flown up the day before and it was wonderful to reunite.  I was tired…and we were scheduled to leave for Europe in about four days.  Can’t wait to get these Bucket Lists done!!


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