Tuesday, November 1, 2016

60. Trip from Milton, MA to Pinehurst, NC October 4-12, 2016 (Part II)

Before I continue…I need to publish two corrections to my last post:
1.     CCNC was #99 on the GM Worldwide list in 1985…not 1997 as I had posted (this has been corrected on the blog)
2.     In my discussion of Winged Foot East I mentioned Shinnecock/NGLA/Sebonack as one of the world’s great combinations of three contiguous (or almost contiguous) courses…an old buddy from the southern fork of Long Island correctly pointed out an error in this…the better combination on Long Island is Shinnecock/NGLA/Southampton.  Southampton GC is the Seth Raynor design that was recently renovated and while less famous than the Doak/Nicklaus designed Sebonack is certainly superior

Trip from Milton, MA to Pinehurst, NC October 4-12, 2016 (Part II)

By Friday night, I was spending a good percentage of my time watching the weather.  Hurricane Mathew was on the prowl heading north from Florida straight for the Carolinas.  Pinehurst is about 125 miles from the coast but Pat had arrived home on Thursday and one never knows.  Also, the outer reaches certainly had the potential to affect my rounds in NJ on Saturday (10/8) and Philadelphia on Sunday.

Essex County Country Club, October 8, 2016:  Funny the similarity in names with many golf clubs, even amongst the small fraternity of great ones.  One thinks of all the great tracks with “Oak” in their names (Oakmont, Oak Hill, Oakland Hills, Oak Tree National, etc etc), “St. George” (St. Georges-NY, St. George’s Hill-Sussex, UK, Royal St. George’s, and St George’s-Toronto), “Hill” (too many to mention)…and how about Essex County??  Well there are two great Essex County clubs…Essex County Club in MA and Essex County Country Club in NJ, both of which were founded in the 1880’s.   I have had the pleasure of playing ECC (MA) about 5-6 times but until this date, had not played ECCC (NJ), although had heard great reports from golfers whose opinions I respect (although with one of those sources, I must exclude political opinions from the “respect” category…right, Steve?..and actually there are three Steve’s who fit that bill!! J).

ECCC was founded in 1887 and moved to its present location “on a mountain” in 1917.  The present course was designed by A. W. Tillinghast…yes, play in the NY area and you get the opportunity to play lots of Tillie tracks.  Some 8 years later, Seth Raynor and his then assistant Charles Banks were brought in to make revisions.  Raynor passed away (in his early 50’s) in 1926 and Banks took over the business.  Holes 1-6 and 9 are original Tillie creations while the other 11 holes were the work of Raynor and Banks.

I played just before noon with a member and his guest.  The day was cloudy with a good breeze.  The property is wonderful…yes, built on a mountain but not a mountain course.  It is filled with perfectly placed cross bunkers of the type Tillie and Raynor/Banks used so effectively elsewhere, and a recent restoration cleared out thousands of trees and opened up excellent vistas.  The front nine is really good, but the back nine is simply great.  From the tips it plays 7101 yards (par 71) with a stern 75.5/144 course rating and slope.  The back nine is a hefty 3593 yards (par 35).  In terms of ratings, ECCC has never been on a USA or World Top 100 listing…never even making a GolfWeek USA Top 100 Classic listing.  Frankly, I find that to be incredible…and a condemnation of Top 100 lists.  This is a course that is both a truly superb test and fun to play. It is in excellent condition…not manicured to perfection like some others.  But to those who crave perfectly manicured tracks and think golf courses should be devoid of bad or good bounces, I highly recommend that you never again play a true links course anywhere and never travel to GB&I with your clubs, as I would hate to see you suffer such disappointment.  I would also point out that golf is supposed to mimic life, and one of life’s great tests is how one deals with life’s bad bounces…and the game of golf should test that part of a players game and mind.  Most of you members of the Millennial Generation may wish to request that a member of an earlier generation read the previous three sentences and attempt to translate them for you.  And for now I will get off my high horse.

The good news, is that I can chalk this one up as another hidden gem.  Go play it, and love it.  It will beat you up at times but give you the opportunity to play heroic recovery shots that offer great risk and great reward.  The course really gets moving with a tough but fair long (468 yd) par 4 fifth and a fabulous 173 yard par 3 sixth (to a green well protected by a large mound front left and a sharp fall off right), as well as a great 169 yard par 3 ninth to a green high above a deep deep front bunker.  Then if really gets going on the back.

After a good tee shot on 10 (440 yard straightaway par 4) one faces a sharply downhill approach shot to a that must account for a left to right slope in front of and on the green…great fun on the second shot.  #11 is a bear of a par 3, 208 yards over a chasm with some really tough pin placements right, and #12 is simply a 462 yd uphill par 4 with a well protected green…a piece of cake.  #15 stretches to 255…a downhill par 3 to a green that then slopes back to front and sits at an angle left from the fairway direction…very cool.  Loved #17 which turns left and is slightly uphill to the green…the tee shot is very well guarded by 2-3 large trees which dictate play off the tee…and the back nine concludes with a big and bold 18th.

I had a 42-40=82 that pleased me even though I was not pleased by dump errors on 5, 6, and 18 that resulted in doubles…further proof in each case of the need to stay focused when playing a track created by the likes of Tillie, Raynor and Banks.  Go see this course.  While it no longer is the highly exclusive club of its earlier years, it is a very pure golf club and course.

After the round, I headed south for a scheduled 36 holes in Philadelphia…but with Matthew continuing its path northward, things were looking grim for Sunday.  Also called Pat and power was out at our Pinehurst home (which meant no water since our water comes from a well).  She decided it tough it out at home Saturday night…and no amount of talking to her about moving in with friends who had not lost power would work.

Llarench Country Club, October 9, 2016:  When I awoke Sunday morning, it was raining hard.  I was scheduled to play Llarench in the morning and then Rolling Green in the afternoon.  The forecast showed rain halting around 11am, but it was not clear of either course would be open for play today after this much rain.

I drove over to Llarench and was told it was open (walking only).  Told them to get me a good caddy and I was ready to go as soon as I was able to put on enough Gore-Tex.  Head pro at Llarench is Chris Wilkinson, who was an assistant at Brookline about 10+ years ago and one of Brendan Walsh’s numerous head pro placements.  Good guy…and very helpful.  Had left Brookline before started playing it but remembered Pat.

Llarench is 6780 yards and par 71.  The club was founded in 1928 and the course designed at that time by Alexander Findlay…and was renovated by Stephan Kay in 2005.  It has never been on a USA or World 100 list.  In 1958 it hosted the PGA Championship (actually the first played at stroke play and won by Dow Finsterwald). 

It poured hard for the first 7 holes.  Tough holding on to club and there was standing water on almost every green.  Front nine seemed to be very good (tough to tell in these conditions) and my caddy (who is in junior year of high school) was great.  The on the 8th tee, the rain stopped exactly as forecast.  After #9 I went into the clubhouse to shed the Gore-Tex and went back out to finish the 18.   Not surprisingly, the course was not very crowded.  I would have never played a home course in these conditions.

My lasting impression of Llarench will always be that it has the best drainage I have ever seen on a parkland course.  Between the time when the rain stopped on 8 and when we teed off on 10, perhaps 20-25 minutes had passed….and with a measured rainfall of 1.15” the previous 24 hours, we encountered almost no standing water on the back nine. 

After the round, (which I walked and was very tiring given the wet clothing and soft course conditions, I called Rolling Green.  They were open, but as expected no carts allowed due to the rain.  There was no way I was going to be able to walk 36 that day and then drive to West Virginia, so Rolling Green remains an unplayed US Woman’s Open site.

The drive to West Virginia was a long one (about 5 hours) and it was good to get to bed.  House in NC still without power but at least Pat has relented and moved in with friends in Pinehurst. No one knows when power would return…and some are talking next weekend!! L

Lakeview Resort (Lakeview Course), October 10, 2016: Here I am in Morgantown, WV, about 90 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA to play the Lakeview Course at Lakeview Resort.   You obviously are asking why…and the answer is that this course was included in the group of courses rated #71-80 in Golf Digest’s list of The 100 Best Tests in the USA published in 1969.  It was also included in the group of courses rated #51-100 in GD’s 1971 and 1973 listings of USA 100 Greatest.  The course is in terrible shape and has few if any redeeming values (even views of lake are not real special).  This is a prime example of why rational, sane golfers (if there are any) do not pursue of Top 100 listing (unless they are both intellectually curious, and also very handsome).  Let’s move on!!

Pittsburgh Field Club, October 11, 2016:  The drive north to Pittsburgh was uneventful.  The great courses of the Pittsburgh area are located very close to each other.  On the southern side of the Alleghany River lie Oakmont CC and Longue Vue Club, while Fox Chapel GC and Pittsburgh Field Club lie on the northern side.  I had played Longue View in 1967 while I was at business school, Oakmont three times (first in 1976 and most recently in 2015), and Fox Chapel in 2013 and 2015, but had never play Pittsburgh Field Club. 

The clubhouse sits on top of a large hill (for those who have not been there, few cities in the US are as hillier than Pittsburgh…perhaps only San Francisco) and is very imposing.  The inside of the clubhouse exudes a sense of strength that is absolutely consistent with the “sense” of the city itself. 

The tee shot on the first hole is straight downhill to a level fairway…those with acrophobia might feel somewhat queasy on the tee.  The course has great flow, is in wonderful condition, and has a good number of strong holes.  Best by far is #9, a 418 yard downhill par 4 that doglegs left to right and offers an approach shot to a beautifully situated green angled to the right.  The fairway is full of big rolls and flat lies are difficult to find.  I took my one photo from the trip on #9…so here is what the approach shot looks like…the pin was toward the back of the green that day.
 
Second shot on Pittsburgh Field Club 9th hole---so much fun!!
Another superb hole is the par 4 17th which is 425 yards and requires a precise approach to the smallish well protected green with a fall off in back.  The 18th tee sits on a hill well well above the 17th green.  Many decades ago the club installed an outdoor elevator to bring players and caddies up a full 90’ to the level of the 18th tee.  As I was using a cart, I decided it would be inappropriate to try to drive the cart into the elevator.  Cannot remember seeing an elevator on any other course.  Bogeying the par 3 18th kept me from breaking 80 but I really did enjoy the course.  Its total length is 6783 yards (par 71).  In 1937, the PGA Championship was conducted at Pittsburgh Field Club and Denny Schute emerged victorious.

After the round I spent six hours or so driving to Richmond, VA…last stop on this “tour”.  Still no electricity at the Pinehurst home.  Pat is coping pretty well (better than I would).

That evening had dinner with another blogger, Steve XXXXX, otherwise known as The Itinerant Golfer.  His blog is much more professional than mine…I know that so you don’t have to remind me.  And yes, he has many more pictures than I do.  Seriously, Steve is a really good guy who I met about two years ago…and it was fun to catch up with him.  Tomorrow we are playing Belmont Golf Course together.

Belmont Golf Course, October 12, 2016:  We got off early and I was tired…lots of driving and and golf on this tour, and while there were a number of great and really fun courses on the trip, there were three really substandard one…and these rounds really drain the adrenaline.  But your hard working reporter trudges on through it all.

Belmont was formerly Hermitage Country Club and then moved to a new location in 1973.  Its original course then became Belmont Golf Course.  This is the course Steve and I played this day and the same course where Sam Snead won the PGS Championship in 1949.  Hermitage has never been included on a USA or World 100.

To tell the honest truth, this was another course that is not uplifting, I was tired, and I wanted to get back to Pat in Pinehurst.  At this point I can hardly remember the course…but I did get to play and “check off” the 1949 PGA Championship venue.  L The round did gibe Steve an me a chance to trade more “golf nut” stories, which is always enjoyable (at least for us nuts)!!

The drive to Pinehurst went smoothly and the power was still off…but it was great to back with Pat.  As a postscript, the power came back on the next afternoon.

Dormie Club, October 24, 2016

While not part of the trip south, on October 24 a fellow GD rater, Terry I. of FL was in Pinehurst and I played Dormie Club with Terry.  Terry puts me to shame in terms of golf courses played.  Here I was as of that date at 877 courses…and he stood at over 3000.  Wonderful guy with a heart of gold, and also a superb judge of architecture.

Over the past six years since its opening in 2010, I have played Dormie six times (including the 10/24/16 round).  It was designed by Coore & Crenshaw and is a beautiful design (albeit in a questionable location).  It was conceived as a high-end private club and seemed to be having trouble getting traction before the financial crisis hit in 2008.  Certainly the financial crisis did not help but the situation seems to continue to worsen…or at least not improve.  Dormie was rated #96 on Links Magazine’s final (12/31/14) USA Top 100 listing.

This round continued to show a wonderful design (except perhaps holes 8 and 10), but the deterioration in playing conditions is really starting to affect the quality of play.  I will be revising my Golf Digest rating after this round, and Dormie’s numbers will not be improving.

Bucket List Status

1. Courses played…877…do I go for 1000?
2. USA Top 100 EVER (GM, GD, GW-merged list, LinkMag-final, Top100golfcourses): 40 to go.
3. Completing Important Event Venues:
--US Open, Open Championship, Amateur Championship, Senior Open Championship, Walker Cup Matches, and Presidents Cup Matches---ALL COMPLETED
--PGA Championship Venues—21 courses to go
--US Am Venues—8 to go
--US Senior Open Venues—8 to go
--Cups (Ryder/Solheim/Curtis) Venues—9 to go
--US Mid-Amateur Venues—8 to go
--US Woman’s Open—27 to go (not actively pursuing…at least yet)

Note that there are repeats between the above…so pursuing all of the above except US Woman’s Open venues would require me to play 85 more courses (including just one overseas…the 2020 Curtis Cup venue in Wales)…adding in a US Woman’s Open bucket list brings the total to 106.

Current Plans

Pat left for a week with the Boston munchkins (we were both visiting the Colorado munchkins 10/21-24) and that will be followed by a Woman’s Member-Guest at Yeamans Hall November 7-9.  Sooo, I am knocking off some of the “to-go’s” mentioned above in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  More to come…  BTW, we both cast our ballots last week.  :-)

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