Tuesday, June 13, 2017

82. June 2017…knock off Maine and first 4 courses Upstate New York, June 5-8, 2017

June 2017…knock off Maine

Prouts Neck CC, June 2, 2017:  Having played 44 or the 50 States, I always have an eye out of an opportunity to knock off one or more of my remaining six (Alaska, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Maine).  I had tentatively planned to make a run up to Maine on Friday 6/2 and then the day before played at Brookline with my regular group of “grumpy old men” (a group where I feel right at home).  One of the guys mentioned that he was a member of Prouts Neck…which is 40 miles further north than the course I had picked to play but for sure would be worth the extra mileage. 

I left home around 6:00 Friday morning for the 115 mile drive.  Founded in 1907 and designed by Wayne Stiles, PNCC is located on a small peninsula on Maine’s Atlantic coast.  PNCC is on the west side of the peninsula (the “inside”) sitting alongside Saco Bay and the Nonesuch River (perfect name for a river in Maine!), about 10 miles south of Portland. 

Two of Stiles’ better tracks that I have had the opportunity to play are Gulph Mills (PA) and Taconic GC (MA).  The Wayne Stiles Society website lists over 75 still existing Stiles designed tracks of which about 60 are located in New England. 

I arrived at the club just after 8:00am but finding it proved to be my toughest task of the day.  The entrance driveway is a single lane dirt path leading about 50’ to a small clearing in the woods.  This is a true “waspy” enclave and its members see no need to spend big $$ to build large structures.  They are here for Maine as it used to be (to paraphrase the Bandon Dunes motto).  They are also here because of the peaceful nature of this beautiful site (more below).

There are 14 tennis courts sitting off of the 18th fairway, and the course stretches to a short 6055 yards (par 70).  The terrain is relatively flat (and as a result is a very pleasant walk) but the fairways are nicely rumpled and offer very few flat lies.  The greens are reputed to be beautifully crafted with subtle breaks, but unfortunately had been deep punched four days earlier and were covered with sand (standard practice) making subtle breaks impossible to notice.  Fully five holes run alongside the Bay or River, and the water is visible from almost every part of the course…making for a glorious site.  The club removed about a thousand (or thousands of??) trees recently and was nicely open.  It does not get much play given its small membership roll, and this early in the season with recently punched greens it was especially empty.  There were five players on the course ahead of me and I don’t think anyone played after I teed off. 

This is more than a beautiful site…it is a fun course.  It has never been on a Top 100 list and the chance of it even desiring to be on a Top 100 list is equal to the chance the sun will rise in the west tomorrow.  It is an escape for its members and they just want to enjoy it.  It offers challenges on a number of holes, but they are not there to “beat-up” the members or their guests.  Interestingly, Ran Morrissett (of golfclubatlas.com and an extremely astute observer of golf courses) played it with hickories about 5 days before I did (just before the greens were punched) and simply loved it.  If you get the opportunity, play it…but do not expect to be previewing a future US Open site…all you will get is a fun round of golf, in a beautifully peaceful setting…and in many ways, it doesn’t get any better than that!

After the round, I drove back down to Milton…pleased that I drove the extra miles to Prouts Neck….and of course pleased to get to 45 states!  Oh, and I shot a 41-36 = 77.  Holes #11 and #12 were closed due to standing water from heavy rains earlier in the week, so I played two balls and registered two scores on #15 and #18.

Upstate New York, June 5-8, 2017

Looking at my remaining bucket lists, it was clear that one “pocket” of courses that I needed to play was located in the upstate NY cities of Buffalo and Rochester (which are  about 75 miles apart).  Donald Ross designed a good number of courses in this area.   Both are directly west of Boston…Rochester about 385 miles and Buffalo about 460.  Looking at the schedule I decided to drive instead of flying and that made for a hectic 4 days. 

Additionally, the weather forecast was quite dire even up to the point when I left (around noon Monday 6/5).  While I thought there was a good chance that the trip could be a wipe out due to weather, I also knew that if things did clear up, I could not make the drive, etc. at the last minute. 

Finally, due to a heavy schedule of club events at most of the clubs I wanted to visit, the driving schedule was going to be more extensive than ideal…but as the saying goes “beggars cannot be choosers.”

Boston was heavily overcast as I left just before noon 6/5, but the drive went well with only two difficult pockets where I drove through heavy rains.  I arrived at my hotel around 5:45pm.  One good thing about my itinerary is that I would spend three straight nights in the same hotel…and the Woodcliff Hotel in Fairport, NY was excellent and relatively inexpensive.

My original plan was to play five courses…Monroe GC and Oak Hill CC (both East and West courses) near Rochester, and The Park CC and CC of Buffalo near Buffalo.  Just before leaving a received a call from the pro at Silo Ridge Field Club in the Hudson Valley between New York City and Albany, NY.  I had originally contemplated a trip to New York these 3-4 days and had called, and he was returning my call.  I realized I could fit in another round at Silo Ridge on my drive home 6/8, so we arranged a round for about 2pm that day.

Monroe Golf Club, June 6, 2017:  Monroe GC was designed by Donald Ross and opened for play in 1924.  In 2007, Gil Hanse developed a long term renovation plan for the course which was implemented over the next few years.  Today, Monroe plays to 6898 yards (par 70) from the tips.  It has never made one of the true USA Top 100 lists, but since the completion of its renovation and for the last 7 years, it has hovered between #80 and #100 on Golf Week’s Top 100 Classic Courses (currently #100). 

Since 1937, Monroe GC has hosted the Monroe Invitational Championship, one of the oldest and most respected amateur events in the country.  When I contacted Monroe’s head pro, Jim Mvra regarding the chances of playing Monroe during this time frame, he advised that this was the week of the MIC, but I could play in a members only shotgun event the morning of 6/6.  I was amazed that he would afford me this opportunity and jumped at the chance. 

The morning of 6/6 the forecast called for rain starting around 11am…but the forecast certainly looked better than it did the evening before.  I arrived at Monroe about an hour prior to the 8:45 shotgun start and Jim came out to greet me and show me around.  I was astounded…here he was running an event this week for 108 of the best young amateurs in the USA and Canada and he was giving me interesting stories about the history of Monroe.  Simply a wonderful guy (and as I later learned, 2011 PGA Golf Professional of the Year).

Monroe is built on magnificent land…just enough land movement as well as “rumpled” fairways…signs of the work of glaciers during the last ice age (before global warming commenced some 10,000 years ago..,Al Gore was there) and perfect for a golf course.  Fairways here are wide (as designed by Ross…there are certain advantages to having never hosted a major championship) offering a large range of options and angles (both good and bad) from which to play each shot (and these options are highly dependent on pin positions).  Most (but not all) of the greens slope sharply from back to front (typical of Ross greens).  Best holes include:

o   #5, 484 par 4 dogleg right…uphill off tee to crest about 200 yards short of the green, then sharply downhill to flat for the last 150 yards to green (plays with prevailing wind); perfect drive carries crest and runs out to flat part of fairway, but needs to be close to perfect;

o   #7, 389 par 4…key to this hole is the green; approach shot totally dependent on pin placement; green slopes very sharply from left front to back right and right edge guarded by two very deep bunkers; if pin is left, impossible to get down in two if you shortside yourself left of green, and if pin is back right, target coming in is very small to catch the slope correctly;

o   #13, 192 yard par 3, uphill to large sharply sloping green with a large false front and sitting on top of a hill (anything short will roll back 40 yards…at least mine did).

Pics follow:
Monroe Par 3 #13 from Tee--192 yards

Monroe Par 3 13th green from back right

Lie after drive on Monroe #15; confession, I moved it out of divot...and birdied; Cheating pays?

Monroe approach shot on par 4 #17

Monroe 7th green...note slope from front left to back right

Like most Ross tracks, the greens dictate play…and dictate all long shots.  Golf is something like pool…you play a shot to set up the next shot or the next 2 shots.  The slopes on some of Ross’ greens mean you are dead if you end up on the wrong side (as I ended up on #7 green and three putted with 3 good putts).  Nothing wrong with greens with impossible putts from certain positions to certain pins…so long as there are enough “pinnable” positions that have places to put an approach shot that leaves a makeable putt.

We finished the round with no rain and I considered that to be very lucky.  Ended up shooting 41-39 = 80.  Had a quick lunch with the flatbelly college kids, said thanks and goodbye to Jim and his staff and headed to Buffalo.

The Park Country Club, June 6, 2017:  The forecast for the afternoon for Buffalo was for overcast skies but no rain.  However, it was misting heavily on the drive west with no signs of letup as I approached The Park.  Perhaps it was time for my luck to run out?

The Park Country Club was founded in 1903 and subsequently moved to its current location in 1928.  The current course was designed by Charles Alison and Harry Colt, and in 1934 hosted the PGA Championship won by Paul Runyan (defeating Craig Wood in 38 holes).  The property if an interesting combination of very flat land and nicely moving terrain.  From the tips it stretches to 6908 yards (par 71), but during its current renovation (mainly rebuilding bunkers) will be stretched to just over 7000 yards.  For reasons unknown to me, it has never been included on a USA Top 100 listing (even the GW Classic or the GD 1966/67 200 Toughest). 

The Park’s clubhouse (see pictures below) is simply one of the most imposing structures I have ever seen on a golf course.  C. C. Wendehack, who also designed clubhouses at Winged Foot, Ridgewood, Bethpage, and Mountain Ridge, designed Park’s clubhouse as well.  I thought the clubhouse reminded me strongly of the clubhouse at Country Club of Detroit and it turns out that CCD’s clubhouse was designed by the firm of Smith Hinchman & Grylls…which is where C. C. Wendehack completed his career.  That is made more interesting by the fact that both Charles Alison and Harry Colt worked on both courses! (at least interesting to moi).

Best holes include (see pics below):

            #5, 228 yard flat par 3 with Elliot Creek to the right, behind and circling left;

            #9, 595 yard straight par 5 that runs flat for about 375 yards, then sharpy downhill and then flat again to green overseen by imposing clubhouse;

            #10, 195 yard uphill par 3, to green sloping strongly back to front and guarded in left front by deep bunker;

            #17, 386 yard par 4, flat off tee then uphill and to right to very difficult green; and
            #18, 445 par 4, heading directly toward imposing clubhouse (runs parallel to #9) with Elliot Creek fronting three tiered green sloping sharply back to front.

Park CC #9 from 250 yards...note modest clubhouse

Park #10 par 3 195 yards uphill

Park #18 par 4 approach shot w modest clubhouse

One final comment regarding the course.  Elliot Creek winds it way throughout the property and a series of arched wooded bridges cross the Creek (see photo).  These are very simple but magnificent bridges…the only set of better bridges I have seen on a golf course are at Sleeply Hollow (NY) and Addington (London, UK)…and the bridges at both of those transverse gorges and hollows, rather than creeks and are not arched like The Park’s.
Park CC--typical bridge over Elliot Creek--this on #13
It misted heavily for about 8 of the holes and was quite cold and windy…but I got the round in and very much enjoyed the course, so run of luck continued.  Played well (39 -39 =78).  When the renovations are completed this would be an excellent candidate for a USGA Senior Amateur.

After the round, met the head pro, Eddie Suchora, another wonderful guy. Then drove back to Rochester for dinner and sleep.  When will the low pressure front move on???

Oak Hill-East, June 7, 2017:  I was the first one off this morning…playing at 7am and the rain/drizzle had stopped…but the high pressure front brought with it winds from the northwest and cold air (48° when I teed off).  But allow me to describe the East Course.

First the history.  Oak Hill was founded in 1901 and the club leased a plot encompassing 85 acres on which 9 holes were constructed.  By 1910 additional land had been acquired and the course was now a full 18 holes.  In 1921 the University of Rochester proposed a land swap offering a 355 acre farm in Pittsford for Oak Hills’ land (on which they wanted to build a new campus).  The deal was consummated in 1924 and Donald Ross brought in to design two courses.  After a few big exhibitions and tournaments in the 1930’s and 1940”s (won by the likes of Leo Deigel, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan) the parade of major events started in 1948:

            US Amateur Championships (2)—1948 and 1998
            US Open Championships (3)—1956, 1968, and 1989
            PGA Championships (4)—1980, 2003, 2013, and announced for 2023
            Ryder Cup Matches (1)—1995
            US Senior Open Championship (1)—1984

In terms of Top 100’s, another glorious record. For World 100 listings:

            Highest Ever--#26 Golf World UK 2011
            Highest Current--#26 Golf World UK 2011 (last time published)
            Highest Ever Golf Magazine---#31 (1987 and 1995)
            Highest Ever Top100golfcourses.com--#44 (first list in 2006)
            Current Golf Magazine--#68
Current Top100golfcourses.com--#72
Of total of 41 lists…appeared on 30

For USA 100 lists:

Appeared on every one of the 68 lists
Highest Ever--#10 Golf Digest (2003)
Highest Current--#20 Golf Digest (2017)
Highest Ever Golf Week Merged List--#49 (2007)
Highest Ever Golf Magazine--#18 (1997)
Current Golf Week Merged List--#110
Current Golf Magazine List--#37      

Returning to design matters, just before the 1956 US Open, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. removed the par 3 6th hole and placed it near the entrance gate.  But within 15 years, George Fazio came in and built all new holes 4, 5 and 6, and made changes to 15 and 18.  This set the stage for Jack Nicklaus’ 1980 PGA win.

I had played the East one time previously, in 1981.  I vividly recall the new holes 4-6 feeling very much “out of place” with the rest of the course.   Going back further, I remember the 1956 US Open as being the first US Open I noticed…having started playing this silly game 50 weeks earlier (early July 1955)…and recall Sports Illustrated’s write up discussing the monstrously long 13th hole at Oak Hill East.

OK, enough history.  Now for my reaction to today’s course.  First of all, it is in great condition (even if a little too green, but this was after some heavy rain).  Second, no question this is a tough tough test of golf. Third, the trees are magnificent…beautiful to look at and sit under to enjoy the shade.  However, IMAHO (“AH” = always humble):

1.     if one agrees that one of the superb tests of greatness in a golf course is “when you putt out on 18, do you immediately want to head to the first tee to do it again”, then Oak Hill-East has issues.  Only the criminally insane would want “to do it again” here.
2.     The course has way too many trees that crowd out the angles and options designed in by Ross…at least 600 trees should be removed.
3.     As soon as those trees get taken down, the next step will be to widen then fairways which are simply too narrow to provide interesting options…virtually all bunkers should lie within the fairway so that the ball can reach them.  While I have not seen Ross’ original drawings for OH-E, the drawing for Mountain Ridge and Monroe both reflect fairways 50-60 yards in width…that is what Ross intended.
4.     Holes 4, 5 and 6 still look wildly out of place…the fairway bunkers on 4 look unlike any other bunkers on the property…and the creek on 5 and 6 looks totally artificial.
5.     On hole 15, the stone wall and pond to the right front of this par 3 look as much like a Ross hazard as I look like Donald Ross
6.     The location of the creek on some holes (especially #13) was superb until tour pros started hitting drives over 300 yards on a regular basis…so now #13 is a 594 par 5, uphill for the last 125 yards or so, and the creek starts at 307 from the tee and requires a 320 yard carry to clear it.  As a result, without a strong helping wind no pro would try to carry it, and some would have to hit an iron or utility...on a 594 yard par 5.

Oak Hill-East #2 from behind green--do not be long here

Oak Hill-East #15--does this look like Ross?

My sense is that this was a great design that has been altered so many times (and has been affected by changes in equipment, etc.) that it no longer is the course it was.  This is reflected in the GW and GM ratings shown above. 

BTW…I frankly doubt that the club will proceed with the type of changes I suggest (nor should they based only on my thoughts).  The property has at least two commemorative plaques (see pics) on display citing the work of Dr. John R.Williams who at one point stopped counting the trees he had planted when his count exceeded 75,000!!  I firmly believe visits by Bill Coore, Tom Doak, and Gil Hanse (in alphabetical order) are necessary, but might not work.

Oak Hill East--Two plaques commemorating Dr. Williams who planted 75,000+ trees!!

One last interesting note...there was a ladies member guest scheduled later in the day...on this hole, instead of a prize for closest to the center of the fairway (marked with the rope)...here they play closest to a rope that zig zags...see black rope in picture...making result totally random...could not make this up?

see closest to rope rope diagonally across fairway

After the round, it was back to the hotel for a needed nap, and then drove to Buffalo and to play Country Club of Buffalo.  One final note…I had a 43-41 = 84.

Country Club of Buffalo, June 7, 2017:  Round trip from Rochester to Buffalo and back started around 1:30pm on 6/7, and I arrived at CCB around 2:45. 

CCB was founded in 1889 and golf was first played at the club in 1894.  New land was acquired in 1900 which included an 18 hole course revamped by Walter Travis in 2010-11 in anticipation of the US Open played at CCB in 1912.  As an aside, in late July 2015 I played that CCB course (now a muni called Grover Cleveland) and almost shot my age.  The present property was acquired in the early/mid 1920’s and the Ross course opened in 1926.  In 1950, CCB hosted the Curtis Cup.

CCB has never appeared on any  GHD, GM or merged GW Top 100 list (highest rating being #146 on GW’s merged 2005 list).  On the GW Top 100 Classic list, it appeared in 2011, ’10, ’06, ’05, and ’04…highest being #80 in ’05 and ’04.

This is a very interesting track in many ways.  First, holes #1 and #18 are on the clubhouse (east) side of Youngs Road, and holes 2-17 on the west side of Youngs Road.  Second, most of the course was built on top of the Onondaga escarpment and therefore on and through a large limestone quarry.  Holes 6, 13, 17 and 18 sit below the top of the escarpment and the rest (for the most part) sit above it.  Interestingly, the drainage on the upper level holes is amazing…with all the rain over the prior few days, the fairways and greens were absolutely firm and fast. 

There are several truly golf holes at CCB worthy of comment.  First and foremost is #6, known as one of the great “Volcano Holes” in the world.  While the tee lies on top of the escarpment, Ross constructed a large hill within the quarry and placed the green on top of the hill.  The green slopes from back left top front right, necessitating a draw off the tee (plays 187 yards from back tee…I played it from 161 yards with wind against).  The green is fully 45 yards deep.  I hit a solid 3 utility to about 20’ and sunk the putt for my birdie.  Even without the birdie it is a fabulous hole!!

CC of Buffalo #6 Volcano hole...par 3 187 yards...two views

#11 is also very good…a dogleg right par 4 of 453 yards (I played from 404 yards) and the last 125 yards is over a portion of the quarry as well (but the green sits above the limestone).  See pic below:

CC of Buffalo #11 from right edge of fairway from 125 yards---across  quarry

Other good holes are #5, #10, #12, #16, and #18.  Unfortunately, many of the other holes are fairly ordinary, in part because the limestone means the bunkers must be very shallow.  BTW, total of 128 bunkers on the course.

I ended up with a 40-43 = 83.  Was tired on the back nine but got a second wind for the last 4 holes.  Overall a fun course, but not a USA top 100 (too many ordinary holes).

Played with a young assistant pro, Mike Shine who is a really good guy as well as a Golf Week panelist from Chicago, Paul R. (another Paul R. that is) who turned out to be almost as much of a golf nut as I am. 

We finished playing around 7:10pm and I had a 75 minute drive back to my hotel so quickly headed back to Rochester.  Sleep required and am teeing off at 7am Thursday.  Another 36 and lots of driving!!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the write-ups Paul! I would have loved to have joined you on your Buffalo/Rochester excursions, as I live just on the other side of the border near Niagara Falls, Ontario. I've played Oak Hill East but somehow I haven't been out to CC of Buffalo or Park Club yet. Soon to be rectified! If you find yourself back in the Buffalo or Toronto area, let me know and we can tee it up together (I'm also a GD panelist btw).

    Best regards,
    Matt Bosela
    St. Catharines, ON. Canada