Thursday, November 9, 2017

103. Atlanta, Chattanooga, and St. Louis, Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2017

Atlanta, Chattanooga, and St. Louis, Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 2017

Capital City Club-Crabapple Course, October 30, 2017:  I flew into ATL later on Sunday night to get an early start Monday, but early morning frost took care of that idea.  When I awoke, it was 32°F and this is still October.  In any case, that pushed our starting time back to 10am and would make for a tight day…as I then had a drive of about 2:15 up to TN (about 25 miles west of Chattanooga) to play Sweetens Cove…a nine holer so it might still be possible.

Capital City Club is one of the great clubs in the South.  Founded as a downtown eating club in 1883, it built a 9 hole course in 1913 in the Brookhaven section of Atlanta and then two years later expanded the course to 18 holes and purchased the land.  In 1999 Capital City Club purchased from one of its members a 600-acre farm in Milton, GA and by 2001 Tom Fazio had completed The Crabapple Course on this site.  The clubhouse was completed in 2002.

The following year, Crabapple hosted the American Express World Golf Championship and Tiger Woods won (surprise!), shooting a 6-under 274 (course played as a par 70).  In October 2017, it hosted the 2017 US Mid-Amateur Championship won by Matt Parizle, a fireman from Brockton, MA.  Crabtree has never appeared on a US Top 100.

I arrived at about 9am and was brought into the dining area to meet my host, another GD Panelist, Steve W.  There was a group of about 8 guys there (I presumed all were members) and I was introduced to all…including one very young guy whose first name was Ricky but I could not hear his last name.  Turns out it was Ricky Fowler, who was playing Crabapple with two members.  I did not figure out what happened until a couple of minutes later.

The course has very big wide corridors, and recently has introduced native grasses outside of the normal rough on many holes.  The native grasses look like long fescue from a distance but once you get up close or in the stuff, trust me it is very different.  I only had the pleasure twice, and double bogeys or worse ensued both times.  Pretty from a distance, but very ugly up close…plus the unkempt land here is loaded with fire ant colonies.  I have never experienced that sensation but have been advised that it is not something good.  I would also guess snakes frequent this overgrowth, but I did not see any.

The bunkering at Crabapple is superb…very much like Augusta National’s stylistically.  And the fairway bunkering on the par 5’s is brilliant, with Tillinghast-like cross bunkers perfectly placed to capture a second shot that is not well struck or thought out.  Overall the conditioning is superb, and the greens are simply perfect.  There is more use of big gentle slopes than mounds, but at the speeds these greens can get to, anything much more than a gentle slope becomes almost unplayable.  From the Championship tees it plays 7289 yards and with all the land available and the routing/layout, there is almost no limit to how long this course could play.

One interesting aspect of the design is that there are few lakes or ponds on the course.  There is a forced carry on the 191 yard 6th hole, a hazard to the right of the par 4 14th, and a narrow stream that might come into play on about 5 holes, but otherwise no water (note that the “native grasses” in some ways act like hazards).

I hit the ball well and putted very well.  Blew up for doubles on #9 and 10 due primarily to not knowing the course and had a 42 - 42 = 84.  Not at all unhappy with that given I was seeing course for first time.

We finished about 2:10pm and I had to run to get to Chattanooga…had a 2:30 drive and sunset was in about 4 hours 20 minutes…had to hustle but the guys I was playing with understood fully.

Sweetens Cove Golf Club, October 30, 2017:  In early 2017, Golf Week published its 2017 list of USA Top 100 Classic and Top 100 Modern courses and I quickly perused both lists to see what additions it brought to my bucket lists.  While there were no new courses on my Merged GW Top 100, there was a course, Sweetens Cove Golf Club appearing for the first time on the Modern list and located near Chattanooga, TN.  As I had a few courses to play near Atlanta, I figured I would go up and play it.  Then over the past 7-8 months I started to hear small rumblings about how special SCGC is…including an article that I found while Googling for background on SCGC…an article in the New York Times: (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/sports/golf/sweetens-cove-golf-club-rob-collins.html)

Now I am a firm believer in correcting any previous statements I may have made that were not accurate, so here goes.  For quite some time I have been saying that everything in the NYT is fake news.  Well, I need to correct that…this article is the one exception that proves that rule.  Read it (but nothing else in that rag).

I arrived at the course around 3:50 (CDT)…sunset was at 5:51pm CDT.  But being 9 holes, I knew there would be no problem getting in a round. 

This is not exactly Augusta National…nor does it claim to be.  The clubhouse is a metal shed from Home Depot and the locker room consists of a port-o-let nearby.  But this is pure golf, and was built with the imagination, sweat, hard work, and determination of two men…Rob Collins and Tad King.  SCGC totals 3301 yards for 9 holes and every inch of this yardage in memorable.  The greens are of every size and shape imaginable and have humps, bumps and rolls in them that would confound Bobby Locke, Ben Crenshaw, and Jordan Speith.  The 4th hole is a par 3 with a green that is 90 yards deep and must have at least 15 different “sections.”  
Back half of #4 green at SC from right side of green...pin was in far back position

Front half of #4 green at SC from right side of green

The 8th green (387 yd par 4) is an angled “Biarritz” green (with two relatively flat portions separated by a “valley” about 3-4 feet lower than the flat sections) and the 9th is a quirky but well done Redan (if you don’t know what a Redan is,  it is too long to explain) with multiple tiers (which I birdied). 
Biarritz green on SC #8...par 4 and green angled to left
Redan Hole #9 at SC; pin on left and note "clubhouse" over center of green (to right of leftmost utility pole)

Redan green on #9 from right side...note multiple levels on downslope...never have seen this adaptation on a Redan



And like most brilliant courses, the fairways roll in all directions and the lies are never level.  I played the first three holes in 6-6-7 and ended up with a 43---and laughed every moment…birdie or double bogey.
Front pin postion on #2 with major upslope in front of green and backstop behind pin...I spend too much time in front of green

Short par 4 #5

Approach shot on par 5 #3...green extends to left of tree and pin is right...fairway is very wide but tree,  pin position, and  massive green slopes dictate optimal (and terrible) angles

At the start of the financial crisis, with the golf industry collapsing around them Collins and King found an fairly ordinary course here, purchased it, and started designing and digging. 

After completing play I talked for 15 minutes with a young man from Chicago who regularly comes to this part of TN to play SCGC.  We compared noted about the brilliance and daring of the design.  Go there (South Pittsburgh, TN) to play it.  Simply amazing.  Hoping to meet Rob Collins in the near future.

On the drive back to my hotel in Chattanooga, I thought back to the golf courses I have seen for the first time so far this year...through November 8 I have played a total of 113 played for the first time…including an amazing collection of daring “hidden gems”.  The ten that stand out the most are (in chronological order of my play):

            -Wolf Point, TX
            -Rustic Canyon GC, CA
            -We-ko-pa GC (Saguaro), AZ
            -Beverly CC, IL
            -Moraine CC, OH
            -Harvester GC, IA
            -Gamble Sands GC, WA
            -Askernish GC, Scotland
            -Brora GC, Scotland
            -Sweetens Cove GC, TN

A year of discovery.

Lookout Mountain Golf Club, October 31, 2017:  Lookout Mountain sits in Georgia and from the top of LM one looks north to Chattanooga almost 2000’ below.  The view here is simply spectacular and reminded me of the 17th hole at Roaring Gap GC in NC…except here the view is available on every hole.

LMGC has a fascinating history.  Seth Raynor designed LMGC and Raynor died at the age of 51 on January 26, 1926 in Palm Beach FL after contracting pneumonia.  At the time, he was in the middle of several projects, including Cypress Point where he had completed the routing, and a course for “Fairyland Development”, a planned resort on top of Lookout Mountain, where Raynor and his able protégé Charles Banks, had recently completed routing plans.  After Raynor’s untimely passing, Banks continued the project.  The course was seeded a when a major storm (these actually happened prior to the onset of “global warming” and prior to when weather conditions started changing… “climate change”) washed away a number of newly planted holes.   Construction costs had already exceeded original plans (getting machinery up to the top of Lookout Mountain would not have been a simple task) and the onset of the Depression further slowed the club’s progress…and Raynor’s original layout was never properly completed.

The some 70 years later, the club’s head pro, Brett Mullen, and other important members of Chattanooga’s golf community including Lew Oehmig and his son King Oehmig started the ball moving toward reviewing and implementing Raynor’s original plans and design.  Architect Brian Silva was brought in and played a major role convincing the membership of the course’s wonderful potential, and the renovation project started in earnest in 1997.  It has included restoring many of Raynor’s bunkers (now totaling 76) that were either never built or built but subsequently filled to reduce maintenance costs, and restoring the greens to their planned dimensions.
LM #2 ("Valley")...uphill par 4 of 445 yards with 11 of the 76 bunkers

The land moves in every direction and the slope of the land can fool a player.  As I was playing 36/day and my right knee was acting up, it was a cart for me…and one can always feel great fairways in a cart (the cart bounces around instead of the smooth ride one experiences on flat fairways).  Most experienced golfers are familiar with courses near mountains or large bodies of water…where fairways and greens slope away from mountains or toward the water.  But LMGC is located on the top of a plateaued mountain…and greens 1, 12, 17, and 18 slope toward the west while the other 14 greens slope toward the east.  I have never been so perplexed by a set of greens…and the funny thing is, every break was obvious, after I putted.  I ended up with a not so smooth 44 – 45 =89.  This course plays 6613 yards (par 70/71) and me thinks it will tear apart most first time players.  It was in good condition.  Fun and tough…but gettable if you play smart (I did not).  A wonderful combination.  There is more work that could be done and I hope the club continues to bring it up to its enormous potential.  LMGC has never been on a Top 100, but clearly has the potential as a USA Classic Top 100.  This, like most Raynor shrines, deserves nothing less. 
LM #4 "Biarritz" par 3...224 yards, with valley/dip in front of green and pin front left

LM #5 ("Bowl") par 4 390 yards...looks easy to run it in from left side except for very slight upshoot in front of green


Par 5 10th ("Cape") 570 yards...that is not the 10th green on distant right...hole doglegs left around trees

Fabulous green setting on #11 "Alps" par 4 of 418 with back pin  (but do not go over..or left or right)


After thanking LMGC’s bright and engaging head pro, Adam Campbell, I was headed south back toward Atlanta…but with a stop in Dalton, GA at The Farm.

The Farm Golf Club, October 31, 2017: If the room you are in right now has a carpet or rug on its floor, there is a good chance that it was manufactured near Dalton, GA.  Locate about 30 miles southeast of Chattanooga, TN and 90 miles northwest of Atlanta, GA, Dalton sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  In 1985, one of the leaders of the local carpet industry, Bob Shaw, convinced Tom Fazio to design and build a course on a 500-acre farm Shaw owned and the course opened for play in 1988.  Today it totals 7012 yards (par 72).  The Farm was on GW’s Modern Top 100 from its first list in 1997 through 2005 and peaked at #51 (Modern) in 2000…during that period it never reached #100 on the Merged GW list…with the 2000 peak bringing it to #102.  In 2005 The Farm hosted the US Senior Amateur.

I thought it was a good Fazio course but agree with the ratings, it is not a great course deserving of a Top 100.  The front nine has a number of fairly ordinary holes (#6 being a superb exception), but the 

The Farm #6...403 yard par 4 uphill...and do not be short (like I was)

back nine is very very good IMO.  The course was in excellent condition.  Best hole IMO is #6 (see pic), and worst #2 (601 yard par 5 from back and 575 from member tees and 568 from senior tees…dead flat with a pond extending all the ay to the green on the left side).  How many seniors can reach a green like that in 3?  Not I.  I hit the ball very well on the back and finished 43 – 38 = 81 with just 15 putts on the back. 
The Farm downhill par 3 #13 169 yards to front pin

After the round I had my last long drive of the trip (about 100 miles) but it was late enough that I missed most of Atlanta’s awful rush hour traffic.

TPC at Sugarloaf, November 1, 2017:  Sugarloaf has three nines (Stables, Meadows, and Pines) and was designed by Greg Norman and opened in 1997.  I have been trying to play Sugarloaf since February 2015 with no success…due to weather, overseeding, or events at the club.  Finally it looked like I would get it done.  The Stables/Meadows combination  was on the GW Merged Top 100 in 2000 as #84 (and was included on The GW Modern Top 100 from 1998-2001.  After some emails and phone call, I was set up to play Stables/Meadows at 8:55am. 

I arrived at the pro shop and was informed that the Meadows nine was closed due to overseeding and I would play Pines/Stables.  My heart dropped into my stomach but I was wise enough to stay calm.  Fortunately, the emails specifying Stables/Meadows were on my iPhone, and I explained to the assistant pro that I had to play those nines to submit a rating (carefully not mentioning my bucket lists).  I also told him I would take care to minimize my steps on overseeded areas and would base my “conditioning” rating on Stables.  He went back to the offices (probably to discuss this with the head pro) and shortly came back out saying it was OK.  I quickly left the pro shop and headed first to the Meadows to get on to it before they changed their minds.  When I was playing the 8th hole of Meadows, another person was coming the other way on the cart path and looked shocked to see me there.  I introduced myself as a GD rater and he introduced himself as the General Manager.  I told him how much I liked the design and drove off to the 9th tee!

Was much relieved to finish Meadows and then get on Stables.  Truth is Stables was not in great shape either as it had obviously been overseeded a couple of weeks earlier.  Frankly the course did very little for me.  It has some dramatic holes but there are homes lining both sides of almost every fairway and the typical long hauls from green to tee.  No. 9 on Meadows (which is #18 on the championship course layout) is good. 

Was very pleased to have this one in my rear view mirror.  After a few thank you’s, especially to the assistant pro, it was off to Atlanta Country Club.  Some of you will remember that Atlanta CC hosted the PGA Tour’s Atlanta Classic from 1967-96 and then moved to Sugarloaf from 1997-2008, so this was to be my Atlanta Classic day, but in the opposite order.

Atlanta Country Club, November 1, 2017:  I lived in Atlanta from 1995-2000 and was a member of Settindown (not misspelled) Creek GC 1995-07 and then Atlanta CC 1997-2000.  I had not been back to ACC since late August 2000 and was looking forward to this visit.  In addition to hosting the Atlanta Classic for 30 years, ACC hosted the US Senior Amateur in 1968 and the US Women’s Amateur in 1971, and in 1974 it hosted the inaugural Players Championship (the TPC Sawgrass-Stadium Course did not open until 1980).

About 2 years after I left the club they tore down the old clubhouse and built a new one…a major major improvement…the new clubhouse is very well done.  There were minor changes to the course in terms of design and the overall condition of the tees and fairways were much improved.  However, the bent grass greens were clearly stressed and lacked a deep root structure.  The head pro said they were planning to redo the greens in the next 3-4 years…and I voiced strong support for such a move.

I have always liked ACC’s design…the lands had lots of movement and the homes that line the fairways are well back.  Best holes IMO are #6, 10, 15, and 18 (#18 is a 498 par 5 which would make en excellent par 4 for championship play….but at 7110 yards ACC is now too short for the flatbellies).  It was designed by Bill Byrd and Joe Finger (opening in 1965) and has since undergone remodeling by Bob Cupp in 1990 and Mike Riley in 2001.  It was on Golf Digest’s USA Top 100 from 1969-1989 and then reappeared in 1995 and 2003.  Its highest rating was in the 5th ten (41-50) on GD’s 1969 “Best Tests” list.

I had a 38 – 41 = 79 with the back nine marred by two double bogies…was very pleased with my play.

Druid Hills Golf Club, November 2, 2017: Druid Hills was founded in 1912 and was designed by H. H. Barker.  In has undergone two renovations, first in 1936 by A. W. Tillinghast and then by Bob Cupp in 2003.  I had never played it before and actually knew very little about it.  In June it hosts the Dogwood Invitational, a highly rated Amateur event.  In 1951 it hosted the US Women’s Open where Betsy Rawls won her first of 4 Women’s Opens.

I very much enjoyed the course and found its “flow” to be excellent, despite the most unusual sequence of holes in terms of par that I have ever seen:
            Front nine: 4-4-4-4-4-3-5-3-5
            Back nine: 4-4-4-3-5-4-4-3-5
But then again, Cypress Point (my personal World #1) has two par 5’s in a row (#5 and 6) and two par 3’s in a row (#15 and 16)…so who knows?  Best hole by far is the 376 yards uphill par 4 15th (see pic).  
Druid Hills #15 uphill par 4 to green just above cart in pic

Course is in good shape and had removed hundreds of trees but needs to remove more trees that are restricting air flow and blocking sunlight. 

I played great firing a 38 – 38 = 76 with no 6’s and no 3 putts.  Hit it solidly and putted well.
After saying thanks to (and trading some golf stories with) the head pro, it was off to ATL airport for my flight to St Louis.

Norwood Hills Country Club-West, November 3, 2017: It was wonderful to get to see Judy T. …Pete was on a business trip to Philadelphia.  Judy and Pete have been wonderful friends for about 47 years…Pete and I worked at Ford and Citibank together and all of us are filled both fun and not so much fun memories that are part of close friendships over multiple decades.

Founded in 1922, Norwood Hills was at one time one of the premier clubs in St. Louis (which was one of the Midwest’s premier cities in the around that time).  NHCC has 36 holes designed by Wayne Stiles, most of whose work was in the northeast (including Gulph Mills-PA, Taconic-MA, Prouts Neck-ME and Putterham-MA).  NHCC hosted the 1948 PGA Championship won by Ben Hogan, his 2nd PGA Championship victory and third major.  In 1972 and 1973, the St. Louis Open was played at NHCC with Lee Trevino and Gene Littler coming out on top.  In 2001, the USGA held the Senior Am at Norwood Hills and next year it will host the Women’s Mid-Am.

I was here to knock off one of the two Major venues I had not yet played.  Frankly, I did not expect that much…and quite honestly, I was very pleasantly surprised. 

First the condition…Norwood Hills had the best greens I played all week.  They were great.  I found out later that they are lightly top dressed every Monday of golf season.  The fairways and tees were also in very good condition. 

The basic design of the coursed is excellent.  Best holes are #6 (400 yard par 4 with brilliant green) and #11 (301 yard left to right and downhill drivable par 4 where Hogan closed out Mike Turnesa in the final match).
NH #6 from tee...note \rise on right side of green
#6 green from right...you want to hit right side of green and kick left down slope...but if you are too far right you end up on plateau above green and are dead!

Plaque on #11 tee...was 12th hole in 194; Hogan won 36 hole match 7 and 6.

I had another excellent round…41 – 36 = 77.  Golf game feels good.

Gave my thanks and compliments to the guys in the pro shop and was off to Old Warson CC.

Old Warson Country Club, November 3, 2017:  After a quick lunch with Judy and their oldest daughter and granddaughter, I headed over to Old Warson.

Old Warson was founded in 1953 and designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.  It was remodeled by Jones in 1994 and by Hale Irwin (a long standing member of OWCC) in 1999, but its basic design had not materially changed. 

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I played OWCC about 10-12 times, often at a Pro-Am event benefitting the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.  Hale Irwin hosted the pro-am and Pete T. was on the event’s organizing committee.  I had not played OWCC in over 30 years.

OWCC hosted the 1971 Ryder Cup Matches where the US team easily won.  In 1999 OWCC hosted the US Mid-Amateur, in 2009 the US Woman’s Amateur, and in 2016 the US Senior Amateur.  In terms of Top 100’s, OWCC was a regular on GD’s Top 100 from 1966-1991 and reappeared in 1995, 1997, and 2003.  Its peak position on GD was #77 in 1993 and 1995. Its only appearance on Golf Magazine’s USA Top 100 was in GM’s initial USA listing at #91 in 1991.

The course was in superb condition and the short Pin Oaks that I recalled from over 30 years ago have grown up and out.  I would like to see some more tree removal, but what else would you expect from me?  Best holes are #8, 10, and 16.  Had a 42-40 = 82…and was tired.  Looking forward to getting home tonight.

Flight was on time and I arrived home just before midnight.  Pat was fast asleep.  As always, was great to be home and with her!

Bucket List Status:
Getting down to the end here but with most of my remaining courses in the north, most remaining progress will have to wait until late Spring 2018:

Top 100 USA Ever…total of 347 courses and I have 4 to go (3 in MI and one in FL)
Men’s Major Venues Ever…one left…Birmingham CC (MI) (1953 PGA Championship)
Senior Open Venues Ever…one left…Warren Course at Notre Dame (IN) 2018
Mid Amateur Venues Ever…one left…Hartford GC (CT) 1996
Five Cup Venues Ever…two left…The Greenbrier (Ryder 1979 and Solheim 1994) and Denver CC       (Curtis 1982)

DONE:
Played in all 50 states
Played all US Amateur Venues
Played all Walker Cup and Presidents Cup Venues
Played all Senior Open Championship Venues and Amateur Championship Venues
Played over 1000 courses in my lifetime (now 1007).


Oh...and since we are talking numerical milestones, even my car hit one: 200,000 miles on November 7, 2017.

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