Sunday, December 16, 2018

1006. July 7-11, 2014: CO, ID, MT, and WY

1006.  July 7-11, 2014: CO, ID, MT, and WY.


Email 7/8/2014:

Woke up at 3:25am Monday morning to catch a 5:50am flight from Boston to Denver.  Landed at about 8:15am, got car and arrived at Sanctuary around 10:10am.  It is very close to Castle Pines, a Nicklaus couse Pat and I played in 2010 and both of us, to put it nicely, underappreciated.

Sanctuary was built by Dave Liniger, who founded Re/Max International, Inc. a large real estate brokerage.  Dave and his wife are the only 2 members.  Most of the play appears to be reward play for Re/Max brokers and managers who meet goals, as well as a large number of charitable events and outings.  For the latter, Dave and his wife deserve big kudo's.

It's highest USA Top 100 ratings have been #48 on GD (1999), #54 on GW's merged list (2003), and never on GM.  It's last appearance on a top 100 was in GD in 2009 (#96).  It opened in 1997 and was designed by Jim Engh.  

The course is at about 6500' and while the scorecard shows back tees of 7044 yards, adjusting for altitude brings the effective yardage to about 6300 yards, and the course plays net downhill (as you generally go uphill from green to the next tee). So my guess is that it plays to about 6200 yards max from the back.  I played combo tees (mix of tips and next set, or a scorecard yardage of 6613 yards...played like about 5800.  On #1 I played from 574 yard tees and hit a so so drive, good 3 utility, and a 9 nine to pin high, and the course was very soft.  Vertical drop on #1 is 62 yards!

The views everywhere on the course are absolutely spectacular. See following pics.  But the course is built on extremely hilly land...it is essentially unwalkable.   While it has some very good holes, there are only 2 relative flat holes (both par 3's).  Not sure what else Jim Engh could have done with the land, but why try to build a course on land such as this???  Course was very very soft, and greens have been hit by a lot of Poa this year.  Net net, despite the fabulous views this one is not worth a trip. 

Flight Monday night delayed by thunderstorms in Denver...arrived Spokane 12:30am Tuesday...playing Black Rock and Gozzer Ranch near Coeur d'Alene starting at 8am today (tuesday).  Good thing for golf carts!!
Sanctuary #1--downhill par 5 of 604 yds...so this is what if feels like at top of Olympic ski-jump!
Sanctuary #2 par 4 458 yards
One of the few uphill holes at Sanctuary--par 4 8th of 380 yds
Par 3 10th at Sanctuary...206 yards

Email 7/10/2014:

Hertz stayed up late for me on Monday night, so when I arrived at Spokane WA airport, my car was there.  Short drive to hotel and too short a night of sleep.  In morning, met Fergal O'Leary at Black Rock.  Fergal is from Boston by way of Ireland (bet you might have guessed that) and we were introduced a few weeks ago.  He plays to plus one, is a former TCC caddy, a Golf Digest rater, a great guy, and another golf architecture nut.  Has played 95 of World 100 and is hoping to finish these last 5 off Down Under in about 5 months...and he is just a lad of 31 years!

Black Rock sits above the Lake at Coeur d'Alene...an incredibly beautiful resort area in northern ID...about 45 miles east of Spokane. BR is a very upscale club, with a fabulous clubhouse and many beautiful homes.  But, more importantly, on to the golf.  

The golf course was designed by James Engh, the same architect who designed Sanctuary.  What a difference good land makes. This track is gorgeous and sits comfortable on the land.  Current USA ratings...just Golf Digest #58 (highest #27 in 2009); was rated #98 in GW but never reappeared, and never made it on GM.  I do not want to get into detailed specifics of my rating evaluation, but suffice it to say that it is really hurt by its conditioning...BR suffers from the "green disease".  This is a location that (according to weather.com) had zero rain for the prior 10 days, and just 1.9" in the month of June (average for June is 2.0")..and the fairways and greens were soft and in some cases wet.  A good number of drives got all of 3-12" of roll!  What a shame...would play so great as a firm fast track.  I had very strange round...one over thru 4, then 7 over on 5-9, then even par 36 on back (2 under for 11-17) for an weird 80..almost like I caught up on missing sleep from 5-9.  Played from 6489 yards, par 72...course is at about 2400' so probably played about 6300 yards...with soft fairways.  Many many excellent holes, and some fabulous views (even though the phony waterfalls were not to our liking).  Best holes are (yardages from back tees):

#3--611 yd par 5...sharply downhill and turns right with green slightly raised above creek in front (birdied it).  Required smart play and placement of all three shorts as holes has several "plateaus" as it trundles downhill.  
#5--556 yd par 5...uphill and turning left off tee, then right for second, then left to horseshoe shaped green.  Sits perfectly on land and long bunker protects left side for 2nd shot.  Tee shot fooled me into aiming too far right (into creek) but recovered by sinking 7' putt for bogey.
#6--428 yds, down off tee then slightly up to green with water protecting right side as well as front of green on second shot (see picture...but hard to see all of water in pic).  Very tough hole and the real start of my nap.
Black Rock #6 par 4...water right of fairway and short of
green.
#7--233 yd par 3 with large bunker protecting front of green.  In perfect setting with large hill surrounding left, back, and right of green.

#11--413 yd par4 sharp dogleg left, with green raised on top of ledge (surrounded by hill behind it and huge boulders protecting both sides and stream (and The Donald waterfalls in front)...not really great hole since so artificial, but "pretty" picture shown below
Black Rock #11--approach shot on dogleg left 428 yd par 4--be careful!!

#14--157 yd par3 with rock/boulder wall extending around back of green...for you Boston folks, wall reminded me a little of #12 at Putterham
Black Rock #14 par 3 with wide shallow green backed by rock wall

#15--543 yd par 4 uphill all the way, sharp dogleg left...no bunkers on hole and none needed...fits perfectly into setting...wish I had a picture.


In summary, excellent design (except for artificial waterfalls), but conditioning really is negative in ratings...bet the members love the color green, but they don't know what they are missing.

Email 7/10/2014:

After finishing round at Black Rock, Fergal and I each drove around the lake to Gozzer Ranch.  Layout is par 72 and plays to 7317 yds from back.  GR opened in 2008 or 2009...certainly not the time you would want to have opened a new course (at least if you wanted it to be reasonably successful).  It is currently rated #27 in USA on Golf Digest (initial rating),  #68 on my merged Golf Week list (highest on GW was #52 in 2011), and #74 on the GM top 100 in USA (highest was initial rating of #70 in 2011).  It was designed by Tom Fazio, and that was so very hard to believe (quite frankly).

It is far and away the best Tom Fazio track I have ever played.  It doesn't look like a Fazio, feel like a Fazio, or play like a Fazio...and, sorry Tom, but that is all meant as a compliment to GR.  Both Fergal and i thought it looked, felt, and played so much like a Coore & Crenshaw...ragged edges to bunkering, wonderful use of fescue, holes perfectly placed on the land and fitting together beautifully (but without screaming at you).  The front nine is very very good, but the back nine is nothing short of superb.  As with Black Rock, wonderful views of the Lake and surrounding areas, but a much more natural feeling layout.  

There are so so mnay really good holes here.  Best are as follows:

--#4, a 278 yd slightly uphill par 4 (very drivable for non 69 year olds) to a small green tucked right and sitting on a small crest with a severe false front
--#7, 205 yd par 3, shrply downhill to smallish green and The Lake in background (pic)
Gozzer Ranch downhill par 3 7th
--#8, 605 yard par 5 , downhill off tee and then up and turning left; reverse camber fairway makes it tough to feel comfortable (pic)
Gozzer #8
--#11, 475 par 4 fairly flat but rolling gently down to green...and infinity green.  tee shot must be on right side or you can be blocked by some trees (pic)
Par 4 11th at Gozzer
--#12, 364 downhill drivable par 4 , with split fairway (split by bunkers and trees); shorter route is left but that entails carry over "stuff" and fairway bunkers, but if you hit it right you get a good kick.  green sits up on perch and slopes from back left to front right with a wonderful shelf back left.  incredible hole to see and to play...lots of things going on (but they fit together superbly), and tons of options on every shot...loved it (pic)
Outstanding short par 4 12th---so many options off the tee!!


--#15, 431 yd slight dogleg right par 4, very slightly downhill.  From tee looks like a good hole but nothing special...until you get to the landing area...think about this...it is an infinity green that is not perched on a hill (in fact 2nd shot is slightly downhill.  Huge dropoff behind green (16th fairway well below) and Lake beyond.  Green has all sorts of stuff going on, sloping back to front for first part (with false front) and front to back when you get over crest (false back??).  Fabulous hole to play and see...can stand there and marvel for a long time...see 2 pics
Long view of approach on #15
Zoomed in approach to #15
Only ??? about course and club are that the fairways could have been firmer (much better than Black Rock but were not "firm", and that the club seemed a bit helter skelter when we arrive (almost 1970's "hippy skippy").  But we were rushed and that impression may well have been misleading.

I played well on front (40) and then fell apart on back...tired tired and no leg drive.  Played in carts all 36 (BR and Gozzer) but all but three holes so far from paths with most of the greens in bowls, and cart paths well above green level...so lots of up and down walks paid their toll. Wished in retrospect that we had played Gozzer first and then Black Rock

In summary...a must play.  And both Fergal and I still are having a hard time imagining this is a Fazio!!


Email 7/15/2014:

No, I have not disappeared...but this trip is grueling...lots of driving and somehow have found it tough to type emails when driviing...so am well behind and will try to catch up.

After finishing the rounds at Black Rock and Gozzer, took a shower and headed off (160 miles) to Missoula MT to stay overnight and then onto Rock Creek Cattle Co. on Wednesday morning (another 85 miles).  Arrived RCCC about 10am to this vast vast property. Just to give you an idea, you enter the property right off of I-90, and then drive 6.5 miles on a gravel road to get to the golf course, which sits on 350 acres.  Very very rustic feel to the place that is very well done.  

RCCC was designed by Tom Doak, and its rating history is frankly surprising...it has not yet appeared on Golf Magazine's or Golf Digest's USA Top 100 (and therefore never on GM's Global list).  It debuted on GolfWeek's USA "merged" list in 2011 and currently sits at #40, having reached a high of #35 in 2012.  Plays to 7466 yards from tips but at 5000' is more like 6800 (par 71).

Played with an asst pro, Jerard who grew up in Raleigh, NC, and we caught it on a very mild day (5-10mph...very mild for the center of MT).  The land is incredible...long views to snow capped peaks, the land has tons of wonderful heaving movement, but for the most part it was built between the biggest hills so it is very playable even for non mountain goats.  Clearly, Doak did not move much land, and the holes fit beautifully and naturally in the setting.  If we have played a round together when I was rating a course, you probably saw me scribbling notes on a scorecard.  One of my notations is whether the hole is flat, uphill, or downhill and straight, dogleg left, or dogleg right.  The way the holes follow the land at RCCC this led to a lot of scribbling...as many holes went downhill off the tee, then uphill, then down then up to a crested green...plus some movements right and left (or something like that description).  Course filled with big blowout bunkers seemingly randomly placed...but actually superbly placed to guide and affect play...protect the sides of the fairways and greens you would ideally want to aim at.  The very essence of strategic golf.  What was truly impressive was that it felt so natural and not contrived.  

The greens move all over the place and would take quite a while to really understand fully...and that is a good thing.  I was frankly surprised and pleased that the greens did not have many elephants buried under them (although given the location and archeological history of MT, perhaps I should say dinosaurs),  The greens were relatively tame for Doak greens (that is NOT tame when compared to almost any other greens you play), but very very subtle.  I was totally fooled several times, and usually found myself overplaying breaks.  I was told after the round that some of the buried dinosaurs had been removed or shrunk over the past few years.  I liked the greens, very tough, very subtle, but not unfair, whereas some other Doak greens I have played (specifically Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, Australia and Streamsong in FL) seemed too extreme to me.  The entire course and facility look like they have sat on the land for 75-100 years.  Actually the ranch itself it about 95 years old and the course was completed about 5-6 years ago.

We teed off on #10, a 632 yd par 5 that is a prime example of everything i wrote in the above paragraph.  Fairway goes down/up/down then up (weaving through the blowout bunkers) to a green with all sorts of movement (see pics). 




#12--155 par 3 to wide nut shallow green angled slighty from front left to back right and well protected by bunkers.


--#14 is a downhill  par 4 dogleg right of 548 yards (no typo), which, like #3 at Brookline, narrows to passage way between two large mounds for the approach to the green (unless you prefer a blind shot to a very difficult green. (sorry no pic)

#16 I thought was RCCC's toughest.  Plays to 467 yards, turning slightly from right to left and up a hill to a green protected by a large bunker front right.  Real difficulty comes in because the fairway moves/slopes left to right creating a reverse camber...and there is a single tree guarding the right edge of the fairway that makes any attempt at a draw off the tee very dicey...if you push it at all right, it will hit the tree, and if your draw turns into a hook or you tug/yank it left off the tee, the rough on the left ain't the place to be. 


#17 --downhill par 3 191 yards with small pond in front and spectacular backdrop


#18---598yd par 5..from elevated tee down to fairway than turns left and goes back up hill to raised green (seen in front of red roofed bldg on left)..too bad the views aren't dramatic here :-)


Turning to front nine:

#1--435 yd par 4 with split fairway (split by 2 bunkers).  from tee, fairway looks (and is) wide open to right, with very little room to left side of bunkers.  however, the green angles from front left to back right and is well protected by bunkers in front and back...so the only way to have a decent shot to green is by hitting drive to left side of fairway...with little room off tee...very definition of strategic golf...make your choice on tee shot and get rewarded or pay penalty on 2nd shot depending on your choice



#4--457 yd par 4--very tough but fair hole...look here at the naturalness of the terrain when you get off the "golf course"...but remember the fairways are very wide and strategic...the angles are key



#8--193 yd par 3...green slopes sharply from left to right and is well protected...and look at the backdrop here as well


Over all just a wonderful course, that was not "built" but was "found" by Doak.  Not the easiest place to get to but worth it when there. Played firm...but fairway grass was a little long...so while fairways were very firm they were not super fast.  Green were firm and fast.



Email 7/15/2014:

Left Rock Creek Cattle in the middle of MT and drove 315 miles to Jackson Hole, WY...side note here, this trip brought this old man to ID, MT, and WY for the first time leaving me with 4 states i have not set foot in (ND, SD, MS, and AK).  Got to my hotel around 9:30pm...and facing my last real tough day of trip Thursday...36 holes and then a long drive to Salt Lake City.

Thursday morning got up early and drove about 15 miles to Shooting Star, a beautiful course at the base of the Tetons...this is really a spectacular setting...see photo below of #2 (199 yd par 3)



Unfortunately, this was my only photo of the day...but don't bitch about it...the pay on this job ain't so good.

This is a very good golf course designed by Tom Fazio and completed in 2009...tough time to open a new course but apparently things have picked up nicely over the past two years (clear sign of great management of the economy by Obama).  It is a very high end club. Family from Boston area have owned the land for long time..actually met one of the brothers who coached my younger step son in lacrosse in high school.  Stretches to 7568 yds from the back with a bunch of good holes...but this course was "built" on very flat land in the valley next to the Tetons (as can be seen from the pictures)...a ton of dirt was moved to shape the land and while the result is a very good course, i am afraid it lacks the "soul" of some of the others on the trip which were "found", not "built".  In terms of USA ratings, it has not appeared on Golf Digest or Golf Magazine, but debuted on Golf Week in 2011 at #54 and has stayed around that position since (most recently #61).  Back nine is better than front and has 4 excellent holes (12, 14, 17, and 18).  I was tired this morning, and my game showed it.  This is a beautiful place...I need to come back here just to relax with da bride.  Days like this...when you are tired and play poorly are a drag on trips like this.

After round, drove back about 35 miles over mountain pass to Driggs ID (had gone through Driggs last night on drive from RCCC) to play Huntsman Springs (yes the Huntsman family).  As I am in pro shop arranging play, i see a guy in a Cabot Links (Nova Scotia and fabulous) golf shirt, and ask when he played it.  So we start talking and he asks me where I'm from and where i am playing on this trip...as I get half way through he says "I heard about you...you finished the World 100 and are playing with a friend of mine at Sand Hills GC in a few days".  Small world again.  He is from Toronto (Steve, John and Cathy...didn't know you guys) and lives near Buffalo and in Driggs.  Played with Mark and his wife Susan.

Huntsman Springs plays to 7309 (par 72) yards from the back.  Designed by David Kidd (who made his name at Bandon Dunes) and completed about 5 years ago...again, not a great time to open a course.  Its history and ratings history are eerily similar to Shooting Star...never on GD or GM, and appeared in GW in 2011 and climbed to #54 in '13 and was #55 this year...always in same range as SS.

This one also required a lot of land movement...but comes off with more character than Shooting Star.  The greens are in perfect shape and really well done (not surprisingly), but rest of course is sort of an unfinished shape.  Not quite sure how to properly describe it.  Plays well but "aesthetics" not great.  I actually starting hitting the ball quite well...score was 82 as i blew up on 3 holes, but was happy with my game.  Best holes were 4, 7, 12, and 14...only bad one was #2...creek was in awkward place in fairway...lay up left too long a shot into green but tough carry (I just carried it and got my par).  Overall pretty good course, well designed.  If i had my choice between the two of these to play regularly, it would be Huntsman, but SS is clearly the better club.

Left at 5:30 on 290 mile drive to Salt Lake City...flying at 6am from SLC to San Francisco and then on to North Bend OR (35 min from Bandon!!).  Got pulled over for doing 74 in a 65 (can you imagine!!), but just got a warning (stayed about 2-3 above rest of trip...i had always thought <10 above was OK).  Was very pleased to see 80mpg speed limit in UT!!  Got to hotel, returned car at airport and back to hotel for some sleep...it is about 11pm, this puppy is tired and is coming down with a cold :-(

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