There courses aren’t necessarily the world’s best or most famous, but ones we adore for other reasons, such as their ability to make us happy and remember why we love the game.
This article from LINKSdigital kicks off a series about courses we love, and we want to let you in on the fun. Send a Tweet or post on Instagram using the hashtag #linksloves, showing a photograph and explaining why you love it. Or post about the course you love on the LINKS Magazine Facebook page or just leave us a comment below. We’ll use some of your words and pictures in upcoming editions of LINKSdigital.
The Old Course St. Andrews, Scotland
Bobby Jones said it better than I ever could: “The more I studied the Old Course, the more I loved it, and the more I loved it, the more I studied it, so that I came to feel that it was for me the most favorable meeting ground possible.” Truth be told, the Old Lady is not particularly attractive—she doesn’t dazzle her suitors. But she charms and teases them nonetheless, while at the same time cautioning them to show her respect or suffer her righteous ridicule. I’ve been lucky enough to play this beguiling links more than 200 times, and I haven’t come close to solving her myriad mysteries. Invariably I walk off the 18th green wondering how, on that barren, dead-flat terrain with broad fairways and enormous greens, I could possibly have shot a score as high as I did. Surely, I tell myself, I’ll do better the next time— and that next time can never come fast enough. —George Peper, Editor, LINKS
Oak Hills Country Club San Antonio, Texas
Oak Hills CC in San Antonio is the one course I’d play if I had a week left to play golf. It’s an old Tillinghast course, refurbished by Weiskopf/Morrish in the early ’80s and I believe it’s being restored again to keep up with the ever-widening gap between what a course was meant to be and what it has become.
Too many courses lack the intrigue of the original designer or of the courses designed during the golden age of architecture when fun, aesthetic beauty, and strategy mattered most to the architect and to the player.
Oak Hills is a very good piece of property, played on top of, around the perimeter, and to the bottom of one very large hill, so every shot has some element of shape that must be met or the ball will drift into a very difficult spot. Every lie on every hole is inevitably different from round to round. And because every hole is just next to the green of the last, the course plays fast.
I’ve been lucky to play the finest courses in the world but no place has made me happier just to be alive, proving a great piece of land and a smart man or woman to lay holes upon that land is all that is required to grow this game. —Brandel Chamblee, Golf Channel
Gamble Sands Brewster, Washington
I have a cool story about Gamble Sands. Well, I think it’s cool, anyway. Three years ago, I flew to Nicaragua on Don Carlos Pellas’s Challenger 350 with four other golf writers to play David McLay Kidd’s course, Guacalito de la Isla. On the drive back to the airport, Kidd told us he was having trouble deciding on a name for the course he was building in Washington State and asked us to give it some thought. The following day, I sent him about 20 ideas, one of which was Gamble Sands. He soon emailed to say he and the owners, the Gebbers Family, had chosen it as their favorite option. But it’s not just that the course’s name was my idea. It’s also among the most beautiful courses in the world and, just as Kidd intended, unfailingly entertaining. —Tony Dear, Contributing Editor, LINKS
Tashua Knolls Trumbull, Connecticut
Over the years, I have liked many courses. What makes me love a course is the company I am with. And at the top of that list is my son, Patrick. We play most of our golf at our town course, Tashua Knolls, which is a little over 6,500 yards and on a piece of land that features some good-sized hills and water on the back. It has to be the best municipal track around, certainly for this father and son. —Tim Carr, Art Director, LINKS
Ekwanok Country Club Manchester, Vermont
Ekwanok symbolizes for me two of golf’s greatest attributes. First is the game’s dedication to tradition. It’s a classically charming course, built in 1899 by Walter Travis at a time when only shovels and horse-drawn carts could tame the land. The design remains as natural as the terrain, featuring clever bunkering and inventive greens because that was about all that man could do.
Second is how it exemplifies golf’s wondrous ability to bring people together. Years ago, I met a teaching professional at an event and we became friends. For about 10 years, she spent summers teaching at Ekwanok and was kind enough to invite me up once or twice a season. Our rounds were always great fun, much less about how we played than non-stop conversations, chatting and laughing, catching up and opening up, cementing a bond over 18 holes.
It didn’t have to be at Ekwanok but it was, so the course will always be special to me. It, too, is a cherished friend. —James A. Frank, Editor, LINKSdigital
Boone Golf Club Boone, North Carolina
I grew up in Asheville, often making the two-hour drive north to Boone with my father to work on our family’s old mountain cabin and maybe get in a round or two. As I got older and the cabin needed less attention, the work weekends turned into golf trips. Boone Golf Club was always on the itinerary.
Many of my seminal golf moments came at Boone. My first full set of irons—Ping Eye2s—came from the used-club bag in the pro shop. The 4-iron from that set hit my first hole-in-one, also at Boone. I was 14 years old, and that sub-80 round set a new personal best.
The course is an Ellis Maples design, and while it may not be the best golf course I’ve played, or the most beautiful, it will always be my favorite. —Graylyn Loomis, Associate Editor, LINKS
Don’t forget to tell us about the courses you love in the comments below. The best may end up being featured in a future issue of LINKSdigital!
What a year just past for TaylorMade. The M1 and M2 drivers, introduced early in 2016, were big hits with pros and consumers. In May, the company was put up for sale by parent Adidas. Endorser Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open, then the BMW Championship and nearly the FedExCup.
In August, the company began supplying clubs, mostly metalwoods, to players without an equipment sponsor after Nike announced it would no longer make clubs and balls: By year’s end, 15 of 18 former Nike players were using TaylorMade woods in Tour events, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
How to top that? Introduce new stuff. And not just a club or two, but an entire bag-full. Most of the following should start showing up in stores soon.
Promising more distance and forgiveness, the new M1 driver makes use of more of its six-layer carbon material, in the crown and now also in the sole, along with a lighter titanium. And the head shape has changed a bit, allowing the front-to-back weight track to be longer for added adjustability.
Like the M1, the new M2 has a sleeker look, a slightly different head shape, and a speed pocket in the sole. Like many of the new clubs, it also features “Geoacoustics,” TaylorMade’s name for using materials and design to produce a more agreeable sound at impact.
Some of the fairway woods and rescues in the M1 and M2 lines come with new adjustability options and speed pockets for forgiveness and distance.
The company has revised its M2 irons while introducing an all-new M1. Both have thinner faces and toplines, plus slots in the face to aid forgiveness, particularly on off-center impacts. Furthermore, both designs promise more distance, while the M1 has a more compact look and offers more workability, so it is likely to be favored by better players.
Each wedge in the new Milled Grind series has had its sole and leading edge individually machine-milled for consistency. Classically shaped, they’re available in three grinds.
And there’s more: Few details yet, but expect two forged irons to be introduced in a few months.
The six models in the TP Collection—blades and mallets—are made from new materials and milled for look and feel. The Tour-proven Spiders should be joined by new versions soon. All incorporate the company’s Pure Roll technology, which angles the grooves in the face insert to impart topspin that starts and keeps the ball online.
Despite notable victories, TaylorMade’s balls haven’t gotten much recognition. Look for a big push on the new TP5 and TP5x, both using five-layer construction to produce distance off woods and irons and high spin from shorter clubs.
At the outset, I feared that having only five days in Melbourne wouldn’t be enough. And, in truth, it wasn’t, but I did get to play some of the country’s top courses. I will definitely be there longer next time, but a short week turned out to be a dream golf trip.
Choosing where to play was easy. South of Melbourne, the otherwise common red clay is replaced by the sandy soil that architects dream about. It naturally follows that the area—called the Sandbelt—is home to some of the best courses in the world, all of which allow access to international visitors willing to write in advance and pay sometimes sizeable guest fees.
Here’s how my trip went, but to really see the courses, watch the video!
Day 1: Metropolitan Golf Club
The dark horse of the trip, “Metro” is known for superior conditioning, plus fast greens and firm fairways that promote the ground game expected on the links-type turf. Metro is also known for unique green complexes, the putting surfaces mowed to the edges of the bunkers. The resulting greens are not only beautiful but require a very good short game to score well. If Metro was on a better piece of land, it would be considered one of the region’s best.
Day 2: Victoria Golf Club and St. Andrews Beach
Victoria is on a piece of gently rolling land surrounded by Melbourne suburbs. The bunkers sit further from the greens than at Metropolitan, but feature plenty of slope. The Sandbelt is known for great short par fours and 15 at Victoria is one of the best with a risk-reward element off the tee and a sloping, well-bunkered green.
Australian Michael Clayton, the club’s consulting designer, joined me for the morning round, then I played St. Andrews Beach, a course he built with Tom Doak about an hour south. Technically not on the Sandbelt, St. Andrews Beach is on the Mornington Peninsula, a scenic, rural area bordering the ocean. The course is large in every way, with huge green complexes, wide fairways, and expansive views.
Day 3: Royal Melbourne East & West
All 36 holes at Royal Melbourne should be on every golfer’s bucket list. It combines the best of the green complexes at Metropolitan with the best of the terrain at Victoria. Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell shaped the West Course using only a horse-drawn plough and scoop, proof as to how little the property had to be shaped for outstanding golf.
Royal Melbourne is one of the country’s most historic and prominent clubs, having hosted many prestigious tournaments on its Composite Course, a compilation of the best holes from the two 18s that is only in play for members and guests a few days per year. I wasn’t there on one of those days but was more than happy to “have to” play both layouts.
Day 4: Kingston Heath
My final round was one of the trip’s highlights. “The Heath” is built on gently sloping sandy soil along both sides of a small ridge. The famous Sandbelt green complexes are on display again with bunkering that rivals anything in the United States. The course is extremely playable: It’s less than 7,000 yards and there are only two sets of tees—one for men, one for women. The par threes are world-class, including a 19th hole built by Michael Clayton that is put into the rotation on weekdays to give one of the other short holes on the course a rest. The layout peaks, both literally and figuratively, on the famous par-three 15th, which plays up the ridge that splits the course. The shape of the green and surrounding bunkers epitomize the best of Sandbelt golf.
Do you have dreams of going to Australia to play golf? If so, leave us a comment below about where you’d like to play!
How would you enjoy driving with these luxuries at your fingertips? Powerful electric motors, gas engines that get nearly 50 miles to the gallon, USB charging ports, built-in GPS, leather interiors, independent front and rear suspension, and 17 exterior-color choices. Sounds nice, right? But these aren’t options for your next SUV, coupe, or minivan: They’re choices for your next golf car.
These days, it’s smart to think of golf cars just the way you think about automobiles. The loud, clunky, uncomfortable club-carriers of the past are fading fast and being replaced by high-tech wonders. Gas golf cars no longer wake the neighborhood and they’re almost as efficient as a Prius. Electric golf cars feature algorithmic charging and regenerative braking systems that rival the latest wizardry from Tesla.
Here’s a sample of what the top brands in the industry are displaying on their
Yamaha’s new Drive2 line offers a choice of a powerful electric model or a gas motor that achieves 48 miles-per-gallon. The gas model employs QuieTech technology that makes it nearly as quiet as its electric counterpart while putting out more power. Add in ride-smoothing independent rear suspension and it blows gas golf car stereotypes out of the water.
Club Car’s new electric charging system uses an algorithm to optimize charging cycles—preserving both power and battery life—while a regenerative braking system feeds power back into the batteries when stopping. The result of this combination is savings on running costs and technology that rivals high-end electric automobiles.
E-Z-Go’s new 2Five electric “personal transportation vehicle” is a golf car designed to serve your needs off the course, as well. To be what states define as “road legal,” it comes equipped with seat belts, rear view mirrors, head and tail lights, and turn signals. You’ll want all of it since the 2Five reaches a top speed of 25 miles-per-hour and can easily serve as a daily driver for those working or living within communities that allow golf cars on public streets.
Like almost every other golfer on the planet, I saw the course that Gil Hanse designed for the Summer Olympics and thought, “I’d really like to play there.” But also like the rest of you, I thought, “When am I going to Rio?” The answer: No time soon.
Luckily, Hanse recently unveiled another new course that’s also open to the public, also a wonderful example of “minimalist” design, and is easier to get to. Not a lot easier, but easier. Because it’s in West Point, Miss., which isn’t a short drive from anywhere (4–1/2 hours from Atlanta, and 2–1/2 hours from Memphis, the nearest “big” city), and is at least one puddle-jumper unless you’re already in the South.
And yet, it’s worth the trip.
Mossy Oak was built by the Bryan family, the same folks who constructed Old Waverly Golf Club, site of the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open, which is just across the street and offers stay-and-play packages as well as lovely little lodges to accommodate visitors. Adding Mossy Oak is the family’s attempt at making West Point a golf destination, and they deserve credit for trying to bring economic activity to this sleepy part of north-central Mississippi. It should help that one of their relatives owns a nearby hunting/fishing preserve, so it’s likely they’ll be offering opportunities to combine those outdoor pursuits with the two courses plus sporting events at Mississippi State University, which is only about 20 minutes away. It’ll be fun, I promise.
The course was built on an old dairy farm, 180 acres of rolling land punctuated by nine knobs that provide elevation changes of 40 to 50 feet. Owner George Bryan said that Hanse didn’t move much dirt—so little, in fact, that the course “could have been done with a mule and a plow”—but what he did move helped create the few ponds scattered around the property.
There weren’t many trees to begin with, and most of them were removed. But a dozen or so sturdy old oaks were left in place to provide the proper sense of grandeur as well as the occasional aiming point for golfers. Touring the course shortly before it opened this past Labor Day weekend, it felt timeless and natural. All that was missing were areas of native grasses that are being reintroduced. Or as Bryan put it, “Mossy Oak will look old in about three years.”
Hanse designed the course for walking, with greens feeding into the following tees and wide openings in front of those putting surfaces. And some of the greens are huge, 50 yards long and more, adding to the links-like feel. There’s also quite a bit of sand, 95 bunkers in all including a huge one to the left of the green on the par-five 17th hole that Bryan wanted to call “Grant’s Tomb” but instead seems to have acquired the moniker “George’s Bunker.”
On other holes, Hanse plays with the player’s depth perception and club selection, pushing up greens and siting them on hills, while also placing sand so it’s not as close to the green as it appears. (It’s a public course, but the kind that you’ll want to play a few times to figure out its idiosyncrasies and its cleverness.) As the long, wispy grass grows in it will help define the wide fairways yet be thin enough so off-line shots won’t be hard to find: Bryan said he’s hoping rounds will be under four hours and that groups will go off at 12-minute intervals so play keeps moving. There are five sets of tees, the course stretching to only 7,250 yards from the way back.
Among those who will be playing from the tips are the Mississippi State golf teams, men’s and women’s, for whom Mossy Oak is now the home course. They have their own building on site with locker rooms, fitness facilities, offices, and other necessities. Their main practice green is shaped like the state and almost as large.
While Bryan was showing me around, we drove to the 6th green—the highest point of the property, from which all 18 greens are visible—where he started talking about the region: It was where he was born 70 years ago and where he grew up, and, like almost everyone else associated with Mossy Oak and Old Waverly, he attended MSU. He talked proudly about how his alma mater, located in the heart of the Old South, now houses the Presidential Library and papers of Ulysses S. Grant, which explains why he wanted to name that bunker after the 18th president even though he was the commander of the Union Army.
Then he shifted gears, pointed off toward the horizon, and said, “Hernando DeSoto passed right by here on his way to discovering the Mississippi River.”
That was nearly 500 years ago. Mossy Oak doesn’t look that old, but this is certainly the right place for a course with an old soul.
What do you think of Mossy Oak? Where else in the South would you play on a trip to visit the course?
Appeared in 2016 Fall issue of LINKS Magazine
Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is a town with many stories to tell, from its origins as a mineral-spring spa town, to its Civil War-era flowering as a horse racing (and gambling) mecca, to its place today as a prosperous hub of education and high culture. It’s the kind of place a history buff would love, so it makes sense that a visitor would find David Normoyle very much at home at the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club, a supremely chilled-out nine-holer that dates to 1896. It’s a course that unfurls with deceptive simplicity across a series of ridges and valleys—an “uncomplicated golf experience,” as he puts it, that can be enjoyed on foot in an hour or so.
And that’s a good thing, because Normoyle is a busy guy. After spending most of the 2000s with the USGA, eventually becoming assistant director of its museum in Far Hills, N.J., his marriage—to former LPGA star and CBS commentator Dottie Pepper—necessitated a change of scenery, but not of career focus. In 2010, the couple moved to Pepper’s hometown of Saratoga Springs, where Normoyle quickly set up his own historical consultancy. Now 38, he is one of the most accomplished historians in the game, working with many of the best clubs in the country—Oakmont, Los Angeles Country Club, and Cherry Hills, to name a few—to define and present their legacies to the world.
Normoyle, a strong golfer who earned a Blue (the UK equivalent of a varsity letter) during his grad-school years at Cambridge, is a compelling advocate for history not just as an academic pursuit but for the real-world benefits it can offer: “Any time you have something that’s taught in school, some people are going to hate it. What’s undeniable, though, is that history is an asset.” Every golf club, he points out, has a portfolio of assets that are managed by professionals. The course and clubhouse are overseen by highly trained superintendents and general managers, while a PGA member, the head professional, is the face of the club. “And yet,” Normoyle says, “the aspect of the club’s identity often falls to a retired executive who was maybe a history major in college, and it’s something he does in his spare time.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but professional historians can provide a sharper focus on a club’s narrative, whether it be in the form of a history book, clubhouse display, or museum exhibit. They can also offer archival interpretation and context for a club’s master plan. In other words, historians aren’t just sneezing in attics over century-old minute books (though that happens, too); their work, at its best, helps establish credibility with those outside the club and fosters loyalty within the membership.
Normoyle’s art resides in a threefold process: the mission of why a history matters; which stories need to be told; and how to tell them. Curation, inventory, editorial. For a club like Oakmont, the first National Historic Landmark in American golf, there was no shortage of material. As Normoyle collaborated with club leaders to “spruce up” its interiors in advance of this year’s U.S. Open, a single front-entryway artifact—a portrait of founder Henry C. Fownes, set in an oak-stained walnut case, a brace of trophies to his left and right—was chosen, charging the space with intense power and demonstrating how such a narrative journey can begin.
But clubs aren’t embracing history just to be “retro”; rather, they are seeking renewed vitality in a time of rapid change, both within the golf industry and society at large. David Normoyle excels at distilling stories like this down to their essence, and his guiding question here is no exception: “How do you find your future in your past?”
Appeared in 2016 Fall issue of LINKS Magazine
Nepal is a land of wonderful extremes. Library-like quiet in its mountains and chaotic energy in Kathmandu, the capital. Spirituality is everywhere: Multicolored prayer flags flutter in the breeze and Buddhist lamas pass you on mountain trails. The beauty of the country is topped only by that of the Nepali spirit, all kindness and smiles.
Just as extreme is the golf, played on half-a-dozen courses, all of them set at about a mile above sea level. There are 31 million people in Nepal, and only 700 are golfers. But of those, one in 10 is a pro, giving Nepal the highest pro-per-golfer-capita in the world. Pros earn their cards at a high-pressure Q-school, held each year at Royal Nepal Golf Club, which is where any Nepali golf adventure should begin.
The country’s oldest club, Royal Nepal was founded in 1917 and granted royal status in 1965 by his late Majesty King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. A par-67, 5,410-yard design, RNGC is on the east side of Kathmandu, across the street from Tribhuvan International Airport, meaning it’s possible to walk out of the international arrivals terminal and be on the first tee in minutes. (For the record, playing golf in Nepal means playing in the future, since the local calendar differs from Western calendars and it’s currently 2073.)
Appeared in 2016 Summer LINKS Magazine
Put yourself in the shoes of a golf course architect. You’re designing a long par three that will play 210 yards from the members’ tee. You can’t make the green complex too difficult, or the putting surface too sloping, because, after all, your average golfer will need to hit the shot of the day to even think about making par. No matter what you do, you’ve created a tough hole simply with length.
Now shorten the hole to approximately 150 yards and you need to be more creative. Length is no longer a defense while a slew of new options are available. The forced carry is back on the table, as is a contoured green and a range of bunkering gambits. You’re also dealing with a golfer approaching the hole with an entirely different attitude: He expects to hit the green, is excited at the chance to take dead aim, and, possibly, has a false sense of security.
It is that combination of feelings brought on by shorter par threes that makes them universally loved by golfers. These wee wonders tap into what makes golf so enjoyable for players, while forcing architects to reach deeper into their bag of tricks.
Here is the LINKS list of the best short par threes in the world. Each one inspires fear, requires accuracy, and encourages creativity, but more importantly, they all tap into that gut feeling every golfer loves, that feeling of, “Okay, I’m going for it. I’ve got this.”
Cypress Point 15, 135 yards, Monterey Peninsula, Calif.
The walk to the tee of this beauty is a breathtaking reveal. Waves crash beneath and distract from the small green framed by bunkers and a maritime forest.
Ballyneal 3, 145 yards, Holyoke, Colo.
This hole sits so naturally within the dunes that you’d think Tom Doak simply cut the grass and put a pin in the ground.
National Golf Links 6, 123 yards, Southampton, N.Y
A severely undulating green puts a premium on accuracy. Hit it to the wrong section of the putting surface and a three-putt awaits.
Sleepy Hollow 16, 155 yards, Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
When Gil Hanse removed hundreds of trees during his renovation, the view of the Hudson River from this tee improved drastically. Seth Raynor’s signature par-three bunkering surrounds the green.
Pebble Beach 7, 106 yards, Pebble Beach, Calif.
Although well under 150 yards, this tee shot can require a short wedge or a long iron. Winds whip off the Pacific, which also provides a world-class backdrop to the hole.
Royal Troon 8, 123 yards, Troon, Scotland
The “Postage Stamp” is perhaps the best known of Scotland’s short holes, with its minuscule green sitting on the side of a large dune. Look for more than a few debacles during the Open this year.
Bandon Trails 5, 133 yards, Bandon, Ore.
Coore and Crenshaw packed this 133-yarder with interesting features. A scrub valley lies short of the green, which has a Biarritz swale separating the front from the back.
Royal Melbourne (West) 7, 148 yards, Melbourne, Australia
This green slopes from back to front and is raised so that judging the yardage of the shot is difficult whether from the tee or the oft-found front-right bunker
Shoreacres 12, 127 yards, Lake Bluff, Ill.
A Raynor gem played from an elevated tee to a picturesque green sitting in a small valley and surrounded by bunkers.
Streamsong (Red) 8, 147 yards, Streamsong, Fla.
Bunkers protrude into the massive green, squeezing it into an hourglass. Hit the wrong end of the hourglass and you’ll be spending quite some time two- or three-putting.
Barnbougle Dunes (Australia) 7
This raised green is already smaller than it appears from the tee, with the surrounding bunkers making it appear even smaller.
Friar’s Head 17
This “Postage Stamp”-style green has a severe drop off to the right, just like the original in Scotland. A severe penalty is paid for missing the green.
Garden City Golf Club 2
The only par three on the front nine, this 137-yarder plays over a small dip and is an architect’s lesson in how to effectively use a flat landscape.
A test of accuracy, this hole plays dead into the Atlantic Ocean breeze to a small green surrounded by scrub and sand.
Moliets (France) 16
Swirling winds and two long bunkers on either side of the green guard this uphill assignment, while gorse behind ensures shots hit long are never found.
Pacific Dunes 11
This green sits naturally among the scrub and blowout bunkers with the Pacific Ocean directly behind. Don’t let the crashing waves distract when putting out.
Pine Needles 3
This Ross green slopes off on both sides while a large bunker sits intimidatingly in front to swallow up mishits.
Sand Hills 17
The short shot to this elevated green can be terrifying because all you can see from the tee are the surrounding bunkers.
Somerset Hills 12
The green, designed by Tillinghast, is embraced on its left side by a lake, a feature not commonly found on early 20th-century inland courses. The setting is beautiful, especially in the fall.
Pine Valley 10
This deceptively simple hole has a sloping green but is best known for the diabolical bunker that sits short right and is known as the “Devil’s Asshole.”
TPC Sawgrass 17
Little description is needed of this famous island-green hole, an annual gut check for the pros in the Players Championship.
Toreboda (Sweden) 10
This horseshoe-shaped green places a premium on distance control, while swirling winds add to the difficulty.
Troon Country Club 15
A desert mountain backdrops this hole, which stands out emerald green among the brown and orange desert scrub.
This hole is the logo of the Donald Ross Society for good reason: A bunker starts on the left hillside and wraps around the front of the green. A miss here invariably leads to a big number.
Woburn (England) 3
When the rhododendron are in bloom, few holes are prettier than this downhiller with a small, pear-shaped green.
It’s a great match-play course.” That phrase is often used by golf pundits, especially during Ryder Cup years. But what does it really mean? Are they saying certain courses have features that make them particularly good for match-play events? If so, what are those features?
Perhaps the best way to determine the attributes of a great match-play course is to look at courses where the best matches have occurred. Here are a few of the most recent.
1977 Open Championship
The “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry must be in the conversation. Tom Watson birdied four of the last six holes to defeat Jack Nicklaus by one stroke.
1999 Ryder Cup
The Europeans opened a 10–6 lead at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Facing grim prospects, U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw told the media, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.” He sent his best players out first in the Sunday singles matches and they won the first seven. Then Justin Leonard won five of his last seven holes and birdied the 17th to secure victory for the U.S.
The back-nine battle between Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco was filled with pressure putts and the famous “In your life!” chip-in from Woods on the par-three 16th hole. Woods won in a one-hole playoff.
2016 Open Championship
In the final round at Royal Troon, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson threw birdies at each other, Stenson birdieing four of the last five to tie the major scoring record, 63, and win the tournament.
So what do these epic matches have in common?
Here’s a hint: It’s not the style of course. They’re all different architecturally, and many don’t feature the traits commonly considered great for match play, notably pronounced risk-reward design elements and crescendo finishes.
The reason you can’t find obvious similarities is that the idea of a “great match-play course” is a myth. Any course can produce a great match. If anything, a great match-play course needs to get out of the way and allow the players to exhibit their skills. No golf course architect will say he designed a course to create compelling matches. Instead, they design courses to draw the best out of players and to test every aspect of their games. The only possible exception is Pete Dye’s Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, which was named host of the 1991 Ryder Cup before construction had even begun. But that said, the goal of that design was to host memorable championships, not specifically match-play tournaments.
Not convinced? Listen to Arnold Palmer, who has won more Ryder Cup singles matches than anyone and has more than 100 course designs to his credit, including Ireland’s K Club, which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup. Asked which design features make for the best match-play courses, he responded, “The players.”
Think back to the earliest architects, like Old Tom Morris, who built courses in an era when match play was the only recognized format. Limited technology meant they had to design to the landscape, not in hopes of creating an exciting finish or match. Their final holes often simply brought the layout back to the clubhouse, which, because that structure was typically on the flattest piece of land, meant the finishing holes lacked drama.
Look at the St. Andrews Old Course, Royal Troon, and Augusta National, all courses with uncontrived finishes that have produced classic matches. Would anyone have labeled Troon a great match-play course before the 2016 Open? Absolutely not, but it produced an unforgettable head-to-head encounter.
So what do great match-play courses have in common? Great players. Where they slug it out is almost irrelevant.
What is your opinion about match play courses? Let us know in the comments below!
Also, if you like this content, check out the rest of our September issue of HOTLINKS!
Golf has always been a game of contradictions: Hit down to make the ball go up, swing easy to hit hard, lowest score wins, and so on.
Here’s another one: A few weeks ago, Muirfield in Scotland voted to not admit women members. Then earlier this week, at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship outside Seattle, the worldwide consulting company staged a summit designed to help more women become senior executives.
So on the one hand, golf wants to keep women down and out. On the other, the game is the perfect catalyst to promote women’s success. Trying to understand golf’s relationship with women is harder than unraveling the water-hazard Rule.
One of the arguments put forth by the men of Muirfield relied on the slow-play argument, specifically that women couldn’t keep up to the club’s speed standards. However, numerous studies have debunked the notion that women are slow golfers, and many women, aware of the stigma, do everything they can to keep moving even while many men take two, three, four, and more practice swings.
Personally, I think it’s just a bunch of boys coming up with excuses to keep girls out of their tree house—or clubhouse.
I’ve never understood male golfers’ reluctance to have women around. I’ve had very enjoyable rounds with female partners and that old saw about learning from watching their slower swings has often proven true. And I’ve never felt I had to clean up my language or change my normally boorish behavior in any way for their benefit.
I recently had a discussion with a top executive of a leading golf organization about this and what he said was counterintuitively fascinating: The least welcoming men aren’t at private clubs—where women are paying members, or spouses of paying members—but at public courses where the regular groups of “old boys” hanging around the grill room go out of their way to make women feel uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s because those men can’t, won’t, or don’t join private clubs that they feel they can exercise “ownership” over a public facility. Maybe they believe that women are uniformly slower and not as skilled as they “should” be to play at “their” club.
Hey, I’ve watched you guys play. Most of you aren’t any better. You’re just meaner.
Speaking of meaner, here’s another way men demean women’s golf and women golfers: the internet. And specifically the countless—and, I might add, mindless—websites that think the only time a girl should be seen swinging a club is when she’s wearing yoga pants, a bathing suit, or something less.
Now, I like looking at pretty girls as much as the next golfer. And I know I don’t have to look when these sites run a series of photos, taken off Instagram—so it was the girls themselves who posted them—of Suzy Creamcheese, a student at Eastern Western University, hitting shots at the driving range in her jogging clothes, taking selfies in her miniest mini-skirt, and hugging her BFF on the beach in matching day-glo bikinis.
Are fans checking out Paige Spiranac’s Instagram page to follow her progress on the mini-tours—or to follow her fondness for mini-attire?
Why do they do it? Supply your own reasons. And the internet is largely there to help people get attention, so by all means, have at it. But these women aren’t doing themselves—or their sisters, golfers or otherwise—any favors. The photos simply reinforce stereotypes.
It’s not really about golf, I know. But it doesn’t help.
Golf has many uncomfortable relations with women, and I haven’t even mentioned the LPGA. Or golf clubs and balls painted cutesy colors. Or restricted weekend tee times.
Another example: I just read an article that noted how the Zika virus is threatening to disrupt the Rio Olympics Games. A number of male golf pros have said they won’t compete or are monitoring the situation, worried about the virus. But most women golfers have been very quiet about the problem, while it is they and their unborn babies who are most at risk. This article speculated that women golfers aren’t complaining because they are so desperate for a big international stage for their skills that they’re willing to put their health at risk.
It isn’t as if other female athletes, notably soccer players, aren’t sounding alarm bells about Rio, Zika, and other potential problems. But by not saying more, women pro golfers are—as much as the selfie hounds on the internet—doing themselves a disservice.
Like so much else about our relationship with women’s golf, there’s something wrong with that.
Okay, I’ve been honest how I feel. What do you think about women’s golf? We’d love to hear your thoughts—as long as they remain civil.