DLIII Redesigns Plantation Course at Sea Island

By James A. Frank

 

Photo by Sea Island

 

For the last 25 years—and largely under the radar—Davis Love III has been designing courses. With brother Mark, the Loves have done quite a bit of renovation work as well as creating some wonderful original layouts, among them Atlantic Dunes on Hilton Head Island, The Dunes Course at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, and the Love Course at Barefoot Resort in Myrtle Beach. If they have a style, it harkens back to the “Golden Age” of architecture, the first few decades of the 20th century, which gives their work a classic look and feel… with a few surprises along the way.

Their 25th project together—with architect Scot Sherman—is something of a “home game” for the Love brothers. They lived on St. Simons Island, one of Georgia’s “Golden Isles,” since their father, Davis Jr., became the resort’s teaching pro in 1977. The courses at Sea Island were literally in their backyard—Davis lives on Sea Island still—and while playing them both boys dreamed about what they would do if ever given the chance. It came on the Plantation Course, which just reopened after a 10-month-long redo.

The front nine had been designed in 1928 by Walter Travis (another player-turned-architect); the back nine in 1960 by Dick Wilson. In 1998, Rees Jones put the nines together under the Plantation name. When the Loves went to work, they first looked back, as Sherman explained to Golf Course Architecture: “Davis, Mark, and I are most comfortable thinking the way course builders did in the past….the historic plans and images we found in Sea Island’s archives have guided us—while also being influenced by the great Golden Age designs of the past.”

The architect they borrowed from most was Seth Raynor, incorporating his large, square-shaped greens and adding subtle breaks and quirks like a big “thumbprint” on the lower front half of the 6th green and a swooping boomerang on 8. The bunkers also were redone in straight lines and square edges—a throwback feature Davis wanted to use wherever possible—and while there are still roughly 80 bunkers on the course, the total amount of sand was drastically reduced: The old-style bunkers are flat and mostly small, and there is no flashing of sand up the sides of greens. As for the fairways, they are wider than they seem from the tee, with deceptive camouflaging reminiscent of Pete Dye.

Photo by Sea Island

 

The front nine retains most of its original routing, although a few holes were lengthened and their greens relocated, usually toward the lagoons that run throughout the course. On the back—where some greens are slightly raised, a common Wilson feature—holes 14-16 were rerouted: After Jones redid them as 4-3-5, the Loves returned them closer to their original status, now a long par 5 followed by a short par 4 and medium-length par 3.

In their research, the Love team found photos of “chocolate drop” mounds in the original Travis design, so a few of those have been sprinkled in. They also saw evidence of wooden bulkheads, which have been brought back to shore up lagoons and bunkers here and there while creating visual excitement.

More modern is the use of four new grasses. Tees and fairways are Platinum paspalum, the rough is TifTuf Bermuda, and the greens are TifEagle; the interesting addition is a wide collar of TifGrand Bermuda around the greens, sometimes extending 20 yards back to the fairway, providing both another shade of green and a great surface to chip from. The scenery also was enhanced by slightly lowering the entire back nine and trimming trees, which opened up views across the course, the neighboring Seaside Course, and all the way to the Atlantic. Golfers playing in the afternoon will be greeted by a glorious sunset as they finish.

Plantation just re-opened—Davis hit a ceremonial first tee shot last Monday, after club members had the course to themselves the previous weekend—and will be showcased during the PGA Tour’s upcoming RSM Classic, where it will stretch to its 7,100-yard limit. The rest of us get all we need at 6,671 or 6,264 yards.

Photo by Sea Island

 

The redesign is the latest in a series of upgrades to the Sea Island golf experience, which also includes a year-old putting course, six new cottages, and a new, larger building for the Golf Performance Center, which is one of the most up-to-date teaching centers in the country and includes six outdoor/indoor bays. From 3-D motion capture to pressure plates in the floor, the latest putting platforms, and full club-fitting facilities—as well as mental and physical training—GPC is as future-forward as golf instruction gets

Delightfully complemented by the proudly old-school Plantation.

Great Courses of GB&I: Notts Golf Club

By Nick Edmund

 

13th hole (Photo by Kevin Murray)

 

London is rightly lauded for the wealth of marvelous heathland courses— Sunningdale, St. George’s Hill, Swinley Forest, et al.—that lie a short distance to its south and west. But southern England doesn’t have a monopoly on the country’s outstanding “sand, heather, and gorse”-type layouts. Ganton and Woodhall Spa are two of Europe’s finest inland courses. And then there is the superb Notts Golf Club at Hollinwell, quietly situated in deepest “middle England” and encircled by woodland long ago made famous by the legends of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Having founded their club close to the city of Nottingham in 1887, the members decided to move to Hollinwell at the beginning of the 20th century. The new course was created by Willie Park Jr., son of the first Open champion, a two-time Open winner himself, and the original designer of Maidstone, Olympia Fields, and the Old Course at Sunningdale.

Occasionally updated, though never substantially revised, Hollinwell—now at 7,250 yards, par 72—has stood the test of time. As testament to its quality, important professional and amateur tournaments regularly visit, and it annually hosts one of the final qualifying events for the Open.

Tranquil and secluded, silver birch, oak, pines, and firs adorn the course throughout, yet never overwhelm. Splashes of gorse and carpets of heather—gold and rusty-purple in season—frame much of the rough beyond the fairways, but rarely intrude. The rough itself is largely comprised of fescue grasses that turn wispy and pink-hued in summer. It is a glorious environment in which to play golf.

11th hole (Photo by Kevin Murray)

 

While the layout includes many outstanding individual holes, it is perhaps the rhythm of the round, especially the way the back nine unfolds as it flows and occasionally tumbles from the highest points back to the clubhouse, that sets Hollinwell apart.

The par-four 2nd, with its impressive “Robin Hood’s Chair” rock beside an amphitheater green, and the dogleg 8th are the most memorable holes on the outward nine. On the latter, the drive is across an attractive pond that feeds into the ancient Hollin Well (“Holy Well”) from which the area derives its name. Turning for home, the S-shaped 11th is a wonderfully subtle hole, and a brilliant run begins with the spectacular downhill par-three 13th. The right-to-left curving 15th has echoes of the stage-like 2nd, and the teasing, down-and-up 16th is a hole that bristles with character.

Writer Dai Davies once described Hollinwell as “a great gorse-filled bowl of golfing delights.” There is indeed much to savor and admire; moreover, the club’s immediate future would seem very bright. Martin Ebert, the architect whose work at several Open venues including Royal Portrush and Turnberry has been highly praised, was recently appointed to oversee a 10-year course restoration program. Count on Ebert to accurately judge “what’s best to touch—and what not to touch,” and to appreciate that his task is to polish a diamond.

Creating Alternatives to Original Golf Templates

By Tony Dear

 

Mounding at the 14th hole at Brae Burn Country Club (Photo by Ron Forse)

 

The word ‘template’ is, of course, part of modern-day golf architecture speak. It’s not quite clear when the term was first used to describe certain hole designs, but we do know it has its origin in golf pioneer C.B. Macdonald’s trips to Britain and France between 1902 and 1906 when he sought to identify the elements and characteristics he thought made an ideal golf hole.

In all, Macdonald identified 21 holes he considered worthy of some degree of replication on the revered courses he was to design back in his native United States.

But was he a copier or an adapter? Did he hold these holes in such high regard that he tried to reproduce their dimensions exactly? Or, did he modify the fundamental challenge they provided to allow for differences in terrain, soils, and settings, among other things?

Architect Brian Silva, who has restored a number of courses designed by Macdonald and his protégé Seth Raynor, prefers to call the original holes “inspirations” rather than “templates.”

“It’s important to remember Macdonald often said he was not trying to slavishly recreate the topography of a hole but trying to adapt or adopt an idea to various settings,” says Silva.

Gil Hanse, who has also worked on a handful of Macdonald and Raynor courses including The Creek, Fishers Island, and Sleepy Hollow, agrees, noting that Macdonald said there were no original ideas in design “just iterations of tried and true adaptations of golf course architecture in unique surrounds.”

The 21 holes with characteristics that Macdonald thought worthy of reproducing included the 11th (Eden) and 17th (Road) at St. Andrews, the 5th (now 4th—Short) at Royal West Norfolk, the 16th (Leven) at Lundin Links, and 17th (Alps) at Prestwick. As Silva and Hanse observe, golfers seeing these and the other templates for the first time might not realize the story behind the hole they are playing, but the strategy and shots each of them requires are the same as those required on the holes that inspired them.

Despite their popularity among architecture enthusiasts, Tom Doak isn’t a fan. “I prefer creativity,” Doak says. “At some point, templates are just lazy design— maybe not in the early days when people were still working out what constituted good design, but certainly today.”

The designer of Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, and Cape Kidnappers among others does concede he has built a few Redans and Edens in the past, and that there are many times when a hole he’s working on reminds him of something he’s seen before.

“There’s nothing wrong with utilizing a great idea in a new location,” he says. “But when you want to make every par three a Redan, Eden, or Biarritz, it’s pretty stale.”

What, then, might stir Doak to golf’s equivalent of impressionism? What new, alternative templates might he consider worthwhile attempting?

“There’s a hole at Pacific Dunes inspired by the 3rd at Woking,” says Doak. “And a hole at Streamsong inspired by the 6th at Pacific Dunes. I tried building a green like Crystal Downs’s 7th at Sebonack and suggested a bunker in the middle of the 2nd green at Tara Iti before realizing the client’s house in Los Angeles overlooked the 6th green at Riviera (where George Thomas put a bunker in the green).”

The 4th hole at Woodlands Golf Club (Photo by Adrian Logue)

 

Doak recently built a version of Woodlands Golf Club’s drivable par-four 4th in Melbourne at Memorial Park in Houston. And early in his career, he built three versions of Perry Maxwell’s 13th green at Crystal Downs, with the front tier higher than the back.

Hanse is another who believes the central fairway bunker should be used more often than it is. “The Principal’s Nose on the Old Course is such a great feature,” he says. “It asks the golfer to choose a side of the fairway based on his ability and confidence.”

Ron Forse, who specializes in restoration of Golden Age courses, focuses on two features that he thinks should belong in new template holes—mounding and kickslopes.

“Devereux Emmet, Alex Finlay, Walter Travis, William Flynn, Donald Ross and, later, Dick Wilson all used mounding to great effect,” Forse says.

Shaped correctly, says Forse, mounds should look different from every angle and add to the strategic interest and aesthetic appeal of a hole. “We particularly like mounding with associated bunkers. The 2nd hole at Brae Burn just outside Boston has some of the best examples. It would make a great template.”

Kick slopes, so much a feature of Macdonald’s Redan greens, promote the ground game, says Forse, and give an opportunity for lesser-skilled golfers to run the ball up to the hole.

A kick slope on the 3rd hole at Cypress Lakes (Photo by Ron Forse)

 

A less familiar concept Forse recently recreated on the 8th hole (Pelican Nine) at Pelican Bay Country Club in Naples, Fla., is the v-shaped, or boomerang green. Though he insists he wasn’t working to Mackenzie’s drawing of the 10th green at Pasatiempo, he does admit it was probably in the back of his mind.

“It puts a premium on finding the correct part of the fairway and is challenging without being excessively difficult,” he says.

Much like the excellent 7th at Sand Hills, whose tiny, angled green and large, front-left bunker could become a popular template of the future, says Hanse. “You could build this hole as a reverse version of itself as well.”

Hanse has also tried putting new twists on Thomas’s brilliant short par-four 10th at Riviera. “It’s such a great hole,” he says. “And though it hasn’t been considered a template, it really should be because it’s been imitated so often.”

Six of the Most Interesting Driving Ranges in Golf

By Erik Matuszewski

 

Driving range at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

 

I tend not to hit more than a dozen balls warming up before a round of golf. Like many golfers, I might joke with those next to me that my good shots are limited, so why waste them?

But during my travels I’ve come across a number of unique or unusual practice ranges where it’s easy to linger just a bit longer ahead of a tee time.

I thought about this shortly after visiting the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Quebec, where the clubhouse boasts sweeping views of the vast St. Lawrence River from high atop a hill. The winding cart path up to the clubhouse is more than a mile long, and the payoff is well worth it. Not only will you find one of the best opening tee shots in the game—you’ll also find one of its most scenic warm-up areas.

Before starting play on one of the course’s three nine-hole layouts, players fire practice balls from the property’s highest point to a range far below. This jarringly dramatic setting for a range happens to be where President Donald Trump and other world leaders took photos during the 2018 G7 Summit held at the resort.

While it’s hard to match that setting for its natural beauty, here are a handful of the game’s unique or noteworthy spots to warm up before a round. Whether it’s quirkiness, scenic views, or a truly special vibe, these ranges have something more than just functionality.

 

The Coeur d’Alene Resort (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho)

Arriving at this lakefront resort via its mahogany water taxi is simply the start of the experience. Golfers everywhere know Coeur d’Alene as the home of the true island green—one you have to take a boat to, as well—but water is also in play before the round. This scenic over-water driving range stays true to the lakefront theme by using floating golf balls. Not only that, but massages are offered to all guests at the practice tee before their round—with the resort giving an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 during the golf season.

 

Orange County National (Winter Garden, Fla.)

The practice range at this Orlando property, which is home to two 18-hole golf courses and a nine-hole walking-only executive layout, spans 42 acres and, most notably, is circular. There are 600 hitting bays that extend 360 degrees around the venue, which is billed as the largest driving range in the nation and is where attendees gather to test new equipment each year during the PGA Merchandise Show. Players warming up for their round at OCN can contend with any possible wind direction to prep for that day’s play.

Driving Range at Orange County National (Photo by Montana Pritchard, PGA Golf Exhibitions)

 

World Woods Golf Club (Brooksville, Fla.)

Orange County National isn’t the only southern facility with a 360-degree driving range. The RTJ Golf Trail at Capitol Hill in Alabama also has one, but World Woods takes it to another level. The facility’s massive 20-acre circular range has four grass teeing stations arranged in a North, South, East, and West layout, and is central to a sprawling Practice Park that also features a two-acre putting course and three practice holes (a par three, par four, and par five) to loosen up before taking on one of the two championship courses.

 

Cascata Club (Las Vegas, Nev.)

In the desert away from the Las Vegas Strip is a golf oasis for high rollers known as Cascata, which is Italian for “waterfall.” The setting for golf is stunning and the practice range is no slouch either. Visitors enjoy taking aim toward a distant mountainside where bighorn sheep scale the rocky slopes. A waterfall tumbles 418 feet into a stream that wanders through the practice area, crossing under a bridge near the teeing ground, and eventually running through the clubhouse.

Driving range at Cascata Club (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

 

Pebble Beach Resorts (Monterey, Calif.)

This one gets a special mention because of the location and for what the new 350-yard double-ended venue replaced. The old range at Pebble Beach was cramped, mats-only, and down the road from the course itself. The new range is a world removed, a practice area Nirvana for resort golfers. The sculpted target greens have surrounding bunkers with a look that mimics shots found throughout Pebble Beach. And you never know who you may run into while warming up—I remember visiting one time during the Pebble Beach Pro-Am when Tom Brady was hitting driver at one end and Kenny G was grinding away at the other.

Practice facilities at Pebble Beach (Photo credit Pebble Beach Company)

 

There are many more special practice ranges throughout the game. What are some of the finest, unique, or most memorable that you’ve experienced?

Classic Courses: California Golf Club of San Francisco

By Graylyn Loomis

 

3rd hole at Cal Club (Photo by Evan Schiller)

 

Coming up the entryway into California Golf Club of San Francisco—or, as it’s more commonly called, Cal Club—is a drive back in time. The road winds past the first fairway and up to a grand white clubhouse. There’s a main entrance, but the members know better and walk around to the side and through a door that opens directly onto one of the best bars in golf.

However you enter, there’s no doubt that Cal Club is old-school cool. There are no tee times, shorts are not permitted (even though the club is technically in South San Francisco, the weather is usually Bay Area comfortable), and caddies accompany nearly every group. The clubhouse is filled with historic maps, drawings, and photos of the course over the decades. There are even a few dormie rooms upstairs with the accommodations offering everything a golfer needs—and nothing more. A lot has happened in the club’s first century, but when you’re on property it can be hard to tell.

Cal Club was founded in 1918 on a site some seven miles south of downtown San Francisco on land leased from a water company. When the lease was up and the utility wanted its land back, the club relocated another eight miles south to its present location. Ireland-born A. Vernon Macan and Scotsman Willie Locke designed the new course, which opened in 1926, but club records show that two years later Alister MacKenzie and his sometime-partner Robert Hunter (who famously touched up both Pebble Beach and Cypress Point) were hired to make changes, notably redoing the bunkering and a few of the greens on the hilly site.

 

6th hole at Cal Club (Photo by Evan Schiller)

 

After 80 years of neglect and incremental change, the club hired Kyle Phillips in 2007 to restore the course to its “golden age” grandeur. And what a job he did. Along with clearing trees and planting fescue grass, Phillips created five new holes, notably the par-four 2nd—which sits on the site of the old practice range—and the unforgettable dogleg-right par-four 7th, a Cape hole that looks as if it has been there forever.

The most memorable features of the course are its green complexes, featuring bunkers that squeeze and push the putting surfaces into endlessly interesting shapes and slopes. The conditions are smooth and very fast due to bentgrass fairways and greens that are meticulously maintained (and vigilantly guarded from invasive poa annua). And thanks to the hilly parkland terrain, almost everywhere you look are long views across the course and Bay Area.

Keeping Cal Club as good as it is means keeping it very private. And that’s too bad, because if more golfers got to see it, word would spread that it’s one of the best—and coolest—courses in the west.

Modern Classics: Wade Hampton

By Ian Critser

 

17th hole at Wade Hampton (Photo by Dave Sansom)

 

On the ever-growing list of courses Tom Fazio has designed, there are only a select few that he calls home. Serving as the summer getaway from his primary residence in South Florida, Wade Hampton Golf Club is one of them.

One of the game’s most exclusive enclaves, the club is nestled in the tiny mountain village of Cashiers in western North Carolina, on the site of 19th-century politician Wade Hampton III’s former summer home. In 1984, the land was acquired by William McKee, who wanted to create an unparalleled golf experience that combined a superb course with the stunning landscape. 

Undoubtedly one of Fazio’s finest works, the course is routed masterfully through the towering topography. Many of the holes are defined by large granite outcroppings, bubbling streams, and severe elevation changes. The entire course sits in the shadow of Chimney Top mountain, with much of the back nine snuggling up against its imposing, sheer walls.

Stretching to just over 7,200 yards from the tips with a rating of 75.5 and slope of 146, Wade Hampton’s playing corridors are more generous than the numbers might suggest. The fairways are wide and the greens inviting, but like Pine Valley (where Fazio has done some work), trouble lurks: Cavernous bunkers, thick rough, dense forest, streams, and ponds are close by.

 

18th hole at Wade Hampton (Photo by Dave Sansom)

 

As with many Fazio designs, the four par threes are stunning. The best of them—and perhaps the most photographed hole on the course—is the 17th, which plays downhill to an expansive green fronted by a stream and framed by two large, ancient hemlock trees that resemble goalposts. 

The club is proudly owned by a passionate membership always looking to push their already esteemed haven to the next level. The course and club facilities underwent an extensive renovation in 2018: Tee boxes, greens, green surrounds, and rough were reseeded and Capillary Concrete lining was added to greenside bunkers. Parts of the clubhouse interior were opened up, creating a more lively and cohesive environment for members and their guests. 

Wade Hampton is better than ever and poised for many successful decades to come. Needless to say, if you’re one of the fortunate few to be invited to spend time in its rarefied air, jump at the chance.

A First Look at Hoiana Shores Golf Club

By Erik Matuszewski

18th green at Hoiana Shores, where the holes feature wicker baskets instead of flags (Photo by Gary Lisbon)

The newest course in the world’s fastest-growing golf market is open for limited preview play, and those lucky enough to get an early look at Vietnam’s Hoiana Shores Golf Club are in for a unique treat.

For starters, the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design doesn’t have any flapping flags to help golfers deal with the ever-present winds off the East Vietnam Sea. Instead, the traditional links course in Central Vietnam features red basket lanterns which replicate those illuminating the night in the nearby Old Town of Hoi An, a former Portuguese trading post that dates to the 1600s. A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site just 10 minutes from the golf course and the Hoiana Integrated Resort, Hoi An is known as the City of Lanterns.  

The baskets bear an unmistakable—and intentional—resemblance to those found at venerable Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia. Wind cuts right through the wicker, making the lanterns ideal for the seaside location since they can’t be blown over. Just don’t expect them to help much with determining wind direction.

Hoi An is known as the “City of Lanterns” (Courtesy VN Tourism, with photo credit to Christian Berg)

When it comes to breezy conditions, six of the 18 holes at aptly named Hoiana Shores come into direct contact with the shoreline. It won’t be uncommon for golfers to actually play shots directly from the beach, says Ben Styles, Hoiana’s Vice President for Golf.

“The beachfront could have been otherwise developed,” Styles says. “But this decision will ultimately pay off, as this part of the course is uniquely unforgettable. There is nothing quite like playing those holes. It is proof you are playing a proper links. There aren’t many courses in Asia that serve up that type of experience.”

Hoiana Shores had been one of 43 golf courses in development in Vietnam entering this year, the most of any country worldwide, according to the R&A’s Golf Around the World Report. And Hoiana Shores is a key component of perhaps the most ambitious resort development undertaken in Vietnam—a $4 billion project that’s starting with more than 1,000 rooms, suites, and villas in its first operational phase. The property, which covers almost 2,500 acres and has two-and-a-half miles of pristine beach, also features a suite of beachside pools and restaurants, a beach club, an entertainment facility, and a wide array of retail partners. It showcases not only the vibrancy of Hoi An and Central Vietnam, but is intended to draw both domestic and international tourism to the region.

“It all starts with the golf,” says Styles. While the grand opening of the course is set for early 2020, it began welcoming limited preview play on Sept. 23, with all proceeds donated to local charities. 

10th hole at Hoiana Shores (Photo by Gary Lisbon)

Stuart Stone, who oversaw construction of Hoiana Shores for Hong Kong-based course builder Linksshape, says the land upon which the course is built is “almost the dictionary definition of what ‘linksland’ should be.” The layout is defined by its wonderful shapes and contours, including greens nestled into dunes early in the round and more open vistas as the course takes players closer to the water later in the routing. In some instances, the architects and design team would let sand pile up, shape it, and then let the wind take over again.

“It’s pretty unique and required real patience,” says Stone. “On holes 16 and 17, for example, where the wind is coming right off the sea, our fine shapers carved out the shapes, and then we let Mother Nature further shape it. Then the team came back, refined it and finalized it. Ultimately, we created truly windswept areas there that were quite different from the original shapes.”

The course will play firm and fast thanks to a relatively new, drought-tolerant turfgrass called Zeon Zoysia that was developed for equatorial regions like Hoi An and is less grainy than Bermuda and

Paspalum grasses. The choice was strategic as well as sustainable. Unlike many “tropical links” built on sand, Hoiana Shores is able to deliver the bounce and roll that true links courses demand.

Par-three 17th hole at Hoiana Shores (Photo by Gary Lisbon)

A par 71 that stretches to 7,401 yards, Hoiana Shores is the first Vietnamese course for Jones after decades in the design business. And from the lanterns to the beachfront holes, it’s a memorable debut.

“I’ve been working in Asia all of my adult life. We’ve worked all over the region and looked at projects in Vietnam. But it does feel as though the best site has been saved for us,” Jones saiys. “It’s been a lovely treasure hunt that ends with us finding a golf course project hard by the sea. Where great land meets the sea, great golf can happen.”

Golf’s Short Course Craze

By Tony Dear

The short course at Forest Dunes

 

Golf’s short course movement is in full swing.

Whether it’s a layout with fewer than 18 holes, or one consisting solely of par threes, truncated golf is appearing with increasing regularity as America discovers how much fun it can be, how great it is for introducing youth to the game, how inexpensive it is, and how it might be all people have time for.

There are a number of short courses that have found fame and recognition in recent years. Nine-hole Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tenn., enjoys enormous popularity among an enlightened group of golfers who favor sound design and a simplified version of the game over an elaborate, and invariably more expensive, bell/whistle approach.

And the Winter Park Golf Course just outside of Orlando in Winter Park, Fla., affectionately known to regulars as “WP9,” has also become synonymous with right-thinking golfers seeking quick, affordable entertainment.

For WP9 to succeed as it has, it needed willing and devoted local residents, a visionary mayor in Steve Leary, and the design talents of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns who transformed the more than 100-year-old layout into a nifty playground suitable for every kind of golfer.

It would be a couple of years before they got the opportunity to assure everyone their debut success wasn’t a fluke, however. Lew Thompson, owner and developer of Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, Mich., wanted a short course he could play with his grandsons and gave Rhebb a call in April. Though he was working for Bill Coore on the renovation of the Plantation Course at Kapalua Bay in Hawaii, Coore insisted he accept the offer. Johns too had been involved at Kapalua but was also able to make it work. They were done in just 81 days.

“We didn’t start out with that goal, but it all went incredibly smoothly,” says Rhebb. “Lew had everything set up for when we arrived, the weather was good, and we had local school kids come out and remove rocks.”

Camarillo Springs

 

The course, still to be named, will open next spring when golfers who have played the Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes or Tom Doak’s The Loop earlier in the day will be able to kick back, go barefoot, put on some tunes, open a beer, and hunt an ace.

“It’s meant to be fun,” Rhebb says. “Golfers should come off a short course like this, and immediately want to do it again.”

Like they do at The Greenbrier’s Ashford Short Course which opened a year ago, either Top of the Rock or Mountain Top Golf Course at Big Cedar Lodge, The Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort, the thankfully-revived par-65 Goat Hill Park, or Pinehurst’s The Cradle which, it was reported in September, recorded 68,000 rounds in its first year.

Dave Axland and Rod Whitman’s 10-hole course currently growing in at Cabot Links in Nova Scotia promises to be similarly amusing. Set on a 12-acre parcel inland and uphill from Cabot Cliffs, holes will range from 85 to 230 yards, says Keith Cutten who is part of the design team. “It isn’t a pitch and putt,” he adds. “It will be a genuine test but enormous fun.”

Two-and-a-half thousand miles away in Cleveland, Texas, is another short course(s) that’s yet to open but is likewise highly anticipated. Nine Grand at the Grand Oaks Reserve development is not only an innovative mix of nine-hole course, nine-hole par 3, and nine-hole putting course—Rhebb and fellow shaper Angela Moser helped build it, and it is designer Mike Nuzzo and contractor/superintendent John Mahaffey’s first collaboration since they created the amazing Wolf Point Club in Port Lavaca, Texas, in 2009.

New Urban West (NUW), a Santa Monica, Calif.-based developer, is currently seeking permits to build something similar in Camarillo, 50 miles west of Los Angeles. Camarillo Springs will have a 12-hole main course and a six-hole short course that Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate have already routed.

“We were actually hired by industry veteran Gary Lewis who was hired by NUW as they had no experience in developing golf,” says Pascuzzo. “Gary made it clear that while length and rating weren’t important, building fun and interesting holes was.”

That was obviously the recipe at McVeigh’s Gauntlet at Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Ore., home of the goat caddies. Dan Hixson’s thrill-packed seven-holer (five par threes and two par fours) climbs up and tumbles down some dramatic terrain and could make a claim to be the game’s most exciting 1,135 yards. Hixson has a soft spot for short courses.

McVeigh’s Gauntlet


“I love them because we designers can get away with things that would be lambasted on a full course,” he says. “Short courses are full of quirkiness, extreme shaping, and imaginative golf shots.”

In describing what motivated some of the holes at McVeigh’s Gauntlet, Hixson surely defines the very essence of short course adventure. “I tried to envision what would make my friends and I laugh as we watched each other play these crazy holes.”

Amen to that.

Dumbarnie Links

By George Peper

 

3rd hole at Dumbarnie Links (Photo courtesy of Clive Clark)

 

On a recent trip to Scotland I had the opportunity to play a sneak-preview round at Dumbarnie Links, a course I’m sure will be hailed roundly as a triumph when it opens for play next year. Clive Clark, a member of the 1973 Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team, has taken a relatively undistinguished landscape and created 18 fun, testing, and memorable holes.

About nine miles south of St. Andrews on the Firth of Forth, Dumbarnie is set over 345 acres, part of the 5,000-acre Balcarres Estate held by Lord Anthony Balniel and his family since the 16th century.

“There was an air of uncertainty when my family was first approached about building a golf course on our land,” says Lord Balniel. “Fast forward several years and we simply could not be more pleased. What Clive Clark and his team have done is nothing short of outstanding. I have been struck not only by the beauty of what has been created, with the dune landscape significantly enhanced, but also by the focus on the wildlife, plants, and birds. It has been a joy to see the project unfold.”

8th hole at Dumbarnie Links (Photo courtesy of Clive Clark)

 

From the 1st hole, a “friendly handshake” par four played from an elevated tee to the final testing dogleg par four, the holes kept us constantly engaged. I loved the wide fairways and expansive greens as, I suspect, will 99 percent of players—continued evidence that a more welcoming style of architecture—via Gil Hanse, the reborn David McLay Kidd, even Tiger Woods—is blessedly taking hold. Mind you, I’m not saying Clark has designed an easy course. It was clear, peering back on each tee at the championship markers (over 7,600 yards), that Dumbarnie can and will be a stern test even for the world’s best players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Scottish Open come here soon, or for Dumbarnie to replace Carnoustie, joining the Old Course and Kingsbarns in the triad of courses that host the Dunhill Links Championship.

The greens were fun to putt, with broad, flowing undulations rather than the abrupt roller-coaster slopes of the nearby Castle Course (although admittedly at their newborn speed of about seven on the Stimpmeter, they’re far less fearsome than they will be in a year or so). I also appreciated the green complexes that echoed the playability theme, many of them amphitheatrical bowls rather than upturned saucers. There was some Old Course homage as well—playful hints of the classic surfaces of holes 11, 12, and 17. Most of the greens also are open-fronted, allowing for bounce-on approaches. My most satisfying iron shot on a day of precious few good ones was a low, drawing 5-iron into the last which must’ve bounded and rolled 100 yards. 

If I were a golf architect, my theme would be risk and reward, with Cape Holes galore, and Clive Clark certainly has worked in plenty of that at Dumbarnie. Playing from the third of the five sets of tees, I savored the chance to drive the buttonhook 3rd (caught a greenside pot bunker), the inviting 11th (pushed one hopelessly right, leaving a vexing pitch), and the downwind 17th where it ran through the green, leaving what Alister MacKenzie would have called a “pleasantly exciting” chip down three tiers.  

17th hole at Dumbarnie Links (Photo courtesy of Clive Clark)

 

Two holes featured double-fairways offering conservative and aggressive options—and my how those options will change with wind direction, not to mention the choice of tees. These holes in particular were testimony to the creative earthmoving done on the site, essentially flat farmland that has been sculpted into an eye-catching dunescape. The bunkering here is similar to Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, a combination of sod-faced pots and ragged-edged pits of all sizes that add to both the visual variety and challenge. 

If I had one quibble it would be that some of the walks twixt green and tee are a bit long (although I admit I’m spoiled by the St. Andrews courses—and I also have a lousy back). That said, they’re easier than at Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and The Castle. Designer Clark and his crew also are to be commended for masking the uphill movement—only two holes called for any uphill trekking and they were minor. 

9th hole at Dumbarnie Links (Photo courtesy of Clive Clark)

 

You’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the views, which are wonderful, with the Firth of Forth in sight on 16 of the holes. It’s just that the course itself grabbed and held my attention from start to finish. I have no doubt that Dumbarnie will soon come to stand along with Kingsbarns as the two courses (after the Old) that every serious St. Andrews pilgrim will want to play.

A Tour of Payne’s Valley

By Erik Matuszewski

Elevated view of the par-three 5th hole at Payne’s Valley (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

As our dusty camouflage utility vehicle squeezed past several excavators on one side of the gravel path behind Big Cedar Lodge’s Mountain Top clubhouse, a group of workers armed with compressed-air devices called air spades was on the other, painstakingly clearing dirt and rock from a wall of limestone outcroppings.

Minutes earlier, looking down on the distinctive formations from the back deck of the clubhouse, I asked Todd Bohn how laborious the process is to expose them.

Bohn is the director of agronomy for Big Cedar’s golf properties and on this steamy Missouri afternoon was giving me a tour of the first public golf course in the U.S. built by Tiger Woods and his design firm. As we rumbled past the formations, Bohn explained how they were first dug out by excavators, then blasted with high-pressure water before the final clearing is meticulously done by hand.

Indeed, the impressive visuals hit you from the start at the Woods-designed Payne’s Valley layout, as the path to the first tee goes past this dramatic wall of rock. This after having been treated to seemingly endless views from the Mountain Top clubhouse that sits on the highest part of the property in southwest Missouri, just over 10 miles north of the Arkansas border. It’s all a part of the experience at Big Cedar, which has grown into one of the game’s leading golf destinations.

Less than a minute later, we stood on the first tee, a downhill par four with a wide, untouched fairway that tumbles down to a green perched on the edge of a hill. Miles of densely treed hills provide the backdrop for the opener, which looks achingly ready to play, except for the fact there are no tee markers, no flags, and no holes cut in the greens. There are no divots either, as Payne’s Valley—the fifth course in the Big Cedar portfolio—isn’t scheduled to open until summer of 2020.

(Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

My tour showed it will be worth the wait, a scenic treat that lives up to Woods’s fun and player-friendly pledge while offering strategic challenges throughout.

“You could land a jumbo jet on some of these fairways,” says Bohn, noting that there are 85 acres of fairway at Payne’s Valley.

A former high school football star in Kansas, Bohn holds a unique place in the golf world. As the on-site point man who oversees a team of contractors to implement the plans from TGR Design, he’s about to help open a third new golf course in three years. Ozarks National (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Mountain Top (Gary Player) both opened for full-time play within the past two years.

Most of the holes at Payne’s Valley are fully grassed and look like they’re ready for play, with a handful still undergoing work before winter. Among them are the par-five 18th hole, which sits at the base of the limestone wall, roughly 160 feet below the clubhouse. Just beyond that unfinished green, the par-three, bet-settling 19th hole is tucked on a shelf in the side of the rock face. When completed, a dramatic waterfall will spill down the limestone wall from up near the clubhouse, dumping between 4,000 and 6,000 gallons of water per minute.

The fairway of the 18th fairway was sodded with Zoysia grass from Tulsa, Okla., in August—one of the final few holes to get grass. But even though parts of the course might look ready to welcome eager golfers, Bohn says its essential to have a full growing season. Especially after he was kept up many nights “trying to keep things alive in the heat” of the summer.

Par-five 18th hole at Payne’s Valley (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

“The earliest I’d like to play on that is May or June of next year,” Bohn says. “It’s going to root down the rest of this year, but it’s not going to grow when it goes dormant.”

Payne’s Valley is a par-72 layout—10 par fours, four par fives and four par threes—that will play 7,375 yards from the back tees and about 5,900 yards from the most forward tees. As the name would suggest, it plays down and through a beautiful valley on one side of the Mountain Top clubhouse. It’s also an homage to the late Payne Stewart, the three-time major championship winner and Springfield, Mo., native who died in a 1999 plane crash.

The 4th hole is a shorter par five that incorporates rock outcroppings behind and in front of the green, which is also protected by a six-acre irrigation pond. The par-three 5th hole plays to an island green of sorts, as it’s surrounded on all sides by the same pond that fronts the 4th hole.

Work is still being finished at the visually arresting par-3three 10th hole, which will have a small waterfall behind the green to the right. A faux stone bridge crosses over the waterfall, which connects a higher pond to a lower one on the left side of the 10th green. 

The concept of the 12th green reminds Bohn of the short, par-four 10th hole at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles. It’s potentially drivable for some, but miss to the left and your ball kicks away from the green and rolls away. Miss to the right and you’re in a sea of bunkers.

“And then,” Bohn says as we round a corner to the par-five 13th, which can play 660 yards, uphill, from the back tees, “this course kicks you in your teeth for a few holes.”

Par-four 1st hole at Payne’s Valley (Photo by Erik Matuszewski)

The conclusion, like the introduction, is a thrilling one. By the time you approach the 18th green (and the bonus 19th hole), you’re left wondering how in the world golfers will get back up to the clubhouse high above. A portion of that rock face had been exposed originally, but the Big Cedar team uncovered twice as much—just adding to the drama. Tiger’s course itself only adds to the rich bounty of golf at Big Cedar, and it left me counting the days to when my next go-round is in a golf cart instead of a utility vehicle.