What You Should Know About Royal Birkdale

By Tony Dear

(Photo credit: Kevin Murray)

 

The Open, Open Championship, and British Open all began at the same time yesterday on the historic links of Royal Birkdale Golf Club, a couple of miles south of Lord Street and Southport’s handsome town center. The club, founded as Birkdale Golf Club in 1889, moved to its present location in 1894 after it decided golf would be more than a passing fad in the area and that, because the River Mersey probably wasn’t going to silt up, trans-Atlantic steam liners could continue docking in Liverpool rather than nearby Ainsdale.

George Low’s original design was rather basic, but the Southport Corporation (a local transport authority) purchased the land in 1931 and leased it back to the club with the understanding that considerable investment in the links be made, and the course improved to championship standard.

F.G. Hawtree and his partner, five-time Open champion J.H. Taylor, were hired and, considering this is Birkdale’s 10th Open Championship since its first in 1954—three years after King George VI was “graciously pleased to Command that the Club shall henceforth be known as The Royal Birkdale Golf Club,” and it has also hosted three British Amateur Championships, six Women’s British Open Championships, a Senior Open Championship, a British PGA Championship, two Ryder Cups, a Curtis Cup, and a Walker Cup—it would be fair to say they did a bang-up job.

(Photo credit: Kevin Murray)

 

Fred Hawtree Jr. added some length and the superb par-three 12th in the 1960s, and his son Martin tore up and re-laid all 18 greens after the 1991 Open, but the course on which Henrik Stenson is attempting to repeat his extraordinary performance of last year is essentially that which F.G. Hawtree and Taylor routed along the flatter strips between the magnificent dunes.

“It’s a course where the inventive shot-maker will do well,” says my old schoolfriend Fraser Irvine, who just happened to become a Birkdale member earlier this year. “That’s true of all links courses certainly, but it seems especially important at Birkdale where the fairways seem bouncier than most.”

Irvine adds that despite regular watering which has had the links looking fairly green in the run-up to the championship, the course will play firm enough as it saw relatively little rain throughout the spring and early summer. And, though the forecast isn’t predicting particularly strong winds at the moment, British weather forecasts are notoriously inaccurate so perhaps we should expect the wind to be a factor at some point over the weekend. “It’s always windy in Southport,” says Irvine. “I’ve played Birkdale in unrelenting 40 mph gusts when club selection became virtually impossible. It can be guesswork a lot of the time, but that day I hit an 8-iron over 200 yards on one hole, then needed a 3-wood to knock it 150 yards at the next.”

(Photo credit: Kevin Murray)

 

Because the prevailing wind comes in off the Irish Sea, the holes at which competitors will likely face the sternest challenge are the 422-yard 2nd which played to an average of 4.37 in 2008, the 499-yard 6th whose second shot battles the wind and must avoid three deep bunkers (and which played as Birkdale’s hardest hole at its last two Open Championships), and the 436-yard 11th which winner Padraig Harrington described as a “big, big hole” during the 2008 Championship.

“The 15th also tends to play into the wind and, though a par five, could cause trouble,” says Irvine. “It just seems like there are dozens of pot bunkers to miss (13 in fact), and the green has some pretty sharp borrows toward the back. Play it cautiously and it’s a relatively easy par five, but if you’re chasing a score it could prove your undoing.”

Given the possible conditions, Irvine says he can’t imagine there will be anyone who doesn’t get into “some serious bother” at some point. “This is proper links golf,” he adds. “There are going to be some tough moments, and how the players deal with them will be the key to success.”

(Photo credit: Kevin Murray)

 

Making hay at the slightly less intimidating holes—3, 7, 8, 14, and 17—will be important but, as anyone who has ever played a links will tell you, downwind, crosswind, and head-on wind all present their own challenges.

“Holding the green at any hole playing downwind could be really difficult,” says Irvine. “The pros will often need to run the ball on from the fairway rather than carry it all the way to the flag which they prefer.”

Irvine, who may be wearing jeans and trainers (sneakers) in the clubhouse thanks to the club’s relaxed dress code for the week—“For all its history and tradition, Royal Birkdale is a surprisingly friendly and social club, not stuffy in the least”—is Scottish by birth (did you guess?) so would welcome a Richie Ramsay, Russell Knox, or Martin Laird victory. But he feels a strong sentimental feeling among fellow members for Justin Rose. “It’s 19 years since his amazing performance here as an amateur,” he says. “He’s an Englishman, so I certainly won’t be supporting him, but he’d be the clubhouse favorite.”

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What do you think of Royal Birkdale and how would you compare it to other Open venues? Let us know in the comments below!

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The U.S. Open May Return to Chambers Bay

By Tony Dear

A recent visit to the 2015 U.S. Open Venue more or less convinced our writer the championship will return one day.

Given what happened in 2015, it’s likely that if and when the USGA ever announces the U.S. Open is returning to Chambers Bay, the backlash will be strong. You’ll remember most people didn’t seem terribly fond of the place —the players were almost universally angry about the state of the greens, the fans weren’t impressed with their vantage points (or lack of them) at certain holes, and Gary Player was unconvinced with the whole set up—“the most unpleasant golf tournament I’ve seen in my life,” said the nine-time major champion.

There are no doubt plenty of folk who hope Chambers Bay has staged its last U.S. Open already. But, after attending a celebration of the course’s first 10 years last week, and listening to people who will shape its progress over the next 10, I can assure you it is not going to let the generally negative reaction to its first U.S. Open deter it from hosting another one.

Addressing an audience of media and local stakeholders, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said the County (which owns Chambers Bay) would be “aggressively going after both the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens, and other big events. We’re going to continue making Chambers Bay better and better,” said the man who succeeded Pat McCarthy, the county executive at the time of the 2015 championship and who, in turn, had taken over from John Ladenburg whose idea Chambers Bay had been.

Significant additions that will no doubt help the course attract the USGA back to the Pacific Northwest some day (sites are confirmed through 2026), will be the 190-room hotel and villas, 5,000-square-foot event space, 200-seat Tom Douglas restaurant, and 4,000-square-foot clubhouse to be built around the site of the current clubhouse. Local company Chambers Bay Development, co-owned by Dan Putnam—the father of PGA Tour and Web.com players Michael and Andrew Putnam who grew up just a few miles away—won the bid last fall, and will break ground before the end of this year with completion scheduled for 2019.

But what use will a hotel be if the greens remain bumpy, and the viewing areas limited?

“There are no worries about the spectator experience,” says Ladenburg who remains a central figure in the evolution of Chambers Bay. “At a post-championship USGA event, I had a conversation with an official who had been involved in roping the course. He told me he was already thinking about what they would need to do for next time.”

 

As for the course, Director of Agronomy Eric Johnson says it is all in hand. “Over time, perennial-type annual bluegrass (commonly known as poa annua var. reptans) will become dominant on the greens,” he adds. “Currently there are a handful of perennial biotypes along with annual biotypes, colonial bentgrass and the fine fescue that was first sown here.”

The mix of turfgrasses explains why the greens remain so mottled even to this day. But 2015’s problems went deeper than a combination of grasses. Matt Allen, the general manager at the course which will host the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur in a few weeks and the U.S. Amateur Fourball Championship in May 2019, says the weather preceding the event could not have been less helpful. “We weren’t prepared for the heat and lack of rain,” he says. “So, we had to water the greens immediately before and during the tournament. The fescue had gone dormant, but the poa just thrived with the irrigation.”

The 10th green has a more uniform color, and is noticeably smoother than most other greens at Chambers Bay. It shows the benefits of Eric Johnson’s poa annua seeding program. (Photo credit: Dave Hall)

 

Since June 2015, Johnson has increased cultural inputs (mowing, rolling, fertilizer, pesticide, water) to favor annual bluegrass establishment, and is seeding the greens with the only commercially available annual bluegrass turf—Poa reptans Two-Putt. “The good news,” he says, “is that it establishes pretty well. The bad news is that its prolific seedhead production in the first year or so gives the greens that blotchy appearance.”

Johnson has also begun saving and analyzing clipping yields from the greens in an effort to monitor growth and make better decisions on when to cut, seed, fertilize, and irrigate. “Every-day play is our focus as a public course,” he says. “I want smooth greens as well as consistent speed and firmness.”

The delay in reaching that goal hasn’t deterred golfers traveling to Tacoma, Wash., to play the course where Jordan Spieth shot 275 to win his second major championship in a row. “Since then we’ve had visitors from all 50 states and 27 countries,” says Allen, who adds that the number of rounds played at Chambers Bay each year is typically around 38,000.

Course improvements and a fancy new hotel will be welcome, but they still might not guarantee Chambers Bay another U.S. Open. Maybe the experiment with public courses (Pebble Beach, Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Pinehurst, Chambers Bay, and Erin Hills) will eventually fizzle out, and the old classics will take over. But perhaps the amazing views over Puget Sound and prime-time finish on the East Coast will work in its favor.

Then, of course, there’s the money. The 2015 U.S. Open had a $134 million impact on the local economy, and the USGA did rather well out of it too. According to its Annual Report, USGA revenue from its Open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open) in 2016, when the U.S. Open was played at Oakmont, was $53.3m. In 2015, it was $64.3m.  “The USGA needs to make money on the U.S. Open,” says Ladenburg. “And it made a lot at Chambers Bay.”

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Would you like to see the U.S. Open return to Chambers Bay? Let us know in the comments below!

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Sand Valley: Bandon in the Heartland

By James A. Frank

Sand Valley Hole 10 (Photo credit: Ryan Farrow)

 

Nearly 20 years ago, I was one of the first golf writers to find his way to the southern coast of Oregon and a new golf resort called Bandon Dunes. Back then, there was just one course—designed by a little-known Scotsman named David McLay Kidd—and a wonderfully bare-bones lodge just steps from the first tee. Roll out of bed, grab a bite, and off you went into the thrilling unknown on cliffs high above the Pacific.

A few weeks ago, as the golf world was fixated on southeastern Wisconsin, I was driving past Erin Hills heading further north and deeper into the Badger State to what many are calling the “next Bandon,” a single-course (for now) resort three hours northwest of Milwaukee called Sand Valley. And if the parallels aren’t strong enough, Sand Valley is the brainchild of the same man who created Bandon, Mike Keiser.

Let’s get the suspense out of the way. Is Sand Valley good? Absolutely. The Coore-Crenshaw-designed course is everything you’d expect: Very exciting yet very playable; big fairways, sometimes even bigger sandy areas, terrific green complexes; natural looking (although sometimes even “natural” can feel a little forced); and all on rumpled terrain covered with sand and dunes that definitely don’t fit anyone’s image of Dairy Land USA.

Should you go? Yes. But unless you’re one of those—like me—who must be the first to see and play the latest, you might want to wait. Give it a year. Then Sand Valley is really gonna be something!

Sand Valley Hole 1 (Photo credit Ryan Farrow)

 

To fully appreciate what’s been done, it helps to know a little history and geology. As Keiser’s son Michael Jr.—who, along with his brother Chris, manages Sand Valley—explained to me, 12,000 years ago this part of central Wisconsin was a glacial lakebed. Then a natural dam burst about 40 miles away and in 24 hours the force of water running through the area created the Wisconsin Dells and turned the lakebed into pure sand.

For the last 100 years, a tree farm spread for miles in all directions. “When we saw it, it was nothing inspiring, just pines,” says the younger Keiser. But further study revealed that removing the trees—which they did, about 2 million of them—would uncover a very different topography and allow the native flora to return, creating a mix of forest and prairie. “It looks something like the child of Sand Hills and Pine Valley,” says Keiser, “very long broad views then an intimate grove of trees and exposed sand dunes. I’ve never seen so much sand on a course.”

The Coore-Crenshaw layout incorporates it all. With six tees to choose from, the course plays from 6,913 to 3,883 yards. Holes angle both subtly and sharply to bring the giant sand boxes into play or provide routes to avoid them. I was particularly taken by the wonderful short par fours—like the opening hole that brilliantly eases the golfer in—and five par threes, which run from roughly 200 yards to the tiny 8th hole that’s 115 yards all uphill to an almost invisible crowned green.

Sand Valley Hole 18 (Photo credit, Ryan Farrow)

 

A few of the par fives (including number 18) also run uphill, a Coore-Crenshaw trademark. Many holes use the elevation to offer better views and angles when approaching from the proper—and higher—side. And there are rewards for being able to hit low, running shots into greens mostly open in front. There’s also a punchbowl green on the long par-3 17th, and the dare-to-drive-it, 275-yard 9th that drops into a valley then up to a perched green. Risk/reward opportunities are everywhere, enhanced by the grand scale and welcoming width.

The course is a three-minute shuttle ride from the clubhouse, which houses the pro shop and a high-ceilinged restaurant with TVs lining the walls, a well-stocked bar, and a small but diverse and tasty menu. The clubhouse also has 17 guest rooms (including a four-bedroom suite), as natural and minimalist as the course with everything you need and nothing you don’t. Another 24 rooms are in lodges dotted around the property; 12 more rooms should open this fall.

Just out the clubhouse’s back door is a beckoning porch that morphs into the first tee of the second course, a David McLay Kidd design scheduled to debut next year but offering a six-hole sneak peak right now.

Good as the Coore-Crenshaw course is, I think it’s this next layout—tantalizingly called Mammoth Dunes—that will get people talking. I’ve never seen a bigger setting for golf, some holes seemingly as wide as they are long. The dunes are higher, the blowouts broader, the scale almost too big to comprehend, particularly on holes 3 through 7 (not part of the loop, unfortunately), which feel as if they alone could contain an entire 18-hole course.

Mammoth Dunes (Photo credit: Ryan Farrow)

 

Kidd swears there’s no more turf at Mammoth than at Gamble Sands, his course in central Washington State that is so wide it’s impossible to miss a fairway, which makes it fun for every golfer. Mammoth is similarly devoted to fun, but with more room, more challenge, and more dramatic surroundings. I can’t wait to play it—and to hear the reactions as golfers gape and gawk at the vastness.

Keiser Senior has said it takes at least two courses to create a true golf destination. Bandon really took off once Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes was there to complement Kidd’s original design. The same is sure to happen at Sand Valley. And with some 1,700 acres, there’s room for (and talk of) more courses.

With Bandon, Keiser changed our conception of golf resorts and got us jumping into cars and airplanes to go far afield, to hard-to-reach locations, salivating to tee it up. Sand Valley will do the same thing, serendipitously located in a golf-mad part of the country within easy reach of millions.

It’s genius.

While I was at Sand Valley, Keiser Sr. was there with a group of old friends including Dick Youngscap, founder/manager of Sand Hills, the widely praised but very private Coore-Crenshaw layout in Nebraska that opened in 1995. I joined them one night for dinner, when Keiser gave credit to Youngscap for “starting this whole thing,” which I took to mean finding sandy spots far from civilization and letting brilliant architects carve out courses that exaggerate the land’s natural characteristics.

Thanks, Dick, you started a revolution. But it was Mike Keiser who brought it to the masses. On behalf of golfers everywhere, thank you.

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Is Sand Valley on your bucket list? Tell us whether you’d make the journey to Wisconsin in the comments below!

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Understanding Erin Hills, Host of the 2017 U.S. Open

To understand Erin Hills for those who have yet to see it, you must start with what it is not. “It’s not parkland, it’s not heathland, it’s not linksland,” says John Morrissett, the competitions director at the Wisconsin course, which will host the U.S. Open this month. “It is really a mixture of elements.”

“It reminds me in some ways of Shinnecock Hills,” says Mike Davis, Executive Director at the USGA. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Erin Hills is the equal of Shinnecock. I’m not. But in some places, there are similarities.”

“It’s just Erin Hills,” course owner Andy Ziegler told the Chicago Tribune.

In its 11 short years as a completed golf course, Erin Hills has been universally praised as a remarkable piece of land, lauded for the minimalist design of the architects, and admired for the care and feeding of the course by the present owner.

Yet, there are plenty of questions: Will Erin Hills play bouncy as it was designed and as the USGA hopes? Will the breezes blow and how will it hold up in case of rain? How will the best players in the world fare? How will the public and the cognoscenti receive it?

We begin with a brief geology lesson. Erin Hills sits on the Kettle Moraine region of Wisconsin, about 35 miles from Milwaukee. The Moraine was formed 18,000 years ago in the Ice Age when two glaciers collided at right angles. When the earth warmed and the glaciers receded, they left behind land that rolled, heaved, and swelled. In other words, perfect for a golf course the likes of which has rarely been seen.

Bob Lang, who was a non-golfer at the time, bought the property with a golf course and a big tournament in mind. He put out a Request For Proposal to course architects and wound up awarding the project in 2000 to the highly regarded firm of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, who were joined by Ron Whitten, the longtime architecture editor at Golf Digest.

Davis visited the site at the behest of Whitten, who had sent Davis an e-mail a year earlier, during the week of the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. “I remember driving out to the site, and when you get outside Milwaukee, it’s very rural, like Heartland U.S.A.,” says Davis, who, at the time, was director of competitions at the USGA.

“All of a sudden you get to this property and it’s all this rolling dunesland. As I drove down this country road, I thought this looked like Shinnecock Hills. They had done a routing and staked the tees and center lines. I remember thinking that this was going to be a spectacular golf course.”

A return visit to Erin Hills after construction finally commenced led Davis to recommend to then-Executive Director David Fay, “We have to look at it.”

Hurdzan, Fry, and Whitten made it their chief goal to move as little dirt as possible. They did multiple routings before settling on the present one. It was the routing that most showcased the geological features of the property.

“The land is really the star of the golf course and the architects made certain of that,” says Morrissett, who came to Erin Hills in 2010 after 17 years at the USGA. “It’s safe to say that the golf holes were found rather than built.”

The USGA awarded the 2008 U.S. Women’s Public Links to Erin Hills and, three years later, the U.S. Amateur was played there, two years after Lang sold Erin Hills to Ziegler. It wasn’t exactly a tournament for the best players in the world but it did host the best amateurs in the world and, at the time, that was enough for Davis.

“That was a big moment in time,” he says. “What we learned is how the golf course played in a big competition. Because it’s a minimalist design, it has some unique features. It has some semi-blind shots, has plenty of risk-reward holes.

“There have been some changes to the course since 2011, but I’m happy to say that most of them have been about making it better for the recreational player. But there were also changes to make it better for a championship. I think the course just keeps getting better and better.”

If you’ve heard this story before, you’re not wrong. Two years ago, the U.S. Open went to untested Chambers Bay in Washington where the course conditions became an issue. Like Erin Hills, Chambers Bay had fine fescue fairways but the greens were also fine fescue, and over the course of a long, hot week they wilted, drawing criticism from a number of players and journalists.

“No doubt,” Davis says when asked if staging the national championship at an untested site would be a big risk. “I wouldn’t call it a significant risk but there’s a risk. When we pick sites, we always start with the golf course. We ask ourselves if this is one of the truly great courses in the U.S., knowing that we have 45 percent of the world’s golf courses so we have quite a lot from which to choose.

“It’s a big country and has incredible diversity of architecture. We think we need to celebrate that diversity. What all those courses have in common is the ability to hold what we think is the ultimate test in golf.”

Agronomically, Erin Hills officials are determined not to lose control of the conditions. Under Ziegler’s ownership, the course underwent an aggressive top-dressing program in hopes that the fine fescue grasses will thrive under any condition and the playing characteristics will be firm and fast. And unlike Chambers Bay, the greens are bentgrass.

Since the course is at the mercy of the elements, Morrissett says that there is usually no prevailing wind direction during the time of the U.S. Open. Owing to the weather, Davis said the fairways are likely to be “30 to 50 percent wider” than a typical Open setup.

The course starts and finishes with bookend par-five holes, the first of which is listed at 560 yards. But the USGA has room behind that first tee and can stretch the opening hole to 630 yards, which can be a daunting start to a round. The 3rd through the 5th will be a difficult stretch, as the par-four 3rd is 508 yards and the par-four 5th is 505 yards.

The front nine closes with a par three that will play from 135 to 150 yards. It’s a small push-up green and can be difficult to hit, especially in the wind. Players who miss that green will find trouble from the surrounding erosion bunkers.

The incoming nine starts with a 504-yard par four that can be set up at 524 yards, depending on the conditions. The 12th hole, a par four of 464 yards, is one of the most dramatic on the course; the fairway bends, rises, and falls to a green at the bottom of a big hill. The par-four 15th is listed at 357 yards although the USGA is also considering tees that would make it play at 288 or even 252 yards. But the green is perched up in the side of a hill and there are problematic fairway and greenside bunkers.

The finisher is a 637-yard par five that can be stretched to a mammoth 675 yards, making a bunker in the middle of the fairway come into play at 120 yards from the green. The course could play as long as 7,693 yards to a par of 72. But if the fairways run out as is hoped, it will play much shorter than its yardage. Which means that this could be a wide-open Open.

Regardless of who holds the trophy, those connected with Erin Hills hope the Open will have the golf world talking—about what it is rather than what it’s not.

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Do you think Erin Hills will be a good U.S. Open venue? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

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Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club – The Best Public Golf in Naples?

By Graylyn Loomis

When Hurricane Irma shifted west September 2017, Naples, Fla. was in the middle of the path. Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club braced for the storm by shuttering windows and removing anything loose from the golf course.

Once the storm passed and the resort team returned to assess the situation, they were relieved to find most of the damage was only superficial. Nearly all of the work done during the club’s 2016 renovation remained intact.

“It’s a mess, but it’s a largely superficial mess,” said General Manager John Parsons in the Naples Daily News. “We’re lucky we’re not under water. This is ugly, but this is ugliness that’s repaired in one season.”

Amazingly, cleanup at Naples Beach only took three weeks before the course was open for play. Staff and the community rallied together to recover after the brutal storm.

It was that community and the resort’s ties to it that stood out during my stay at Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club prior to Hurricane Irma. The hotel has been owned by the same Naples family since 1947 and the local connection is clear during a visit. I arrived on a nondescript Sunday and I found live music, hundreds of people dancing, and only a few remaining seats for dinner. I assumed a company was having a conference, but to my surprise, everyone at the bar was local to Naples. Every Sunday evening the hotel throws a party and the locals have been coming for years to drink and dance by the beach.

Want to find the best spot in a given area? Find where the locals hang out.

I visited Naples to play the renovated Naples Beach golf course. The original course was built in 1929 and at the time was only the second course in Naples (the first was a nine-holer with sand greens). Over the years the course was renovated several times following various hurricanes, and the result was a disjointed layout that suffered from mediocre conditioning.

In early 2016 ownership at Naples Beach hired course architects John Sanford and Jack Nicklaus to redesign the layout. Nicklaus’s connection to the course? It was where he broke 40 for nine holes for the first time as an 11-year-old in 1951, only one year after he’d taken up the game.

The result of Nicklaus and Sanford’s work is a completely new routing with fewer trees that makes significantly better use of the land.

Sanford included traditional design features such as a Redan green and numerous double greens that aren’t typical at Florida resort courses. The new design also has fewer bunkers than most Florida designs and the architects used small lakes throughout the property to frame and divide holes instead of rough or trees. Homes only line the outside perimeter of the property, so the result is a very open feel with long views.

Due in part to the course’s oceanside location and in part to its openness and lack of trees, the site can get very windy. Those same winds dry out the course, provide some serious challenge, and create firm and fast playing conditions. Many sets of tee mean the course won’t be too long for anyone and it was refreshing to see a renovation that made a course more playable instead of harder, longer, and more “tournament-ready.”

The $9 million course renovation was part of a larger $50 million set of improvements to the resort that included updates to the rooms, event spaces, and restaurants. Even after all of the investment in recent years, I was told of more plans to improve rooms and continue polishing the resort. I look forward to returning over time to see those improvements and play another round of golf on what was one of my favorite public courses I’ve played in Florida.

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Have you played golf in southern Florida? Tell us about your favorite courses in the comments below!

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Mountain Shadows Short Course is Reborn – Just What Golf Needs?

 Mountain Shadows  

The conversation surrounding what makes golf fun, and where we can find it, has increased significantly of late. Frankly, fun was missing on most new courses over past decades, but with designs such as David McLay Kidd’s Gamble Sands and others roaring onto the scene, “fun” is making a comeback.

One such place where fun was clearly the architect’s foremost motivator was the new Short Course at Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, Ariz. The original Martin Stern Jr.-planned resort opened in 1959 and was a great favorite with celebrities and other well-heeled guests. Its 18-hole, par 56, executive-style course was designed by Arthur Jack Snyder and opened in 1961.

For a decade, it was constantly busy, a great favorite with locals and those staying at the resort. But its popularity began to wane in the 1970s when the USGA established a length threshold for courses to receive an official rating. In an effort to gain official status, Snyder’s design was seriously compromised and it continued to suffer as numerous good courses were built within a short distance.

As the golf course slowly faded from view, so too did the resort which eventually closed in 2004. Ten years later it was demolished.

In June of 2015, however, Scottsdale’s Westroc Hospitality announced it had formed a partnership with Dallas’s Woodbine Development Corporation to jointly redevelop the iconic hotel and its old golf course.

The man chosen for the job of resurrecting Snyder’s layout was his protégé Forrest Richardson, a Phoenix-based architect with dozens of acclaimed new-builds, renovations, and remodels in an impressive portfolio.

Richardson, for whom the project clearly meant a great deal and who described his role as “preserving, honoring and uncovering,” knew exactly what he wanted to do with the $3m budget. “FUN was the primary word,” he says, noting that it should be written in capital letters for emphasis. “The trick with an all-par 3 design is to make each of the greens an interesting story and experience. You are presenting the golfer with repeated attempts to get the ball close, if not even into the hole, on every tee. My goal was to give golfers a different look and make them think about every tee shot.”

Displaying common sense, great imagination, and sound judgement with regard to water usage and maintenance costs, Richardson chose Bermuda turf (TifDwarf and 419) that works well in the desert, reduced the area of irrigated turf to just 13.5 acres by covering largely out-of-play areas with gravel, and limited the bunker count to just 18. Think again though, if you assume that makes it easy.

“I wanted to avoid making bunkers the sole defense,” he says. “There is a combination of slopes (the 4th is named Biarritz), mounds (the 14th is Dell), trees, and a pond that combine to protect par. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s certainly not without its challenges.” Fun and challenging—the mark of intelligent design.

At just 2,310 yards from the back tees, with holes ranging in length from 90 to 193 yards, the Short Course at Mountain Shadows probably won’t be the highlight of your golf trip to a town with a dozen or more world-class venues. And it certainly won’t be the reason you reject Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or Myrtle Beach next winter, and head to the Arizona desert instead.

What it could be, though, is a really cool way to settle some bets one evening. Or it might be the perfect place to introduce your wife and kids to the game during a stay at the seriously cool, $100m, Mid-Century-inspired resort which reopened earlier this month to huge acclaim from publications saying it looked set to regain the “iconic” status it once knew.

But could it be more important than that even? Could it be a model for the direction in which golf should be headed?

We’re all suffering from reduced golf time these days. We simply don’t have the necessary gaps for multiple rounds (or even one round) every week. But we don’t love the game any less, and need something to quench the thirst. Mountain Shadows, and other shorter than conventional courses (Sweetens Cove in Tennessee, Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Caldera Springs at Crosswater also in Oregon, Magnolia Grove in Alabama, Threetops in Michigan, Top of the Rock in Missouri) are obviously viable alternatives.

“Nine-hole, executive, and Par 3 courses are vitally important in a world of time-urgent, but still enthusiastic golfers,” says Richardson. “What better way to get your golf in without always having to plan for five to six hours?”

Thus far, reviews have been almost entirely positive with golfers young and old, good and… less good, giving the Short Course an unequivocal thumbs-up. “We’re not taking away the golf,” Richardson stresses, “just redistributing it into smaller bites.”

FUN, smaller bites.

By Tony Dear

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Do you think short courses are key to getting new golfers in the game? Let us know in the comments below!

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Greg Norman Estates and Golf Course Coming to Cabo

Los Cabos Norman Estates at Rancho San Lucas is first community in Mexico to join global collection of Norman residences.

 

Greg Norman’s reach is mind-boggling.

You can play one of his Signature golf courses, drink one of his pinot noirs, outfit yourself in his clothing, and live in one of his branded luxury communities.

Norman’s latest venture, announced yesterday, will be a branded residential enclave and oceanfront course in Los Cabos. It’s the first community in Mexico to join his global collection of luxury residences. The enclave is a partnership with the Solmar Group.

Norman Estates will be a private, gated neighborhood inside Rancho San Lucas, the master-planned community located 10 minutes from downtown Cabo and boasting 1.2 miles of expansive beachfront on the Pacific Coast.

The project includes 32 luxury estate homes and 36 condominiums, all inspired by Norman’s personal relaxed lifestyle and reflecting a fresh “Baja chic” ethos. Every residence will enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific and owners will have access to an exclusive, private beach club.

And, of course, the neighborhood will be framed by a Greg Norman Signature Golf Course.

No word yet if a bottle of Shark Red is included with the purchase price.

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A Different Day, Different Pin, Different Hole at Augusta National

(Photo by Curtis Compton/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

 

The characteristics of Augusta National’s greens—large, contoured, quick—create very different holes when the pin is moved.

The Masters distinguishes itself from other tournaments in so many ways, but one of the most fascinating is that competitors here aren’t playing the same 18 holes four times. Rather, they face 72 distinct challenges. There are obviously similarities between each of the holes from one day to the next, but at the Masters, Thursday’s 16th for example, is very different to Sunday’s.

“The course has changed a lot through the years, so the way players approach each hole—and the shots they hit—is very different now,” says Florida-based course architect Steve Smyers, who has been coming to the Masters for nearly 40 years. “Today you can hit the ball high and land it soft to much more of a degree than in the ’50s and ’60s, when the ball flew on a much lower trajectory and you really had to take the contours and angles into account. But Augusta still demands you decide your strategy for the hole as you stand on the tee (or before), more than anywhere else. It’s not just about hitting a well-executed shot here, it’s about hitting the right shot.”

Forrest Richardson, another course architect and devoted student of Augusta National, agrees saying the course’s greens are so large they give the course set-up committee so many options. “Augusta has greens within greens,” he says. “That’s a key concept with the greats of course architecture.”

Indeed, says Smyers, having a hole play so many different ways is a mark of greatness. “And having 18 of them makes the course truly special,” he adds.

(Photo by Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire)

 

Take the 3rd for example. This beguiling short par four can certainly be driven, but is often more sensibly played with a long iron and a wedge. Smyers remembers watching Tiger Woods approach the hole in various ways one year. “He hit the iron a couple of times, but I also remember him hitting a driver into the pine straw left of the green,” he says. “Everyone thought he had hit a big pull, but the pin was on the right, and it became clear he had purposefully gone left to leave himself an easy pitch across the green. He made a birdie.”

As pins move around, so each hole plays very differently. But which holes, besides the 3rd, require the most drastic change in approach when the hole is relocated?

“The green at the 2nd is so wide and so contoured, the shots it demands from one day to the next are obviously very different,” says Smyers. “When the pin is back left, players can hit a high approach that drops and stops near the pin. But when it’s right, they need to hit a lower shot that finds the slope and feeds down the hill to the hole.”

(Photo by Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

 

It’s much the same story at the par-three 16th, a hole that Robert Trent Jones defended with a large pond in 1948 (previously, a narrow creek had run diagonally in front of the green). “Many of the holes play very differently when the tee is moved too,” says Jones’s son Robert Trent Jones Jr. “The 4th is a great example, as is the 16th. On Thursday, the tee is up at 16, and the hole is usually cut short-right. It’s just a high wedge or 9-iron with some cut-spin to hold it on the slope. But on Sunday, when the pin is back left and the tee is all the way back, players typically hit a lower shot with a little draw that finds the back of the green and hopefully bends left before moving back down the hill toward the hole.”

The examples keep coming. The downhill par-three 6th is another hole where a front-left pin demands a totally different shot to a back-right pin. “If it’s on the shelf back right, you need to hit a high shot that stops quickly,” says Smyers. “If it’s front left though, you can hit it slightly lower and use the contours.”

Ironically, the most famous hole of all—Golden Bell, the utterly delightful but potentially very dangerous par-three 12th at the bottom of the property down by Rae’s Creek—might buck the trend slightly. “This is one hole where the same shot every day might actually be a sound approach,” says Smyers. “A stock short-iron to the middle of the green makes sense wherever the pin is. Differing winds and humidity might call for a slightly different shot each time, but the center of the green is always a good place to be. Of course, circumstances can change everything. If the player is feeling comfortable with his swing, and thinks he needs a birdie on Sunday, he’s probably going to chase that far-right pin.”

(Photo by Jeff Siner/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

 

Changes in agronomy, equipment, and the athleticism of players have seen the demands Augusta National makes of Masters competitors evolve significantly through the years. The range of shots and angles Danny Willett used to win the green jacket in 2016 might not have been quite as wide as that of Henry Picard in 1938, for example, or Jack Burke Jr. in ’56, or Jack Nicklaus in ’75, or even ’86. But good strategy, imagination, and a full repertoire of shots are still so important. “I like to say the PGA Tour has become like Four Seasons hotels,” says Jones Jr. “Each hotel is wonderful, and the setting might be fantastic, but you basically know exactly what you’re going to get each time you go—similar linens, service, furniture, etc. It’s not like that at Augusta National. There are still so many variables, interesting physical and mental challenges, and unpredictable moments.”

And that, surely, is a large part of what makes Augusta National and the Masters so great.

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What are your favorite holes and memories from the tournament at Augusta National? Let us know in the comments below!

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Silloth on Solway – An English Golf Gem

By Nick Edmund

Americans traveling to Britain will typically head for London and Stratford to gain their “culture fix,” then journey to Scotland to sample the scenery. Such an itinerary is understandable, but it excludes a visit to arguably the most beautiful area of the entire British Isles, the English Lake District, a mountainous region in the far north of the country with dramatic landscapes that inspired the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Should golfers bring their clubs to the Lake District? Yes, not because of an array of picturesque lakeside layouts, but because there is one genuinely classic links that demands inspection.

Silloth on Solway Golf Club is situated on the Cumbrian coast, half an hour west of the Lake District. With its semi-blind shots, crumpled fairways, and punchbowl greens, Silloth bristles with old-fashioned character. It also provides the type of challenge that will test the shotmaking skills of the most accomplished modern-day player, especially if the wind blows fiercely.

Among the best of its quaint and quirky holes are the short 9th, with its “Postage Stamp” green surrounded by deep pot bunkers, and the 13th, named “Hogs Back” on account of an eccentric saddle-shaped fairway. The cleverly angled 3rd and the precision-demanding 15th may be the pick of the more “conventional” two-shotters, and there is a strong quartet of par threes. But then there are no weak holes at Silloth: From first to last, this is a links that will continually interest and occasionally enthrall… golf poetry at its best.

Semi-Private
Opened 1892
Architect David Grant
Yardage 6,641
Par 72

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First Peek: Mossy Oak Golf Club

Photo credit: Michael Clemmer

Gil Hanse wowed the world last summer with his Olympic course. But since Rio isn’t exactly around the corner, it’s good news that Hanse recently unveiled another exciting example of minimalist design that’s easier to get to. Not a lot easier, but easier.

Located in West Point, in north-central Mississippi, Mossy Oak is across the street from the semi-private Old Waverly, site of the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open. Both were built by a local family that hopes to turn its hometown into a golf destination: A relative owns a nearby hunting/fishing preserve, so golf packages can include those pursuits, too.

The course was built on an old dairy farm, 180 acres of rolling land punctuated by knobs that provide elevation change. Hanse didn’t move much dirt or remove many trees, but he wisely left a dozen sturdy oaks that provide a sense of grandeur and the occasional aiming point for golfers. Mossy Oak feels timeless and natural: It’s a new course with an old soul.

Meant for walking, this is a course where greens feed into tees and wide openings front putting surfaces. Some of those greens are huge and bunkers are everywhere. Hanse continually challenges the player’s depth perception and club selection, pushing up greens and siting them on slopes, and placing hazards so they’re not as close to greens as they appear. Long, wispy native grasses define the wide fairways yet are thin enough so off-line shots won’t be hard to find.

Mossy Oak is home for the Mississippi State golf teams, which have their own building with locker rooms and fitness facilities. There’s also a practice green shaped like their home state—and almost as large.

West Point, Mississippi
Public
Opened 2016
Architect Gil Hanse
Yardage 7,212
Par 72

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