It’s safe to say that living to a hundred is far easier on a golf course than it is on a golfer. The Donald Ross Course at French Lick just hit that hallowed number—but doesn’t look a day over 18. Restored by Lee Schmidt in 2005 to its fabled designer’s 1917 specs, the DRC balances beneficent fairway looks with big, evil greens. And extended to 7,030 yards from the tips, it’s a lot of landscape.
Rural French Lick looks much as it did a century ago when Chicago wise guys descended there to play golf, gamble, and sanitize their gin-mill simoleons. The venerable French Lick Resort still has a casino and a license from the local constabulary to legally spin the wheels and flip the pips. Sorry, Mr. Capone; they’ve gone legit.
But it’s on the rolling fairways adjacent that the better game of chance unfolds. Thank Schmidt and the Donald Ross Society’s Michael Fay for that. They restored no fewer than 29 fairway bunkers, curbing the free-swinging immunity that golfers had formerly enjoyed from the tee. Flowing, fairway-hugging fescue further ups the ante for accuracy.
Hilltop views go on forever, what trees there are artfully frame greens and fairways rather than obstruct golf justice, and the course is a joy to walk with but a few dozen steps between greens and tees. The cleat marks from Walter Hagen’s 1924 PGA Championship win here may be gone, but the battleground is alive and well.
Asuper-ambitious and passionate owner (with the means to deliver) and a vastly experienced and imaginative architect (inspired by the opportunity presented). It sounds like a heady mix and one that could make for a wonderfully exciting golf cocktail.
Such was the potential when owner Albert Huddlestone and architect Steve Smyers agreed to collaborate and redesign the Honors Club at Carrollton near Dallas. The now-named Maridoe Golf Club opens this summer, and our protagonists are confident their creation will not only be well received but set a few pulses racing.
An early glimpse reveals an extraordinary layout, at once thought-provoking, challenging, original, and visually sensational. Huddleston and Smyers strived to develop a course that will encourage—and occasionally require—golfers to execute shots they won’t confront anywhere else, and they appear to have achieved just this.
Smyers says Maridoe “lays down the gauntlet as early as the 2nd,” a dramatic downhill par three played to a fiercely defended green nestled into a hillside. The bunkerless 10th with its “valley of death” and the Cape Hole 13th—“which commands the player to perform the most difficult discipline in the game, to play away from the target”—are among other favorites, but you get the impression that the overall look and feel is what excites Smyers more than anything.
“I fell in love with the property the moment I saw it,” he enthuses. “Gently rolling and tree-studded throughout, the site is dominated by a beautiful 28-acre lake, and I believe our design is in harmony with and accentuates a marvelous setting.”
Many golf communities boast of their “resort-like” atmosphere. Hōkūala actually is a resort, where Timbers Kaua’i owners can enjoy all the amenities—and get a few of their own.
First and foremost is the Ocean Course, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design that has been updated since it was the Kiele course at Kauai Lagoons. The front nine is parkland style, rolling through mango and guava fields and up and down hills; the back nine hugs the Pacific and features the longest continuous stretch of oceanfront holes, half a mile, in Hawaii. “It’s almost like playing two different courses, in a good way, because you’ll never be bored,” explains General Manager Fran Roach.
The course, open to owners and resort guests, is getting a new clubhouse with a restaurant and bar, plus tennis courts. There’s already a new practice facility, with an area just for residents.
Owners at Timbers Kaua’i can use all resort offerings—watersports, the beach, trails, bikes, and more—while also having their own restaurants, a spa and fitness facility, pools, preferred tee times and discounts, even a private island in the lagoon that threads through the property.
The club and 47 residences, on 9½ oceanfront acres within Hōkūala, open this winter. There will be luxury condos and villa townhomes (two to four bedrooms) starting at $2.5 million, as well as fractional-ownership opportunities (from $350,000). More real estate will be offered over time. Members also have reciprocity with the dozen other Timbers properties in the U.S., Mexico, and Tuscany.
One of the most exclusive clubs in the world, Seminole has done its best over the past 88 years to guard its privacy, keeping its highly esteemed Donald Ross course a secret except to the fortunate few. Now, however, it’s ready to share a bit, having accepted an invitation from the USGA to host the Walker Cup.
That won’t happen until 2021, but in the interest of making a strong first impression, the club has commissioned an extensive course renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, to be completed over three summers (when the doors are closed even to members).
Ross’s Seminole is widely regarded as the best of his nearly 400 designs. On a generally unremarkable site—a square of sandy flatland sandwiched between a pair of dune ridges, one barricading the Atlantic, the other half a mile inland—he created two nine-hole loops that brought the dunes in play on 14 holes while constantly changing the thrust of the sea breeze. Stern yet artful green complexes combined flash-faced bunkers with Ross’s trademark inverted-saucer greens.
Over the years, however, much of that character had been sacrificed to the vagaries of Mother Nature and uneven maintenance—bunkers grew in, trees and vegetation encroached. With their first summer of work complete, Coore and Crenshaw have already made a strong statement, removing hundreds of pines, palms, and palmettos to open up vistas and create dramatic sandy areas between holes, much as they did at Pinehurst No. 2. Ultimately, their remit is to add 250 yards to the back tees while restoring the overall look to something that would make Donald Ross smile with recognition. That’s the Seminole that will greet the Walker Cuppers and the world.
Idiosyncratic, brilliant, characterful, heroic. These are a few of the adjectives associated with The Addington. Located just 10 miles south of London’s Piccadilly Circus and hemmed-in by dense suburbia, it was built during the early years of the so-called “Golden Age” of course design with J.F. Abercromby creating and completing it either side of the Great War.
The Addington is “idiosyncratic” in that it is a one-of-a-kind course. Sandy underfoot with purple heather running riot, it is rightly classed as heathland, and yet none of the other great English heathland layouts look or play remotely like it.
“Brilliance” radiates from the spectacular nature of the terrain and the genius applied to it by Abercromby. There are a few modest holes, especially early in the round; the challenge intensifies at the 6th and thereafter the golfer is regularly dazzled.
“Characterful” describes the cavernous bunker beside the 6th green (“the chasm from which no 18-handicap player has ever emerged within the memory of man,” as P.G. Wodehouse once wrote), the roller-coasting par-five 12th, and the many rickety wooden bridges above ravines that the golfer must gingerly traverse. As for “heroic,” the 9th, 13th, 16th, and 17th are all of this genre, and none would look out of place at Pine Valley.
The club has appointed Guy Hockley, one of Britain’s finest contemporary architects, to oversee a program of sympathetic restoration and refurbishment. So “rediscovered” and “revitalized” are two more adjectives likely to be associated with The Addington as it approaches its second century.
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 on Solway: From first to last, this is a links that will continually interest and occasionally enthrall… golf poetry at its best.
By George Peper
Unfurled across a rocky rampart of Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast, the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush is blessed with one of the game’s most idyllic settings, and its architect, the redoubtable Harry Colt, crafted a links that is equally arresting, making full use of dramatic natural valleys, ridges, and plateaus. Among its many highlights are the par-four 5th, named White Rocks, which climbs to a green at the very edge of a cliff, and the 14th, a 210-yard, uphill, into-the-wind par three aptly named Calamity Corner.
Portrush holds the distinction of being the only club outside Scotland and England ever to host the Open Championship (1951), when Max Faulkner won with a total of 285 (three under par) as the course yielded only two sub-70 scores all week. Now the R&A has announced it will return in 2019 to a Dunluce that will be 200 yards longer and include more bunkers, bringing the total to 62 (still the fewest on the Open rotation).
But the biggest change will be the absence of the current 17th and 18th holes, which the R&A felt were no longer of championship caliber. The current 16th, a suitably stern par four, will now be the finisher as a pair of new holes are being added to be played as the 7th and 8th. Number 7 will be a nearly 600-yard par five, snaking down and through a valley to an amphitheater green, while the par-four 8th, a mid-length dogleg right, will call for a drive over a chasm followed by a precise approach to a green with a steep fall-away to the left. A very strong test of golf is about to become even mightier.
By Tony Dear
The South Course at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio, has hosted big-time golf since the mid-1950s. First came the Rubber City Open whose winners included Tommy Bolt, Ed Furgol, and Arnold Palmer. It staged three PGA Championships—1960, ’66, and ’75. From 1962 to ’98, it was the venue for the World Series of Golf, which began with the four major champions competing over 36 holes, and evolved into an official PGA Tour event with a 50-man field playing 72 holes (the North Course staged the tournament in ’94). In 1999, the World Series became the WGC-NEC Invitational (played at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle in 2002), and Bridgestone took over in 2006.
Originally designed by Bert Way, the South opened in 1929. Thirty-one years later, however, the club hired Robert Trent Jones, golf architecture’s man of the moment/year/decade/era(?), to bolster its defenses in preparation for the PGA Championship.
Just as he had at Oakland Hills 10 years before (ahead of the 1951 US Open), Baltusrol in 1952 (’54 U.S. Open), the Olympic Club (’55 U.S. Open), Oak Hill (’56 U.S. Open), and Southern Hills (’58 U.S. Open), Jones went to town, erasing much of the course’s character and increasing the level of difficulty considerably. He added over 50 bunkers, two ponds and more than 500 yards in length— the now famous 16th hole becoming a 667-yarder that Palmer labelled a monster. The cry in recent years from contemporary designers and commentators has been that Firestone CC’s South Course is now horribly out of vogue, and has outstayed its welcome. What once was considered a great test of championship golf, is now criticized for its rather unimaginative and monotonous layout. Today’s PGA Tour players may like it because it’s predictable and invariably in great condition, but it has little of the intrigue, strategy, and charm that characterize the great courses from the early part of the 20th century.
Though it would probably be unfair to suggest Jones is wholly responsible, what he did to the South Course as well as all the others, did have a major influence on course architecture at the time, and resulted in a period Rob Collins, co-designer of the highly acclaimed Sweetens Cove in Tennessee, calls the “Dark Ages.”
“Courses from that time lack many of the key elements of courses built during the Golden Age of Architecture,” he says. “A.W. Tillinghast, Alister MacKenzie, C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, Harry Colt, and others stressed strategy, artistry, shotmaking, playability, and variety, whereas much of what was produced during the ’50s and ’60s lacked those features.”
Former President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects Steve Smyers likewise refers to this period as the “Dark Ages.” “The depression of the 1930s, and the world conflict of the ’40s did not encourage any part of the game, be it instruction, club design, or course architecture to innovate,” he says. “And the talented course designers of the ’20s were no longer around.”
Gil Hanse believes courses from that era tend to have been a reaction to the Golden Age, and that architects were seeking ways to differentiate their designs stylistically from the classics. “The courses of the 1950s to the 1970s typically featured smooth lines and oversized features that did not necessarily tie into the landscapes they were created on,” he says.
Smyers agrees, saying most courses developed at the time were fairly low budget and built “on top” of the land as opposed to “into” the land, with the placement of hazards directly opposite each other. “This might have resulted in a very demanding shotmaking course,” he says. “but not one that connected well with the surrounding landscape.”
Smyers, Hanse, and Collins all agree on the culprit—big, earthmoving machines that allowed architects to create artificial features. “By using the newest earthwork technologies, the designers of the time created courses that looked less natural and more manufactured than their predecessors,” says Hanse. “With the ability to move significant amounts of earth, developers and their architects were no longer constrained to finding sites that had natural advantages suitable for golf. They could create “golf landscapes,” and those created landscapes don’t really match up with the beautiful work that came before.”
The reemergence of golf construction in the late ’50s came with a new method of construction, says Smyers. “But very few people had any experience with the new heavy machinery, so what they created was rarely aesthetically pleasing.” Collins thinks it ironic that even though they had the new equipment at their disposal, architects from the “Dark Ages” built courses that looked contrived and lacked the characteristics of the great courses. Likewise significant was that this new age of large earth-movers coincided with the rise in demand for golf course living.
“The shift can largely be attributed to the fact that golf began to be seen as an amenity for other interests, primarily real estate,” says Collins. “That placed a secondary importance on the quality of the course. With the ability to produce courses quickly, and for reasons other than creating interesting and lasting golf, the resulting product was usually a homogenized layout indistinct from so many others.”
Tom Doak weighs in, saying many of the courses built in this era had length and narrow fairways as their principal challenge. “The South Course has been better since Jack Nicklaus remodeled the greens 15–20 years ago, but it still has a lot of back and forth holes,” he says. “I actually much prefer the North Course because it wanders the property a bit more.”
Smyers picks up on Doak’s point about fairway width. “Automatic irrigation had not yet been introduced, so the most common irrigation system was a single row manual or quick-coupler system,” he says. “This was mainly done because of budget. The throw of water was therefore only about 90 feet, so fairways were never more than 30 yards wide.”
Most of the courses from the time, Smyers adds, were also constructed on farms and lacked trees or any other type of vegetation. President Johnson was in office at the time and the First Lady (Claudia Johnson, otherwise known as Lady Bird) campaigned to make America beautiful by planting trees. “Areas of irrigated rough looked ugly compared to the green lush fairways,” says Smyers. “So, in order to make them look better, golf facilities took Lady Bird’s advice and planted trees after the course was constructed. The lack of coordination between the golf architect and landscaping meant courses looked and felt totally disconnected from the surrounding landscape.”
Collins insist the credit for hauling architecture out of its mid-20th century rut should go to Pete Dye whom, he says, reintroduced strategy, shotmaking, and a flair for the dramatic. Doak, a disciple of Dye, must also get a mention for advancing minimalism, and bringing back the natural to golf.
Hanse, a former associate of Doak’s, believes the game is currently in a phase where architecture is based on a reverence for the classic courses. “There is a more organic, rustic presentation of courses and landscapes,” he adds. “But aesthetics change. Give it time. Everything in all fields of design comes back again sooner or later. In a 2050 LINKS newsletter, we may be celebrating the 1950s and ’60s just like we do the Golden Age now.”
Do you agree with these architects? Let us know in the comments below!
By Tony Dear
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
What do you think of Royal Birkdale and how would you compare it to other Open venues? Let us know in the comments below!
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.”
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.”
Would you like to see the U.S. Open return to Chambers Bay? Let us know in the comments below!