Why don’t more golf instructors design courses? Teachers understand how real golfers play, which should make them good at building to complement our games. But I can name only one prominent teaching pro who is also an architect: Rick Smith.
As a teacher, Smith has worked with countless amateurs as well as Tour pros including Phil Mickelson. His first design was at Treetops Resort in northern Michigan; he also did the award-winning Arcadia Bluffs. He’s now working with Mickelson on courses around the world.
Not to be missed is his Shenendoah at Turning Stone Resort Casino in upstate New York. The resort’s other two courses usually receive more attention (one hosted a PGA Tour event), but that should change now that Smith has built seven new holes, dramatically changing the routing and the variety. The “reimagined” course is a delight, twisting and turning through trees and orchards, marshland, and long fescue, encouraging a links-like ground game.
The course suits every kind of player. For women, Smith created drivable holes without reducing the risk/reward challenge for others. He favors big fairways—“I don’t like to take the driver out of the bag”—and shifting direction, ending Shenendoah with a beautifully flowing final stretch of holes that sweep side to side and short to long.
This teacher could teach other architects a thing or two about building in the fun.
Getting Tiger Woods to design the golf course shows you’re creating something truly memorable. At Bluejack National, an hour north of Houston, everything will be just as special.
“We want our members and their guests to enjoy five-star, white-glove service,” says club president Casey Paulson. “But not in a stuffy way. You should feel that you’re on vacation while living in your own house.”
A concierge can arrange dog walking and grocery shopping so members can enjoy the activities. Tiger’s course—reminiscent of Augusta National but more user-friendly—is open, as is a 10-hole short course and a tech-savvy game-improvement center.
Opening this summer is The Fort, where families will enjoy a pool, mini-football field, bowling alley, zip lines, fishing, indoor activities, a burger shack, and more. Next will be a full-service clubhouse plus a spa, tennis, and a fitness center. There are already dining options—“from simple club fare to a gourmet meal, but you can still wear a tee-shirt,” says Paulson—with more to come.
Plans call for 400 homes: a mix of ½- to 1½-acre estate lots, starting at $275,000, and pre-built Member Suites, Cottages, and Sunday Homes, from $450,000.
“This isn’t a traditional club,” says Paulson. “We’re committed to making our members’ lives better and giving them more time with family and friends. That’s Bluejack.”
For all the attractions of Williamsburg, there is only one private golf and waterfront community. If that’s a surprise, wait until you learn that Two Rivers is no newcomer struggling for acceptance, but recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
The member-only club has a unique composition—equal parts young families, working couples, and retirees—hailing from around the country and the world, giving the community a friendly vibrancy. They all enjoy a range of facilities and amenities that includes 10 lighted tennis courts, pools and a fitness center, two restaurants, and a wine shop.
At the heart of the action is a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, which has hosted many national and local events and ends with a three-hole stretch along the water. Its greens and bunkers were recently renovated and a new practice facility opened. The staff strives to get new and lapsed golfers, particularly women, into the game.
Also within the 1,500-acre property are 200 acres of nature preserve, a busy marina, 10 miles of hiking/biking trails, and more than four miles of shoreline along the James and Chickahominy rivers. Off-site but nearby are numerous cultural and historic offerings, from classes at the College of William and Mary to museums, theaters, and a growing food and beverage scene.
The Two Rivers community is nearly built out with 715 single-family houses and a strong resale market. Roughly 6% of homes are presently for sale, from $400,000 to $2 million.
It must be tough to be a golf architect named Tom Fazio and not be that Tom Fazio. Yet, the nephew of one of the game’s pre-eminent designers is compiling his own impressive portfolio of courses, none better than Quail Valley.
Put aside all your assumptions about Florida courses. Working with former world-number-one Nick Price, Fazio II moved huge amounts of dirt to turn flat citrus groves into a rolling, tumbling trip past seven lakes, countless bunkers, and many trees—but with barely a palm in sight (and no homes, either).
Quail Valley suits any golfer, with six tees per hole and little hidden from view. Good players can take on the trouble and hope to find cleverly positioned fairway “speed slots” that produce extra roll. Yet even with the hefty helping of hazards, it’s easy to play away from trouble, finding the wide fairways and running shots onto the big, quick greens.
Best of all, this is a layout that never gets dull. The Atlantic may be six miles away, but ocean winds are a constant. The course is also a pleasant walk, enhanced by top-notch caddies.
Befitting a serious golf club (a pool, tennis, and other amenities are in town at Quail Valley’s two facilities along the intracoastal waterway), there’s an outstanding learning center with top teachers, the latest technology, and six par-three practice holes. It’s the Ivy League for students of the game.
In a town known for glitz and glamour, there may be no more luxurious community than MacDonald Highlands, which includes DragonRidge Country Club. The gated property is very low density—only 1,000 homes over two square miles—leaving plenty of open space and magnificent views of the Las Vegas Strip and toward mountains and desert.
The golf course was built nearly 20 years ago through desert foothills and natural canyons by the late Jay Morrish and David Druzisky. The recently redecorated clubhouse is “the crown jewel of the community,” says owner/developer Richard MacDonald, where people come together to meet, eat, and entertain. The club also has five tennis courts and a full-service athletic center with a heated pool, fitness classes, personal training, and some spa services.
Most homes are custom designed and range from $1.5–$18 million. Some 200 lots, from a third to a full acre, start at $500,000. “The area has really come into its own the last few years,” says MacDonald, thanks largely to former Californians who appreciate Nevada’s lack of a state income tax. Since many newcomers don’t want to wait on a custom build, contractors and investors have been encouraged to build on spec; their creations go fast.
Down on the Strip, DragonRidge is what they call a sure thing.
There are a number of notable golf communities in what locals call the “Treasure Coast” of Florida. “But what owners like about Orchid Island is that it’s a bit smaller than most of the others,” explains General Manager Rob Tench. “You get to know all your neighbors. And we have three different facilities, so nothing ever seems too crowded.”
Located on 600 acres of prime property between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, Orchid Island has been busily, but quietly, upgrading. The beach club recently reopened with a new pool bar, multipurpose room, and expanded lounge. The tennis and fitness club added more courts and wellness rooms. And in the golf club are cozy new places to relax, drink, and dine, inside and out. All three clubs offer dining, from causal to slightly more formal.
The Arnold Palmer-designed golf course moves between ocean and lagoon, past palms and stately old oaks. The course, a long-time U.S. Open qualifying site, will host the 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship. But it’s very playable by golfers of all kinds and ages.
Befitting its away-from-it-all setting, Orchid Island architecture has a West Indies accent, homes low-rise, open-air, and lushly landscaped. Most of the 350 residences are along the golf course, with a few along the ocean, from $1–$12 million; 60 oceanfront condos are $1–$2.4 million. The few lots left are $175,000–$575,000.
I have great memories of visiting the Pinehurst area as a young golfer. Most summers my dad and I made the three-hour drive from our home in Asheville for junior tournaments, and occasionally short father-son trips.
The excitement for my Pinehurst trips was, and still is, rooted in the amount of good golf throughout the Sandhills of North Carolina. With each trip there always seemed to be a new course on the itinerary, and even a decade later there are still plenty I’ve yet to play. There is also comfort in the constants of every trip: the charming Village of Pinehurst, favorite restaurants and pubs, and courses I’ve gotten to know better and better over the years.
On the most recent visit, my wife Lucy—who doesn’t play golf—came along for her first visit to the area.
Each morning after breakfast she made the short walk into the village to explore the shops, have a coffee, read her book, and work from her laptop. Add a spa session and she says Pinehurst is her favorite of the many golf destinations we’ve visited together. Since getting married, I’ve realized that non-golf activities are important, too, and few do it better than Pinehurst. While Lucy was relaxing in town, here is what I got up to:
Day 1: Pine Needles
My first round of the trip was the recently renovated Pine Needles. The 100-year-old Donald Ross course was touched up in 2016 by Kyle Franz, whose restoration of sister-course Mid Pines in 2012 firmly established it as one of the best in the Sandhills. Franz gave both courses the Pinehurst No. 2 treatment, replacing much of the rough with sandy natural areas, restoring greens to their original sizes, and rebuilding bunkers to look as if Ross had just finished them.
I’d played Mid Pines both before and after its renovation, but this was my first round at Pine Needles. Both courses fit naturally into the rolling landscape and faithfully capture Ross’s style: Expect undulating greens, memorable par threes, and long views through the pine trees. If I had to pick between the two courses, you’d find me at Mid Pines because of its charm and more classic feel, but many disagree, including the USGA, which has chosen Pine Needles as a Women’s U.S. Open venue three times.
Day 2: Pinehurst No. 2
Everything you’ve heard about No. 2 is true: You need to play it! It is devilishly challenging, impeccably conditioned, and a true U.S. Open experience because of how it punishes every mistake. You will putt off greens, find yourself in tight collection areas, and hit slightly offline drives into enormous expanses of sand. The key to enjoying No. 2 lies in choosing the right set of tees so that your approach shots into the famous “crowned” greens—they’re like upside-down bowls—can stay on the putting surface. It’s a classic Ross design element, and means that higher, softer landing approach shots are especially important. That said, the course is more playable, aesthetically pleasing, and authentic than ever since Coore & Crenshaw restored it to Ross’s specs in 2010.
No. 2 is Ross at his best. It’s routed perfectly, especially holes 3–6, 10, and 15–18, where the course flows through natural bends and nooks in the landscape.
Day 3: Pinehurst No. 8
So what’s the best “second round” after No. 2? My pick is No. 8. It’s a Tom Fazio design that opened in 1996 and is radically different from the many Golden Age layouts Pinehurst is famous for. Think of it as a palate cleanser of sorts that perfectly complements the other rounds. That said, Fazio offers nods to Ross with tiered green complexes featuring false fronts and collection areas. The course also differs from the others by its location on 420 acres of rolling terrain and natural wetlands a few miles from Pinehurst’s main clubhouse.
It was recently announced that starting later this year, Gil Hanse is going to restore Pinehurst No. 4—another Ross design—as closely as possible back to its original layout. Once that has happened, that “second round” question won’t be as easy to answer.
Day 4: Tobacco Road
Tobacco Road is the most polarizing course I’ve ever played: I often hear golfers say they’ll never go back. There are blind shots from the very first hole, seriously sloping greens, and bunkers as deep as mining quarries. And yet I loved this design by the late Mike Strantz when I first played it last year and do so even more after this second visit. As the saying goes, “A blind shot is only blind once,” so the tee shots and approaches that frustrated me the first time were fun challenges on my second visit.
You’ve probably never played a course like Tobacco Road, which is exactly why it must be on your itinerary. It’s worth the 30-minute drive from Pinehurst to Sanford.
Planning Your Trip
The most efficient and cost-effective way to visit Pinehurst starts with a golf package. Here are two places to look.
Pinehurst Resort’s packages present great value. Most popular is a three-round, two-night deal that includes an enormous breakfast buffet every morning and a three-course dinner every night. Depending on time of year the price varies between $718 and $1,378 per person, double occupancy. Playing No. 2 costs another $195, but don’t cheap out. Book a deal like this and tack on at least one other local course coming or going.
Tobacco Road Golf Travel offers tremendous deals, especially during the hot summer months. Their “Summer Classics” deal is three rounds—at Tobacco Road, Pine Needles, and Pinewild (Magnolia or Holly)—plus two nights at a Holiday Inn just outside Pinehurst. It’s only $389 per person and cheap enough to let you tack on an extra night and round at the Pinehurst Resort or Coore & Crenshaw’s Dormie Club. I did a deal like this last summer with friends and we couldn’t have had a better time.
Keep in mind that prices are highest in the spring and fall when the weather is best.
By Graylyn Loomis
I was fortunate to visit Streamsong recently to take a tour of the Black Course ahead of its scheduled opening in late September of this year. When the course opens it will have two growing seasons under its belt, and it will further cement Streamsong’s reputation as one of America’s premier golf destinations.
The Black Course is located a mile from the clubhouse shared by the Coore & Crenshaw-designed Red and Tom Doak-designed Blue courses.
he new design will have its own modern glass-and-steel-style clubhouse, which will overlook the course and a huge new putting green.
Our tour guide for the Black Course was Rich Mack, a representative of the company that owns Streamsong. A former college golfer, Rich explained that the course has three distinct regions. The 1st, 2nd, 10th, and 11th holes are the Midlands, followed by the Ridge on holes 3 through 9, and finally 12 through 18 comprise the Glove, so-called because from above it looks like a hand. All three regions have their own look and feel, but the Ridge is the most visually impressive, playing through the massive dunes for which Streamsong Blue and Red are famous.
The course will play like a links course, firm and fast and with open green approaches that encourage running play. Length will range from around 5,000 yards to nearly 7,500; Rich hinted that if Streamsong were to host any major events going forward, they would almost certainly take place on the Black Course. The land lends itself well to spectating with more room between holes for crowds, and the new practice facilities at the Black Course are much larger than those at the Blue and Red courses.
Another amenity at Streamsong is the Roundabout, a multi-acre practice area a short walk from the Black’s clubhouse. The Roundabout has six green complexes and a number of tee boxes, allowing golfers to play everything from 340-plus-yard par fours to short-game challenges with friends.
Now that I’ve seen it, it’s obvious that the Black Course will live up to its hype. Hanse was directed to create a different experience from the Red and Blue courses, and he achieved that goal through the grand scale, difficulty, and use of varying topography at the new course. I hope to return to Streamsong to replay the Red and Blue courses, and tee it up on the Black once it opens. That trip is sure to be a future installment of “Graylyn Goes.”
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.”