By Erik Matuszewski
I tend not to hit more than a dozen balls warming up before a round of golf. Like many golfers, I might joke with those next to me that my good shots are limited, so why waste them?
But during my travels I’ve come across a number of unique or unusual practice ranges where it’s easy to linger just a bit longer ahead of a tee time.
I thought about this shortly after visiting the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Quebec, where the clubhouse boasts sweeping views of the vast St. Lawrence River from high atop a hill. The winding cart path up to the clubhouse is more than a mile long, and the payoff is well worth it. Not only will you find one of the best opening tee shots in the game—you’ll also find one of its most scenic warm-up areas.
Before starting play on one of the course’s three nine-hole layouts, players fire practice balls from the property’s highest point to a range far below. This jarringly dramatic setting for a range happens to be where President Donald Trump and other world leaders took photos during the 2018 G7 Summit held at the resort.
While it’s hard to match that setting for its natural beauty, here are a handful of the game’s unique or noteworthy spots to warm up before a round. Whether it’s quirkiness, scenic views, or a truly special vibe, these ranges have something more than just functionality.
The Coeur d’Alene Resort (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho)
Arriving at this lakefront resort via its mahogany water taxi is simply the start of the experience. Golfers everywhere know Coeur d’Alene as the home of the true island green—one you have to take a boat to, as well—but water is also in play before the round. This scenic over-water driving range stays true to the lakefront theme by using floating golf balls. Not only that, but massages are offered to all guests at the practice tee before their round—with the resort giving an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 during the golf season.
Orange County National (Winter Garden, Fla.)
The practice range at this Orlando property, which is home to two 18-hole golf courses and a nine-hole walking-only executive layout, spans 42 acres and, most notably, is circular. There are 600 hitting bays that extend 360 degrees around the venue, which is billed as the largest driving range in the nation and is where attendees gather to test new equipment each year during the PGA Merchandise Show. Players warming up for their round at OCN can contend with any possible wind direction to prep for that day’s play.
World Woods Golf Club (Brooksville, Fla.)
Orange County National isn’t the only southern facility with a 360-degree driving range. The RTJ Golf Trail at Capitol Hill in Alabama also has one, but World Woods takes it to another level. The facility’s massive 20-acre circular range has four grass teeing stations arranged in a North, South, East, and West layout, and is central to a sprawling Practice Park that also features a two-acre putting course and three practice holes (a par three, par four, and par five) to loosen up before taking on one of the two championship courses.
Cascata Club (Las Vegas, Nev.)
In the desert away from the Las Vegas Strip is a golf oasis for high rollers known as Cascata, which is Italian for “waterfall.” The setting for golf is stunning and the practice range is no slouch either. Visitors enjoy taking aim toward a distant mountainside where bighorn sheep scale the rocky slopes. A waterfall tumbles 418 feet into a stream that wanders through the practice area, crossing under a bridge near the teeing ground, and eventually running through the clubhouse.
Pebble Beach Resorts (Monterey, Calif.)
This one gets a special mention because of the location and for what the new 350-yard double-ended venue replaced. The old range at Pebble Beach was cramped, mats-only, and down the road from the course itself. The new range is a world removed, a practice area Nirvana for resort golfers. The sculpted target greens have surrounding bunkers with a look that mimics shots found throughout Pebble Beach. And you never know who you may run into while warming up—I remember visiting one time during the Pebble Beach Pro-Am when Tom Brady was hitting driver at one end and Kenny G was grinding away at the other.
There are many more special practice ranges throughout the game. What are some of the finest, unique, or most memorable that you’ve experienced?
By Graylyn Loomis
Coming up the entryway into California Golf Club of San Francisco—or, as it’s more commonly called, Cal Club—is a drive back in time. The road winds past the first fairway and up to a grand white clubhouse. There’s a main entrance, but the members know better and walk around to the side and through a door that opens directly onto one of the best bars in golf.
However you enter, there’s no doubt that Cal Club is old-school cool. There are no tee times, shorts are not permitted (even though the club is technically in South San Francisco, the weather is usually Bay Area comfortable), and caddies accompany nearly every group. The clubhouse is filled with historic maps, drawings, and photos of the course over the decades. There are even a few dormie rooms upstairs with the accommodations offering everything a golfer needs—and nothing more. A lot has happened in the club’s first century, but when you’re on property it can be hard to tell.
Cal Club was founded in 1918 on a site some seven miles south of downtown San Francisco on land leased from a water company. When the lease was up and the utility wanted its land back, the club relocated another eight miles south to its present location. Ireland-born A. Vernon Macan and Scotsman Willie Locke designed the new course, which opened in 1926, but club records show that two years later Alister MacKenzie and his sometime-partner Robert Hunter (who famously touched up both Pebble Beach and Cypress Point) were hired to make changes, notably redoing the bunkering and a few of the greens on the hilly site.
After 80 years of neglect and incremental change, the club hired Kyle Phillips in 2007 to restore the course to its “golden age” grandeur. And what a job he did. Along with clearing trees and planting fescue grass, Phillips created five new holes, notably the par-four 2nd—which sits on the site of the old practice range—and the unforgettable dogleg-right par-four 7th, a Cape hole that looks as if it has been there forever.
The most memorable features of the course are its green complexes, featuring bunkers that squeeze and push the putting surfaces into endlessly interesting shapes and slopes. The conditions are smooth and very fast due to bentgrass fairways and greens that are meticulously maintained (and vigilantly guarded from invasive poa annua). And thanks to the hilly parkland terrain, almost everywhere you look are long views across the course and Bay Area.
Keeping Cal Club as good as it is means keeping it very private. And that’s too bad, because if more golfers got to see it, word would spread that it’s one of the best—and coolest—courses in the west.
By Ian Critser
On the ever-growing list of courses Tom Fazio has designed, there are only a select few that he calls home. Serving as the summer getaway from his primary residence in South Florida, Wade Hampton Golf Club is one of them.
One of the game’s most exclusive enclaves, the club is nestled in the tiny mountain village of Cashiers in western North Carolina, on the site of 19th-century politician Wade Hampton III’s former summer home. In 1984, the land was acquired by William McKee, who wanted to create an unparalleled golf experience that combined a superb course with the stunning landscape.
Undoubtedly one of Fazio’s finest works, the course is routed masterfully through the towering topography. Many of the holes are defined by large granite outcroppings, bubbling streams, and severe elevation changes. The entire course sits in the shadow of Chimney Top mountain, with much of the back nine snuggling up against its imposing, sheer walls.
Stretching to just over 7,200 yards from the tips with a rating of 75.5 and slope of 146, Wade Hampton’s playing corridors are more generous than the numbers might suggest. The fairways are wide and the greens inviting, but like Pine Valley (where Fazio has done some work), trouble lurks: Cavernous bunkers, thick rough, dense forest, streams, and ponds are close by.
As with many Fazio designs, the four par threes are stunning. The best of them—and perhaps the most photographed hole on the course—is the 17th, which plays downhill to an expansive green fronted by a stream and framed by two large, ancient hemlock trees that resemble goalposts.
The club is proudly owned by a passionate membership always looking to push their already esteemed haven to the next level. The course and club facilities underwent an extensive renovation in 2018: Tee boxes, greens, green surrounds, and rough were reseeded and Capillary Concrete lining was added to greenside bunkers. Parts of the clubhouse interior were opened up, creating a more lively and cohesive environment for members and their guests.
Wade Hampton is better than ever and poised for many successful decades to come. Needless to say, if you’re one of the fortunate few to be invited to spend time in its rarefied air, jump at the chance.
By Erik Matuszewski
The newest course in the world’s fastest-growing golf market is open for limited preview play, and those lucky enough to get an early look at Vietnam’s Hoiana Shores Golf Club are in for a unique treat.
For starters, the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design doesn’t have any flapping flags to help golfers deal with the ever-present winds off the East Vietnam Sea. Instead, the traditional links course in Central Vietnam features red basket lanterns which replicate those illuminating the night in the nearby Old Town of Hoi An, a former Portuguese trading post that dates to the 1600s. A UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site just 10 minutes from the golf course and the Hoiana Integrated Resort, Hoi An is known as the City of Lanterns.
The baskets bear an unmistakable—and intentional—resemblance to those found at venerable Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia. Wind cuts right through the wicker, making the lanterns ideal for the seaside location since they can’t be blown over. Just don’t expect them to help much with determining wind direction.
When it comes to breezy conditions, six of the 18 holes at aptly named Hoiana Shores come into direct contact with the shoreline. It won’t be uncommon for golfers to actually play shots directly from the beach, says Ben Styles, Hoiana’s Vice President for Golf.
“The beachfront could have been otherwise developed,” Styles says. “But this decision will ultimately pay off, as this part of the course is uniquely unforgettable. There is nothing quite like playing those holes. It is proof you are playing a proper links. There aren’t many courses in Asia that serve up that type of experience.”
Hoiana Shores had been one of 43 golf courses in development in Vietnam entering this year, the most of any country worldwide, according to the R&A’s Golf Around the World Report. And Hoiana Shores is a key component of perhaps the most ambitious resort development undertaken in Vietnam—a $4 billion project that’s starting with more than 1,000 rooms, suites, and villas in its first operational phase. The property, which covers almost 2,500 acres and has two-and-a-half miles of pristine beach, also features a suite of beachside pools and restaurants, a beach club, an entertainment facility, and a wide array of retail partners. It showcases not only the vibrancy of Hoi An and Central Vietnam, but is intended to draw both domestic and international tourism to the region.
“It all starts with the golf,” says Styles. While the grand opening of the course is set for early 2020, it began welcoming limited preview play on Sept. 23, with all proceeds donated to local charities.
Stuart Stone, who oversaw construction of Hoiana Shores for Hong Kong-based course builder Linksshape, says the land upon which the course is built is “almost the dictionary definition of what ‘linksland’ should be.” The layout is defined by its wonderful shapes and contours, including greens nestled into dunes early in the round and more open vistas as the course takes players closer to the water later in the routing. In some instances, the architects and design team would let sand pile up, shape it, and then let the wind take over again.
“It’s pretty unique and required real patience,” says Stone. “On holes 16 and 17, for example, where the wind is coming right off the sea, our fine shapers carved out the shapes, and then we let Mother Nature further shape it. Then the team came back, refined it and finalized it. Ultimately, we created truly windswept areas there that were quite different from the original shapes.”
The course will play firm and fast thanks to a relatively new, drought-tolerant turfgrass called Zeon Zoysia that was developed for equatorial regions like Hoi An and is less grainy than Bermuda and
Paspalum grasses. The choice was strategic as well as sustainable. Unlike many “tropical links” built on sand, Hoiana Shores is able to deliver the bounce and roll that true links courses demand.
A par 71 that stretches to 7,401 yards, Hoiana Shores is the first Vietnamese course for Jones after decades in the design business. And from the lanterns to the beachfront holes, it’s a memorable debut.
“I’ve been working in Asia all of my adult life. We’ve worked all over the region and looked at projects in Vietnam. But it does feel as though the best site has been saved for us,” Jones saiys. “It’s been a lovely treasure hunt that ends with us finding a golf course project hard by the sea. Where great land meets the sea, great golf can happen.”
By Tony Dear
Golf’s short course movement is in full swing.
Whether it’s a layout with fewer than 18 holes, or one consisting solely of par threes, truncated golf is appearing with increasing regularity as America discovers how much fun it can be, how great it is for introducing youth to the game, how inexpensive it is, and how it might be all people have time for.
There are a number of short courses that have found fame and recognition in recent years. Nine-hole Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tenn., enjoys enormous popularity among an enlightened group of golfers who favor sound design and a simplified version of the game over an elaborate, and invariably more expensive, bell/whistle approach.
And the Winter Park Golf Course just outside of Orlando in Winter Park, Fla., affectionately known to regulars as “WP9,” has also become synonymous with right-thinking golfers seeking quick, affordable entertainment.
For WP9 to succeed as it has, it needed willing and devoted local residents, a visionary mayor in Steve Leary, and the design talents of Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns who transformed the more than 100-year-old layout into a nifty playground suitable for every kind of golfer.
It would be a couple of years before they got the opportunity to assure everyone their debut success wasn’t a fluke, however. Lew Thompson, owner and developer of Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, Mich., wanted a short course he could play with his grandsons and gave Rhebb a call in April. Though he was working for Bill Coore on the renovation of the Plantation Course at Kapalua Bay in Hawaii, Coore insisted he accept the offer. Johns too had been involved at Kapalua but was also able to make it work. They were done in just 81 days.
“We didn’t start out with that goal, but it all went incredibly smoothly,” says Rhebb. “Lew had everything set up for when we arrived, the weather was good, and we had local school kids come out and remove rocks.”
The course, still to be named, will open next spring when golfers who have played the Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes or Tom Doak’s The Loop earlier in the day will be able to kick back, go barefoot, put on some tunes, open a beer, and hunt an ace.
“It’s meant to be fun,” Rhebb says. “Golfers should come off a short course like this, and immediately want to do it again.”
Like they do at The Greenbrier’s Ashford Short Course which opened a year ago, either Top of the Rock or Mountain Top Golf Course at Big Cedar Lodge, The Sandbox at Sand Valley Golf Resort, the thankfully-revived par-65 Goat Hill Park, or Pinehurst’s The Cradle which, it was reported in September, recorded 68,000 rounds in its first year.
Dave Axland and Rod Whitman’s 10-hole course currently growing in at Cabot Links in Nova Scotia promises to be similarly amusing. Set on a 12-acre parcel inland and uphill from Cabot Cliffs, holes will range from 85 to 230 yards, says Keith Cutten who is part of the design team. “It isn’t a pitch and putt,” he adds. “It will be a genuine test but enormous fun.”
Two-and-a-half thousand miles away in Cleveland, Texas, is another short course(s) that’s yet to open but is likewise highly anticipated. Nine Grand at the Grand Oaks Reserve development is not only an innovative mix of nine-hole course, nine-hole par 3, and nine-hole putting course—Rhebb and fellow shaper Angela Moser helped build it, and it is designer Mike Nuzzo and contractor/superintendent John Mahaffey’s first collaboration since they created the amazing Wolf Point Club in Port Lavaca, Texas, in 2009.
New Urban West (NUW), a Santa Monica, Calif.-based developer, is currently seeking permits to build something similar in Camarillo, 50 miles west of Los Angeles. Camarillo Springs will have a 12-hole main course and a six-hole short course that Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate have already routed.
“We were actually hired by industry veteran Gary Lewis who was hired by NUW as they had no experience in developing golf,” says Pascuzzo. “Gary made it clear that while length and rating weren’t important, building fun and interesting holes was.”
That was obviously the recipe at McVeigh’s Gauntlet at Silvies Valley Ranch in Seneca, Ore., home of the goat caddies. Dan Hixson’s thrill-packed seven-holer (five par threes and two par fours) climbs up and tumbles down some dramatic terrain and could make a claim to be the game’s most exciting 1,135 yards. Hixson has a soft spot for short courses.
“I love them because we designers can get away with things that would be lambasted on a full course,” he says. “Short courses are full of quirkiness, extreme shaping, and imaginative golf shots.”
In describing what motivated some of the holes at McVeigh’s Gauntlet, Hixson surely defines the very essence of short course adventure. “I tried to envision what would make my friends and I laugh as we watched each other play these crazy holes.”
Amen to that.
By George Peper
On a recent trip to Scotland I had the opportunity to play a sneak-preview round at Dumbarnie Links, a course I’m sure will be hailed roundly as a triumph when it opens for play later this year. Clive Clark, a member of the 1973 Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup team, has taken a relatively undistinguished landscape and created 18 fun, testing, and memorable holes.
About nine miles south of St. Andrews on the Firth of Forth, Dumbarnie is set over 345 acres, part of the 5,000-acre Balcarres Estate held by Lord Anthony Balniel and his family since the 16th century.
“There was an air of uncertainty when my family was first approached about building a golf course on our land,” says Lord Balniel. “Fast forward several years and we simply could not be more pleased. What Clive Clark and his team have done is nothing short of outstanding. I have been struck not only by the beauty of what has been created, with the dune landscape significantly enhanced, but also by the focus on the wildlife, plants, and birds. It has been a joy to see the project unfold.”
From the 1st hole, a “friendly handshake” par four played from an elevated tee to the final testing dogleg par four, the holes kept us constantly engaged. I loved the wide fairways and expansive greens as, I suspect, will 99 percent of players—continued evidence that a more welcoming style of architecture—via Gil Hanse, the reborn David McLay Kidd, even Tiger Woods—is blessedly taking hold. Mind you, I’m not saying Clark has designed an easy course. It was clear, peering back on each tee at the championship markers (over 7,600 yards), that Dumbarnie can and will be a stern test even for the world’s best players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Scottish Open come here soon, or for Dumbarnie to replace Carnoustie, joining the Old Course and Kingsbarns in the triad of courses that host the Dunhill Links Championship.
The greens were fun to putt, with broad, flowing undulations rather than the abrupt roller-coaster slopes of the nearby Castle Course (although admittedly at their newborn speed of about seven on the Stimpmeter, they’re were less fearsome than they will be in a year or so). I also appreciated the green complexes that echoed the playability theme, many of them amphitheatrical bowls rather than upturned saucers. There was some Old Course homage as well—playful hints of the classic surfaces of holes 11, 12, and 17. Most of the greens also are open-fronted, allowing for bounce-on approaches. My most satisfying iron shot on a day of precious few good ones was a low, drawing 5-iron into the last which must’ve bounded and rolled 100 yards.
If I were a golf architect, my theme would be risk and reward, with Cape Holes galore, and Clive Clark certainly has worked in plenty of that at Dumbarnie. Playing from the third of the five sets of tees, I savored the chance to drive the buttonhook 3rd (caught a greenside pot bunker), the inviting 11th (pushed one hopelessly right, leaving a vexing pitch), and the downwind 17th where it ran through the green, leaving what Alister MacKenzie would have called a “pleasantly exciting” chip down three tiers.
Two holes featured double-fairways offering conservative and aggressive options—and my how those options will change with wind direction, not to mention the choice of tees. These holes in particular were testimony to the creative earthmoving done on the site, essentially flat farmland that has been sculpted into an eye-catching dunescape. The bunkering here is similar to Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, a combination of sod-faced pots and ragged-edged pits of all sizes that add to both the visual variety and challenge.
If I had one quibble it would be that some of the walks twixt green and tee are a bit long (although I admit I’m spoiled by the St. Andrews courses—and I also have a lousy back). That said, they’re easier than at Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart, and The Castle. Designer Clark and his crew also are to be commended for masking the uphill movement—only two holes called for any uphill trekking and they were minor.
You’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned the views, which are wonderful, with the Firth of Forth in sight on 16 of the holes. It’s just that the course itself grabbed and held my attention from start to finish. I have no doubt that Dumbarnie will soon come to stand along with Kingsbarns as the two courses (after the Old) that every serious St. Andrews pilgrim will want to play.
By Erik Matuszewski
As our dusty camouflage utility vehicle squeezed past several excavators on one side of the gravel path behind Big Cedar Lodge’s Mountain Top clubhouse, a group of workers armed with compressed-air devices called air spades was on the other, painstakingly clearing dirt and rock from a wall of limestone outcroppings.
Minutes earlier, looking down on the distinctive formations from the back deck of the clubhouse, I asked Todd Bohn how laborious the process is to expose them.
Bohn is the director of agronomy for Big Cedar’s golf properties and on this steamy Missouri afternoon was giving me a tour of the first public golf course in the U.S. built by Tiger Woods and his design firm. As we rumbled past the formations, Bohn explained how they were first dug out by excavators, then blasted with high-pressure water before the final clearing is meticulously done by hand.
Indeed, the impressive visuals hit you from the start at the Woods-designed Payne’s Valley layout, as the path to the first tee goes past this dramatic wall of rock. This after having been treated to seemingly endless views from the Mountain Top clubhouse that sits on the highest part of the property in southwest Missouri, just over 10 miles north of the Arkansas border. It’s all a part of the experience at Big Cedar, which has grown into one of the game’s leading golf destinations.
Less than a minute later, we stood on the first tee, a downhill par four with a wide, untouched fairway that tumbles down to a green perched on the edge of a hill. Miles of densely treed hills provide the backdrop for the opener, which looks achingly ready to play, except for the fact there are no tee markers, no flags, and no holes cut in the greens. There are no divots either, as Payne’s Valley—the fifth course in the Big Cedar portfolio—isn’t scheduled to open until summer of 2020.
My tour showed it will be worth the wait, a scenic treat that lives up to Woods’s fun and player-friendly pledge while offering strategic challenges throughout.
“You could land a jumbo jet on some of these fairways,” says Bohn, noting that there are 85 acres of fairway at Payne’s Valley.
A former high school football star in Kansas, Bohn holds a unique place in the golf world. As the on-site point man who oversees a team of contractors to implement the plans from TGR Design, he’s about to help open a third new golf course in three years. Ozarks National (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Mountain Top (Gary Player) both opened for full-time play within the past two years.
Most of the holes at Payne’s Valley are fully grassed and look like they’re ready for play, with a handful still undergoing work before winter. Among them are the par-five 18th hole, which sits at the base of the limestone wall, roughly 160 feet below the clubhouse. Just beyond that unfinished green, the par-three, bet-settling 19th hole is tucked on a shelf in the side of the rock face. When completed, a dramatic waterfall will spill down the limestone wall from up near the clubhouse, dumping between 4,000 and 6,000 gallons of water per minute.
The fairway of the 18th fairway was sodded with Zoysia grass from Tulsa, Okla., in August—one of the final few holes to get grass. But even though parts of the course might look ready to welcome eager golfers, Bohn says its essential to have a full growing season. Especially after he was kept up many nights “trying to keep things alive in the heat” of the summer.
“The earliest I’d like to play on that is May or June of next year,” Bohn says. “It’s going to root down the rest of this year, but it’s not going to grow when it goes dormant.”
Payne’s Valley is a par-72 layout—10 par fours, four par fives and four par threes—that will play 7,375 yards from the back tees and about 5,900 yards from the most forward tees. As the name would suggest, it plays down and through a beautiful valley on one side of the Mountain Top clubhouse. It’s also an homage to the late Payne Stewart, the three-time major championship winner and Springfield, Mo., native who died in a 1999 plane crash.
The 4th hole is a shorter par five that incorporates rock outcroppings behind and in front of the green, which is also protected by a six-acre irrigation pond. The par-three 5th hole plays to an island green of sorts, as it’s surrounded on all sides by the same pond that fronts the 4th hole.
Work is still being finished at the visually arresting par-3three 10th hole, which will have a small waterfall behind the green to the right. A faux stone bridge crosses over the waterfall, which connects a higher pond to a lower one on the left side of the 10th green.
The concept of the 12th green reminds Bohn of the short, par-four 10th hole at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles. It’s potentially drivable for some, but miss to the left and your ball kicks away from the green and rolls away. Miss to the right and you’re in a sea of bunkers.
“And then,” Bohn says as we round a corner to the par-five 13th, which can play 660 yards, uphill, from the back tees, “this course kicks you in your teeth for a few holes.”
The conclusion, like the introduction, is a thrilling one. By the time you approach the 18th green (and the bonus 19th hole), you’re left wondering how in the world golfers will get back up to the clubhouse high above. A portion of that rock face had been exposed originally, but the Big Cedar team uncovered twice as much—just adding to the drama. Tiger’s course itself only adds to the rich bounty of golf at Big Cedar, and it left me counting the days to when my next go-round is in a golf cart instead of a utility vehicle.
Well-known for its famous coastlines along the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Spain also boasts a flavorful variety of more than 300 golf courses. From shore to shore you can find some of the best Robert Trent Jones Sr. designs in all of Europe, see Seve Ballesteros’s influence sprinkled across his homeland, and visit a plethora of tracks that are worth skipping a siesta for. Here are our Top 10 Spanish courses.
1. Valderrama, Cadiz
Widely esteemed as the best course in continental Europe, this Trent Jones Sr. design, site of the 1997 Ryder Cup, climbs and twists through cork and pine trees en route to fiercely protected greens, most infamously the pond-fronted 17th.
2. Sotogrande, Cadiz
Trent Jones’s first Spanish design and the course that made the Costa del Sol a golf mecca, it is a neighbor to Valderrama and set on similar ideal-for-golf terrain but is shorter and less dramatic.
3. PGA Catalunya (Stadium), Girona
Dramatic elevation change combines with tightly tree-lined fairways and beckoning lakes to provide a challenge that is both scenic and unrelenting on this venue for several European Tour events.
4. Finca Cortesin, Malaga
Centerpiece of a five-star Mediterranean resort, this brute of a course (7,700 yards from the tips and a three-time host of the World Match Play Championship) was designed to have “no hole of less than championship quality.”
5. El Saler, Valencia
This venerable links-like layout by Spanish architect Javier Arana is set in a nature reserve, its fairways unfurling across a mixture of sandhills and woodlands, all with stunning views of the Balearic Sea.
6. El Prat (Arriba & Bosque Nines), Barcelona
Thirty minutes from Barcelona, El Prat sports six nine-hole loops, all the work of Greg Norman, whose boldness and flair for the dramatic are in constant display.
7. Son Gual, Mallorca
Set on the largest of the Balearic Islands, this is an American-style resort course featuring enormous tees, wildflowers in profusion, and hazards with fountains—not to mention a killer finishing par five with a pond-fronted green.
8. La Reserva, Cadiz
The younger sister course to Sotogrande is perched on a hillside above the Mediterranean. Trent Jones disciple Cabell Robinson followed his mentor’s penchant for expansive tees, fairways, and greens.
9. Las Brisas, Malaga
Designed by Trent Jones with a recent update by Kyle Phillips, Las Brisas sits on sloping, tree-clad terrain dotted with 10 lakes, making this the kind of course where precision and strategy are more important than power-hitting.
10. Santander, Madrid
Seve Ballesteros and Rees Jones moved five million cubic yards of dirt to craft a challenge that reflects Seve’s playing style: it’s long but there’s little penalty for errant shots.
By Tony Dear
“The terrain is so bold, wild at times,” Rob Collins says of the site at Landmand Golf Club in northeast Nebraska where he and design partner Tad King have routed 18 holes that are set to open in 2021. “It reminds me of Ireland with 100-foot dunes everywhere you look.”
King and Collins’s much-anticipated return to the design stage has a lot of people very excited. It’s getting on five years since their amazing work at Sweetens Cove in South Pittsburg, Tenn., was revealed, and since then they’ve had precious little opportunity to convince us their opening salvo wasn’t a fluke.
After Sweetens officially opened in April, 2015, it took a while to enter the American golfer’s consciousness. But once it did, it experienced a growth in popularity so rapid it ended up in the pages of The New York Times and on numerous golf publications’ “Best of…” lists.
It attracted more than 20,000 followers on social media, and an ownership group that included Peyton Manning, Andy Roddick, and Brad Faxon who had obviously sensed something extraordinary happening.
Collins and King, the dreamers who had transformed the wretched Sequatchie Valley course into a truly special stretch of holes. sat back and waited for the phone to ring. Not a lot of new courses were being built in the aftermath of the 2007–2009 recession, but surely a prudent developer somewhere would seek to tap into their genius and recreate some of that Sweetens magic.
A few interesting leads came and went but, mostly, the silence was deafening. Zac Blair signed them up to design the course he plans to build at the Buck Club in Utah, but until the funding is in place that project remains on hold. It wasn’t until earlier this year, in fact, when a golf and tennis resort in Georgia named Sea Palms hired King-Collins to renovate their George Cobb-designed course and add a short-game practice area called the Miracle, that the pair could move a little dirt again.
“At times, Tad and I looked at each other and just shook our heads,” says Collins. “We began wondering if it was ever going to happen.”
Events of the last couple of months would suggest the wait is happily over, and the Sweetens Cove tree is finally beginning to bear fruit. Sea Palms was nice certainly, but King and Collins obviously wanted something a little meatier to exercise their creative muscles. Early negotiations have now begun for new builds in New York and Alabama, but Landmand—the Danish word for “Farmer” and situated on a 20,000-acre corn farm owned by the Andersen Family—is definitely happening. Ground will be broken on September 3rd.
Will Andersen, a 36-year-old fourth-generation farmer of Danish descent who has played in the U.S. Mid-Am and first suggested to his father Bryce they turn part of the farm into a golf course about 10 years ago, contacted Collins in April with a view to having him and King look at the family’s existing nine-holer in Dakota City, Neb. “I didn’t know if they would be interested, but they were here two weeks later,” he says. “They weren’t into renovating the nine-hole course at all, but were very interested in a parcel closer to the farm near Homer, about 10 miles south.”
That property covered 580 acres and had been acquired by Will’s grandfather in the 1970s. “He’d buy up all this land and take the trees out to make it farmable,” he adds. The topography made it too difficult to farm, however, so it was put into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)—set up by Congress in 1985 to protect soil, water, and wildlife in farming areas that weren’t actually being farmed.
Andersen had shown it to other designers. “Scott Miller and David McLay Kidd came out, but they thought it a bit extreme,” he says. “And we contacted Tom Fazio and Tiger Woods’s firms, but they weren’t interested.”
Collins and King came back for a second look in June, and routed all 18 holes in double-quick time. “It’s not like we were rushing,” says Collins. “The holes were just there. But it wasn’t similar to Sand Hills where there were a hundred or more great holes, and Coore and Crenshaw had to decide which to reject and then settle on one of a number of possible routings. Here, we knew where the clubhouse was going, so we had a starting point. Using a range-finder, we shot a ridge 590 yards away and said, ‘Right, the 1st will be a 590-yard par five. The 2nd followed on and has a cool reverse-Redan feature, and we saw the 3rd immediately after.”
It carried on like this virtually all the way round, says Collins. “The 7th was this perfect 310-yard par four, and it was followed by a great little Postage Stamp par three. We needed a little imagination in a few places, but most of the time we both saw the hole simultaneously and immediately agreed.”
Andersen was shocked at how quickly Collins and King worked. “I remember I had to go into town to run an errand,” he says. “I came back about an hour and a half later and they had routed six holes.”
Gus Grantham, the lead shaper at Sweetens Cove, will be a part of the four-man crew that will cease work in November when the first frosts hit. “We’ll start up again next April with more personnel,” says Collins, “and spend the spring and summer shaping and getting the course ready for seeding.”
Landmand Golf Club will be a public course with maybe 100 or so memberships, but won’t be a big earner for the Andersens. “We hope that it breaks even obviously, but mostly we just want to provide great, affordable golf that’s accessible to everyone,” says Will Andersen.
Needless to say, Collins is extremely excited. “I love everything about it,” he says. “The family wants to build a great course that’s accessible to all. The soil is glacial till that drains very well. It’s only 90 minutes from Omaha, and half an hour from Sioux City, and the land is absolutely amazing.”
Indeed, Collins has a rather colorful description for the site. “It’s like Sand Hills and Shinnecock Hills had a baby,” he says. “And they put a little LSD in its milk.”
By Erik Matuszewski
The list of Seth Raynor golf courses open to public play is agonizingly short. Quietly, however, there’s now one tucked in a metro area with more golfers than any other in the country.
The historic Rock Spring Club in West Orange, N.J., is so close to New York City that it has views of the Manhattan skyline from several of its Raynor-designed holes. Formerly a private club dating back to 1925, Rock Spring is now a municipally owned daily-fee facility, having been purchased by the township for $12 million at the urging of residents who didn’t want to lose valuable land to a developer.
Operations of the 6,600-yard, par-71 layout were turned over to KemperSports, which manages more than 130 other golf facilities nationwide, including seven others in New Jersey. The course had been closed for months when new superintendent Brandon Ramage arrived, with fairways that were several inches deep and scruffy greens. “My first day here, I was on the mower rediscovering the fairways,” Ramage says. Preventative maintenance hadn’t been addressed for some time, but Ramage and other staffers knew they had a diamond in the rough.
Many trademark Raynor design elements are in play at Rock Spring, as well as unique characteristics from his top assistant, Charles “Steamshovel” Banks. And it’s unquestionably a rarity in the golf world.
The only other daily fee Raynor design in the U.S. is Thousand Island Country Club in upstate New York. While Old White at The Greenbrier in West Virginia is open to public play as a high-end resort course, most courses in the rich Raynor portfolio are private clubs with a bucket-list pedigree: Camargo, The Creek Club, Fishers Island, Shoreacres, and Yeamans Hall among them.
But Rock Spring’s future is uncertain. It will remain an 18-hole golf course through at least next year—the length of Kemper’s contract—as the municipality decides what to do with the property long term. Options include selling a portion of the land and turning it into an active adult community, a public works department, a recreation facility, or other green space.
Losing a golf course is a painful proposition, yet also an unfortunate reality in areas where the dirt is more valuable than the grassy fairways and greens atop it. But the possibility of losing a course with the kind of design pedigree that Rock Spring boasts is especially agonizing for golf architecture buffs. West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, a golfer himself, said the township is giving strong consideration to whether the golf course should remain—either as 18 holes or nine holes.
For golfers in the New York area, it makes sense to play this Raynor now.
The green complexes at Rock Spring are a joy. There’s incredible variety on display, with steep banks and drop-offs throughout that only add to the daily challenge for the grounds crew. There are some massive greens with multiple tiers and plateaus. Others are squared off, have deceiving false fronts, or are angled in a way that gives golfers yet another strategic challenge with their approach shots.
The bunkering is equally good. Some are deep and rugged, others steep-walled and, on a few holes, long, wide bunkers wrap around the greens. On a number of fairways, flash-faced bunkers are ominously in view off the tee, but innocuously unseen when looking back from the green.
The bones are definitely there at Rock Spring, but the course still needs considerable attention. The good news is that Raynor’s design is getting the love it needs from Ramage and his team. The most pressing concerns are bunker work and improved drainage, says General Manager Chris Parker, projects that will continue in earnest during the fall of 2019 and throughout the offseason.
The North Jersey area is ripe with historic private clubs, but good public options are more limited. Parker says there’s been a strong influx of young professionals from Manhattan, particularly on weekends, as an Uber ride from the city is only about 30 to 40 minutes. Once off the main road, just down from the popular Turtle Back Zoo, you’ll drive through an older development, past Raynor Drive and the now-empty guard shack at the club’s front entrance. It’s one of the vestiges of the former private club, along with the unused swimming pools and, on the far side of the property, the empty paddle tennis courts. But the Raynor and Banks golf course, with its unique and historic design, remains—at least for a while.
“There’s a lot of history here. We want to keep this 18-hole experience and this gem of a golf course,” Parker says after capping our recent round—just his second since taking over as GM in June—with a birdie at the closing hole. “We don’t want it to go by the wayside, so we’re going to do everything in our power to make a hard case. We’re trying to show why this is important and why it has to stay.
“You’ve got one of the top architects of all time,” Parker adds. “And here’s one of his courses you can actually play. Most people don’t get a chance to experience that.”