By Tony Dear
No part of the golf course has come in for as much stick in recent years as its trees. Until around 2010, trees enjoyed a healthy-enough reputation, but over the last decade golfers have gotten wise to their shortcomings—impeding views, blocking sunlight, restricting air movement, sucking soil nutrients the turf needs, and hindering strategy.
Actually, architects as far back as Alister MacKenzie and H.S. Colt have maligned trees on golf courses, MacKenzie saying fairways bordered by rows of trees make “tedious and uninteresting golf,” Colt that trees are a “fluky and obnoxious form of hazard,” and that they “afford but slight opportunity for the display of golfing skill in extricating the ball from their clutches.”
Yet Colt also stressed that trees were “undoubtedly charming features in a landscape view.” American architect George Thomas believed that “natural growth should never be cut down if it is possible to save it.”
So trees that add or retain character, create a strategic puzzle, do not negatively affect the turfgrass or spoil a view, can stay. We asked architects, writers, and a photographer for their favorite golf course trees.
My first thought was the stand of trees to the right of the 14th fairway at Cypress Point. It’s just an amazing plant community. Can’t say it adds strategy to the hole, but it makes the tee shot by itself. A tree that definitely adds strategy is the pine that overhangs the 18th at Pebble Beach. It makes bailing out to the right there a real problem. The sugar maple to the right of the fairway on the 8th at Crystal Downs forces a decision on the tee shot.
The trees in the middle of the 17th at Cypress Point. They really focus the eye on the coastline and the aggressive line playing along the coast.
I can think of two holes—one defended by a copse (17th at Sunningdale Old), the other by a single tree (3rd at Royal Melbourne East). Both are shortish, downhill, sliding dogleg-right par fours. You want to hit the longest club possible but have to fade it. Hit it straight and it’s into the trees through the fairway—the perfect defense.
The first one that comes to mind is on the 2nd at Mammoth Dunes. That tree in front of the far waste area is exactly on-line with where you want to play a no-sweat drive across the sand cavern. It forces you to bail out even farther to the left, leaving a longer, semi-blind carry over the sand from a poor angle, or, take on more of the sand cavern with a longer carry up the right. It effectively makes the massive fairway play much narrower.
The spindly Cypress to the left of the 16th tee at Cypress Point. It can affect the tee shot. The way Seth Raynor originally designed the hole, players were supposed to have three options: 1. At the green, super long carry; 2. Left of the green, shorter carry; 3. Way left, very short carry (effectively playing it as a short par four). That tree could definitely affect the latter two options.
The pine that can be used as an aimpoint at both the 2nd and 8th on the Himalayas Course at Prince’s Golf Club in Kent. Having a single tree as a marker for two holes that run in different directions is cool. It’s similar to the church spire at St. Andrews.
The American Beech on the 420-yard 12th at Crystal Downs. It’s an enormous specimen, straight away from the tee on the far side of the dogleg. The tree is in play for longer hitters and demands you turn the ball a little left to right to avoid being blocked on the second shot. It’s in decline sadly, split in the middle of the trunk from its large outstretched branches weighing it down. It’s cabled to help keep it together.
No course possesses beautiful trees that provide a strategic element quite like Cypress Point does. Trees have a significant influence at the 1st, 5th, 14th, and 17th, but perhaps the most beautiful and strategic of them all are the trees on the 18th—a very underrated hole. I think it’s a stunningly beautiful, interesting, and strategic hole, made so by its trees and the thoughtful way MacKenzie and Hunter routed its fairway through the Cypress grove.
The Black Pine on the left side of the fairway at the 15th at Hirono in Japan. It was a two-stemmed pine but one of the trunks was lost. Hence, the club planted another two-stemmed pine to take its place in years to come. A drive slightly left is stymied by the tree, so it demands accuracy as well as length for the tee shot.
The “v trees” in the sandy area just short of the par-five 16th green at TPC Sawgrass—cool-looking trees that factor into the playing strategy of the hole.
The Lone Fir on the 15th at Chambers Bay. We removed all 80 acres of vegetation there, saving only one Fir tucked within a grove of deciduous trees along the berm. We wanted to see it by itself and as the months passed it became a focal point. While not perfect, it had personality.
What do you think are the greatest trees in golf? Let us know in the comments section below!
By Ryan Asselta
For the most part the traveling circus of professional golf tours visit many of the same venues year after year. On the PGA Tour, January begins in Hawaii, springtime swings through Augusta, and the fall takes golfers to wine country.
But each year we’re also treated to a either a few new courses on tour, or some old gems we haven’t seen in a while. Here’s a look at the top new or returning courses on the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions, and international golf events.
TPC Harding Park—San Francisco, Calif.
PGA Championship, May 2020
The PGA Championship will visit the Bay Area in May as TPC Harding Park will host the year’s second major championship. The public golf course set alongside Lake Merced in San Francisco most recently hosted the WGC Match Play in 2015 and the Presidents Cup in 2009.
Designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, Harding Park gained fame when Byron Nelson won back-to-back San Francisco Opens there in the mid-1940s, and later played host to the Lucky International for most of the 1960s. Names like Gary Player, Jackie Burke, Ken Venturi, and Tiger Woods have all been victorious at Harding Park.
Winged Foot (West Course)—Mamaroneck, N.Y.
U.S. Open, June 2020
June will mark the first time our national championship will be played at the Mamaroneck, N.Y. golf course since 2006, when Phil Mickelson’s 72nd hole meltdown led to Geoff Ogilvy’s one and only major victory.
The West Course will be long, narrow, and guarded by thick rough with grand green complexes. The A.W. Tillinghast layout underwent an extensive restoration project, spearheaded by Gil Hanse, who attempted to bring the course back to what Tillinghast had envisioned. That included the removal of trees as well as the expansion of the greens to their original size.
St. George’s Golf and Country Club—Toronto, Ontario, Canada
RBC Canadian Open, July 2020
For the first time in 10 years, the RBC Canadian Open returns to St. George’s Golf and Country Club in the west end of Toronto. This year will mark the fifth time the club has hosted the Canadian Open, having last visited the Stanley Thompson designed course back in 2010 when Carl Pettersson was crowned champion. Australian golfer Joe Kirkwood Sr. won the first Canadian Open played at St. George’s in 1933.
Royal St. George’s Golf Club—Sandwich, Kent, England
The Open Championship, July 2020
It’s been nine years since The Open Championship has visited the southern coast of England and Royal St. George’s. The last playing in 2011 invokes memories of an emotional Darren Clarke hoisting the Claret Jug in victory, winning the first major title of his career at age 42. This year The Open returns to the historic course for a 15th time.
The course along the Kent coastline was founded in 1897 and designed by Dr. Laidlaw Purves. Just seven years after the club’s inception, Royal St. George’s became the first English course to host The Open Championship in 1894.
The “Maiden” hole provides spectators with one of the most unique views in golf, as fans can sit atop the massive dunes that surround the 6th green.
Kasumigaseki Country Club—Saitama, Japan
Tokyo Olympic Games, August 2020
After a successful return in Rio 2016, Olympic golf is once again back on the 2020 calendar. The Summer Games in Tokyo will feature the men’s and women’s golf competition at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The club was originally founded in 1929 and redesigned by C.H. Alison who transformed Kasumigaeki into a challenging 36-hole layout. The East Course, which will host the Olympic competition, was renovated by Tom Fazio in 2016 and has long been considered one of Japan’s most treasured golf courses.
Whistling Straits—Sheboygan, Wis.
Ryder Cup, September 2020
The Pete Dye designed layout along the shores of Lake Michigan will enter the international spotlight for the first time in 2020.
After hosting PGA Championships in 2004, 2010, and 2015 as well as the U.S. Senior Open in 2007, the Straits course will welcome the Ryder Cup in September.
The golf course should provide a dramatic backdrop for match play, but don’t expect the Wisconsin layout to supply much of a homefield advantage for the United States. Unlike past years, U.S. Captain Steve Stricker is expecting a neutral layout due to the course’s natural topography.
Champions Golf Club—Houston, Texas
U.S. Women’s Open, June 2020
A golf course rich in history, Champions Golf Club will play host to the U.S. Women’s Open in 2020.
The Cypress Creek Course at Champions is a traditional, tree-lined course and has previously hosted the 1967 Ryder Cup and the 1969 U.S. Open as well as the Tour Championship on five different occasions.
The list of names associated with Champions is a who’s who in golf history. The club was founded by Masters champions Jackie Burke and Jimmy Demaret, while Ben Hogan captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team that was victorious in 1967. Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw, and Tiger Woods have all won at Champions.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS
Newport Country Club—Newport, R.I.
U.S. Senior Open, June 2020
The USGA is heading back to its roots in 2020, as Newport Country Club will host the U.S. Senior Open in June. One of the five founding members of the USGA, Newport was established in 1893 and hosted the first ever U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur 125 years ago.
The links course along the Atlantic Ocean in Rhode Island was originally designed by William Davis and later extended to 18 holes by Donald Ross. The course was later redone by A.W. Tillinghast in 1924.
Tiger Woods won the U.S. Amateur at Newport in 1995 and Annika Sorenstam was victorious at the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open in the most recent high-profile event played at the club.
By Tony Dear
Stale. Tired. Overgrown. Past its prime. Those aren’t words you want to hear describing anything, but they’re particularly hurtful when attached to golf courses. Bad enough if you’re talking about a Mom-and-Pop nine-holer charging a few dollars a round. But for a private residential course? Pure poison. To attract new members, keep existing members happy, and remain in the spotlight, upscale community courses need to remain fresh if they’re going to remain in demand. They must look and play their best, especially if the original designer was a big name like Jack Nicklaus or Robert Trent Jones Sr.
In the last couple of years, a number of prestigious residential courses across the country have pushed back against Father Time by undertaking significant, big-money renovations. And, as with most well conceived, professionally executed makeovers, the results have been stunning.
In June, Renegade—the first of six Nicklaus Signature designs at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz.—reopened following a yearlong rejuvenation led by Nicklaus Senior Design Associate Chris Cochran. While the course was in good shape, Cochran said it was definitely in need of a few upgrades as little money had been spent on capital improvement since it opened in 1987. “The irrigation system was over 30 years old and needed replacement,” he says. “The greens were full of poa, and the bunkers tired”—there’s that word— “and the old-style shaping from the ’80s had a lot of mounding, meaning the course had always been quite difficult to maintain.”
An unconventional design with a variety of green options—11 split greens, six shared greens, and one hole with three greens—Renegade simultaneously attempted to be both seriously difficult and eminently playable. But a lopsided distribution of play (75 percent to 25 percent) in favor of the shorter, easier course caused maintenance issues: So another major objective was to make all the greens playable to all golfers.
“We did this by adding a lot more forward tee space and making the back green more accessible by removing much of the mounding,” says Cochran, who has been extremely pleased to learn of the members’ approval. “I know many were a little tentative at first because Renegade has always been the most played course at Desert Mountain and they could not picture how it could be improved.”
John Lyberger, the club’s director of golf, confirms the members’ support for Cochran’s work. “They have been raving about it,” he says. “Converting to cool-season grass means we won’t need to overseed, which avoids awkward transition periods, and more golf days for membership. And by losing the mounding, the net effect is reduced operating expenses and better stewardship of water resources.”
The new Renegade also gives the club the potential to host a USGA Championship or PGA Tour event if it so desires, says Lyberger. But with tees at 4,700 yards, it is also accommodating for everyone. “We believe the course can now achieve Top 100 status,” Lyberger adds. “Our current members are obviously very happy about that, but it also makes the course/club very attractive to prospective members.”
Another Nicklaus original that recently went under the knife is Great Waters at Reynolds at Lake Oconee—midway between Atlanta and Augusta, Ga.—which reopened last October after shutting down for 15 months. Lane Singleton, Reynolds’s V.P. of Agronomy, oversaw the project working alongside Superintendent Brandon Hayes, construction firm Heritage Links, shaper Chris Hamilton, and Nicklaus Design associate Chad Goetz.
Singleton says that, like Renegade, Great Waters had passed its sell-by date. “The course is over 25 years old and all its features had reached their life expectancy,” he explains. “The design has great bones but the irrigation, drainage, turf quality, and bunker quality were all deteriorating. That meant quality was being compromised.”
Singleton knows well the importance of presentation at a course like Great Waters. “When it is part of a community that prides itself on creating a lifestyle based on exceptional quality, it’s absolutely imperative the golf course is maintained to the best possible standard,” he says. “All the development’s amenities need to reflect that on a consistent basis. It gives our current members and prospective buyers the confidence that we are committed to that vision.”
Nicklaus visited a few times and made a couple of changes to the design—specifically at the 8th hole, 9th tee, and a few green complexes— but man-on-the-ground Goetz says the project was essentially about replacing and upgrading the course’s infrastructure. “Really, we rebuilt it from the ground up,” he says. “And the extensive tree removal/pruning program will improve turf conditions and ensure the course plays to its intended width.”
Something similar happened to Trent Jones’s three layouts at the Horseshoe Bay Resort 55 miles northwest of Austin, Texas, which not only welcomes resort guests but is home to more than 2,000 members. Jones’s trio of courses—Apple Rock, Ram Rock, and Slick Rock—all underwent major improvements with only one course closed at a time to minimize frustration for the members. “I think they understood the importance of what we were doing,” says General Manager Bryan Woodward. “They knew the ultimate reward would be higher than the cost of having one less course to play.”
Slick Rock, which opened in 1971, was the first to shut: Between November 2015 and May 2016 it had its bunkers rebuilt, greens regrassed, sprinklers replaced, and the irrigation loops repositioned. At Ram Rock (1981), the greens were reconstructed, bunkers rebuilt, cooling fans installed, cart paths constructed, pond and creek banks re-lined, and numerous other improvements implemented from August 2017 to May 2018. Apple Rock (1972) received much of the same treatment as Ram Rock, including a thorough overhaul of the irrigation system, between August 2018 and July of last year.
Because the courses were all between 30 and 45 years old, it’s no surprise the resort’s owners, members, and Property Owners Association committed to the $90 million project. “Throughout the three courses greens had shrunk, the irrigation was dated, growing trees were impacting the design, and the bunkers had lost their architectural integrity,” says Ken Gorzycki, Director of Agronomy. “Condition/maintenance is so important to maintain a course’s status, and each course was in danger of slipping.”
Woodward insists the main reason for the renovations, made under the watchful eye of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his associate Mark Voss, was member gratification. “Our members are incredibly proud of the resort,” he adds. “To have renewed courses that are nationally recognized really gives them a sense of pride in Horseshoe Bay, and gives them the confidence to bring guests out.”
Scott Dawson, General Manager at the Kiawah Island Club in South Carolina, understands well the need for national recognition. “It’s absolutely critical to a club like Kiawah,” he says. “You just can’t stand still. We are always looking for ways to improve our courses (River, designed by Tom Fazio and opened in 1995, and Tom Watson’s Cassique, which opened five years later).”
Cassique in currently undergoing a multi-year bunker-renewal program seeking to enhance both the look and sustainability of the hazards. “We’re rebuilding the bunkers with Durabunker and the Better Billy Bunker lining, giving them the sodstacked look and enabling us to make significant construction and labor cost savings,” says the club’s Director of Golf Maintenance, Randall Glover. “We did 10 bunkers three years ago, and 23 last spring. There’s still plenty left to do. The members absolutely love them.”
A number of prominent Florida clubs also have been treated to course renovations. Robert Walker, former lead architect for Arnold Palmer, returned to his design at Regatta Bay Golf & Yacht Club in Destin for a $2.25 million revamp that saw the construction of new tees and the greens restored to their original sizes before being re-turfed with TifEagle Bermuda. “We feel these improvements will take Regatta Bay to the next level of providing a first-class experience for members and guests,” says Director of Golf Mark Giammaresi. “We see it as an investment in our future, our community, and golf in general.”
Rees Jones is overseeing work on the Dick Wilson/Joe Lee-designed South Course at BallenIsles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens—the original PGA National—where the bulldozers rolled in on April 1 and the first tee will reopen early this year. General Manager Ryan Walls says the $7.5 million facelift will totally transform the course, which opened in 1964. “Embarking on this project on the heels of a $35 million clubhouse refurbishment says a lot about how committed we are to creating something truly special here,” he adds. “And Rees will most certainly help form a key piece of the vision.”
For upscale, private, residential golf courses to succeed, it’s vital that they invest in improved turf conditions, make them playable and interesting for all, and ensure they adhere to the original architects’ intent. Because the words every current and prospective member wants to hear are refreshed, renewed, and revitalized.
By Erik Matuszewski
Photo © 2019, Dave Sansom Photography
Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore faced a daunting task three decades ago: How to create a golf course on a mountainside in Maui that would be playable and enjoyable.
The building of the Plantation Course “absolutely tested us to the max,” Coore says of a project that served as a springboard for arguably the preeminent design duo in the game today. “But it’s been very rewarding to see the results of that,” Coore adds, “and to see people appreciate it and enjoy playing it again and again.”
Still, almost 30 years after their design debut on rugged ground that was formerly a pineapple plantation, Coore and Crenshaw were faced with a similarly daunting task. They were asked to not only restore and rejuvenate the Plantation Course—an intensive overhaul that touched every part of the expansive layout—but to have it done in time to host the PGA Tour’s annual Tournament of Champions.
The course shut down shortly after I visited Kapalua for the tournament in January 2019. I recently returned for its re-opening, and to find out how they were able to pull off such an ambitious project in just nine months. All greens and bunkers were rebuilt with new drainage, all tees were laser leveled, and the entire course was re-grassed tee to green.
As anyone who’s been to Hawaii knows, “Hawaii time” is a real thing. Things tend to move a little slower, particularly so with major projects that might require equipment and supplies that come from off the islands. Take the sand used in the renovation effort, for example. The 11,000 tons of sand brought in originated in Vietnam, shipped first to Oahu and then was brought over to Maui, where the dump truck activity at the Plantation Course looked like a bee hive for a number of months.
The key to getting things done on time was putting together a team that not only worked together well, but had complete trust in one another. Coore and Crenshaw couldn’t be there throughout the process, so they brought back the original construction manager from when the Plantation Course was built as well as shapers who built the original greens and bunkers.
“They were in their 20s. They’re in their 50s and up now,” says Coore. “To see them working out there on the same features that they did so long ago was really neat.”
Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns were also in the mix; if those names sound familiar, both are up-and-coming names in the golf architecture game and led the heralded renovation at nine-hole Winter Park municipal course in Florida.
“It was an all-star team of renovators,” says Mark Rolfing, the TV golf broadcaster also known as “Mr. Hawaii” who originally hired Coore and Crenshaw to build the Plantation Course more than 30 years ago. “There had to be a lot of trust because it was like throwing a net around fish; we had to start at different places and work your way in.”
So, what’s different?
Visibly, not a whole lot. I saw it immediately before the restoration work and then again immediately after. At first blush, those who have played the course before might not notice a lot of change. The biggest difference will be in how it plays, and that was the impetus behind the restoration: trying to recapture the original playing characteristics.
Over the years, the course began to play longer, and thus became more difficult for the resort guests who frequented its fairways 51 weeks of the year. In the early days, players didn’t have to fly the ball to the green in the air as much. On the long holes that were downhill and downwind they could use the ground to their advantage. Meanwhile, the course had become easier for the tour players who had the power and skill to play an aerial game without paying much heed to contours of the ground of greens.
“Over a very long period of time the course almost reversed itself in the sense of what the characteristics were and how they affected different styles of golfers,” says Coore.
The reworked course is designed to play firmer and faster, although at least in the early stages the returns might not be as noticeable as the new Bermuda grasses settle in and mature from tee to green. The greens have been revamped as well, undergoing what Crenshaw says is a “calming” of some of the undulations.
“You had a combo of slope and grain. Some were just too ‘slopey,’” Crenshaw says. “We wanted to calm them down, but they still have a lot of life.”
The biggest addition might not even affect resort players. There’s a new bunker in the center of the par-five 5th fairway that’s about 300 yards from the championship tees. Coore and Crenshaw said the tee shot had become too mechanical and good players weren’t faced with challenging the ravine on the right for a shorter route to the green.
“They’ll scratch their heads at first when they see it,” Crenshaw says. “But that’s what it’s for.”
What’s unchanged is that the Plantation Course at Kapalua still boasts some of the most spectacular vistas in golf, with dramatic elevation changes, deep ravines, a lush, cloud-shrouded mountain on one side, and endless views of the ocean and neighboring island of Molokai on the other.
The golf course itself just got a needed makeover, one that will ultimately make it even more enjoyable for the average golfer and, hopefully, a bit more of a challenge for the PGA Tour winners who earn themselves a trip to Maui.
By Ryan Asselta
The par three. Whether it’s the shorter distance, the allure of a possible hole-in-one, or a breathtaking scenic backdrop, the par three is often the illustration of the most fond and lasting memories from a particular golf course.
With that in mind the premise is simple: If you could create a nine-hole golf course comprised of your top par threes in the world, what would it look like?
I’m calling it my “Dream Nine,” consisting of some holes I’ve had the pleasure of playing and a few I’m still dreaming about.
What’s on your par three Dream Nine?
Friars Head: 10th hole (205 yards)
Baiting Hollow, N.Y.
I’ll kick off my Dream Nine on the east end of Long Island. I had the rare opportunity to play this Coore & Crenshaw design and its raw, sandy terrain set a few hundred feet above Long Island Sound. The water views are spectacular, but No. 10 at Friars makes the list for its unique test. With a waste bunker up the entire right side of the hole and a large mound creating a blind spot on the left quadrant of the green, a near perfect tee shot is required.
Port Royal Golf Course: 16th hole (142 yards)
I dub the next three holes on my Dream Nine the “Aqua Trio” featuring three of the most scenic oceanside holes in the world. The 16th at Port Royal is 100 percent nerve-racking, especially with a full gallery watching you, which happened to me back in 2016 at the Bermuda Golf Classic. With stiff gusts coming off the turquoise water of the Atlantic Ocean, golfers may choose to draw it using the breeze as a buffer or roll the dice and ride the wind out over the water with a high fade.
Cypress Point Club: 16th hole (218 yards)
Pebble Beach, Calif.
This is where the “Dream” portion of my nine starts to take shape. The 16th at Cypress Point has long been considered one of the most difficult holes in golf—both in playability and the ability to simply land on the golf course. Visually, this is the most stunning course in my par three image bank.
Mahogany Run Golf Course: 14th hole (147 yards)
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
I played Mahogany Run back in the late 1990s and experienced the second of a trio of holes known as “The Devils Triangle.” Left is death on this hole, which is 85 percent carry over a cliff that runs down to the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly, the golf course suffered severe damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and has been closed since 2017.
Bethpage Black: 17th hole (195 yards)
Strong is the best way to describe the 17th at “the Black.” Five bunkers surround this shallow green that if you’re lucky to land and hold will leave you with either a treacherous uphill or downhill lag putt. It’s the final punch to the gut from the Black before you head towards a much kinder stroll up the 18th, if there is such a thing on this behemoth.
Pebble Beach Golf Links: 7th hole (98 yards)
Pebble Beach, Calif.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never played one of the most iconic holes in all of golf—sad, but true. The short downhill par three backdropped by Stillwater Cove and the Pacific Ocean is THE par three of my dreams and sits securely at number one on my current golf bucket list.
Sleepy Hollow Country Club: 16th hole (150 yards)
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
This hole, labeled “Panorama,” provides golfers with a wow-factor that is through the roof, complete with a full view of the Hudson River and the finest New York State foliage. This relatively short par three requires a well-struck shot over a ravine to a horseshoe-like green completely surrounded by a wraparound bunker. Extreme fun with a view!
TPC Sawgrass: 17th hole (121 yards)
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
True story—back in 2000, I was in Jacksonville on a golf trip and while we weren’t able to play the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, one evening we walked out to the famed 17th hole to get a look. Low and behold, someone had left their 9-iron on the tee box of one of the most famous tournament holes in golf. After each of us miraculously found a ball behind the 16th green, we all teed off. Three shots, three greens in regulation, and three pars all in flip flops with the same club!
Augusta National: 12th hole (145 yards)
What better way to finish than arguably the most famous par three in golf? I had the opportunity to play Augusta National the Monday after the 2016 Masters. Approaching the 12th tee and the view that stands before you evoked the purest form of golf joy I have ever felt.
By Erik Matuszewski
Revetted bunkers were introduced to golf in Scotland, almost 5,500 miles from the windswept shores of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. They were originally designed as a way to stop wind erosion, helping shore up the face of bunkers whipped by the wind.
Anyone who’s visited the ever-growing golf hotbed of Los Cabos can attest to how much of a factor the wind can be at times, especially right along the Pacific Ocean, but the idea of these sod-faced bunkers more commonly found in the British Isles might seem an incongruous fit. In fact, there’s never been a golf course with revetted bunkers in all of Mexico.
At least not until now.
At the Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas Resort Golf & Spa, Greg Norman’s design firm has built a course that starts amid majestic windswept dunes, climbs through a thick cactus forest, and then culminates on the beach. But the course’s defining characteristic is the use of revetted bunkers, which Norman has incorporated at his designs such as Medalist and Tiburon in Florida, not to mention in Doonbeg, Ireland.
The layout is the newest golf offering in Cabo San Lucas on the peninsula’s southern tip, located within the 834-acre resort and residential community of Rancho San Lucas. It recently opened to limited guest play and will officially open in February 2020, joining a rich lineup of area courses that includes Quivira, Querencia, Palmilla, Puerto Los Cabos, Diamante’s Dunes and El Cardonal layouts, and Cabo del Sol’s Ocean and Desert courses.
Danny Fore, a senior design associate who has worked for Norman since Medalist opened in 1994, says while the inclusion of sod-walled bunkers in a region that has warm-season grasses makes for an interesting look, they are used judiciously.
“We didn’t overdo it because we don’t want to overwhelm you,” Fore said. “The last thing we want is for you to think, ‘Look at all those bunkers!’ It should catch your eye, but it shouldn’t be distracting. We always want variety and memorability.”
In building Rancho San Lucas, Norman and his team sought to preserve as much of the existing environment as possible.
Clearing of the property was limited and natural vegetation such as trees and shrubs were preserved and relocated for landscaping throughout the course, which has both nines circulate through the uplands desert and its arroyos, wind through what Fore says is a “crazy cool dune line,” and then transition to the beach.
“What we try to do with a site like that is selectively clear and cut the holes in,” Fore says. “It almost looks like we found it rather than created it. In two years, it will look like it’s been there for 20 years.”
A par-72 that tops out around 7,200 yards, Rancho San Lucas has the only island green in Cabo—the par-three 17th hole—in addition to the revetted bunkers. There are five sets of tees on every hole because, as Fore notes, “when you have windy days, you want to have flexibility.”
You better believe there will be windy days, too. Fore says he’s seen cart paths covered by more than six inches of shifting sand in a single night. And that will continue to be a challenge until the dunes have been established with more grasses to help keep them in place. Come to think of it, that’s not too different than the idea of the sod-faced bunkers.
For guests visiting during the windy season in late spring, Norman and his team created a short course with 12 low-lying holes that are sheltered by sand dunes. There are also three comfort stations throughout the course serving Mexican specialties and all the cerveza you desire, while the ranch-style clubhouse boasts spectacular views of the opening and closing holes on both nines.
Rancho San Lucas becomes the seventh Greg Norman-designed course in Mexico and at least two more projects are in the pipeline. So far though, the newest addition to the Los Cabos landscape is the only one with bunkers that look like they’d be more at home in Scotland than south of the border.
By Adam Stanley
A classic golf course has its quirks, charm, and beauty. To walk in the steps of legends or feel connected to golfers of an era-gone-by can never get old—nor will the uniqueness of a course that has been on the same plot of land for a hundred years.
But there’s just something about a modern layout.
Whether it’s the grandiose width and angles, a setting that just couldn’t have been used in years past, or new courses with a throwback feel, golf courses built in the last five years all have their own characteristics worth celebrating.
These are six of the best from the last five years. They will become classics, no doubt, but this list was based on how they’ve lived up to the hype, their inspiration, and how much excitement there has been from those who have already made early pilgrimages.
Location: Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
Designers: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were entrusted with the land that was deemed even better than what the celebrated Cabot Links sat on, and they did not disappoint.
Cabot Cliffs sits above the Gulf of St. Lawrence and has a front nine that plays through big oceanside dunes. But that’s just a tease for what’s to come on the back nine—a masterclass in scale and emotion culminating in what might be the finest three-hole stretch in the entire country.
The par-three 16th has quickly become one of the most photographed spots in golf, while the par-four 17th and par-five 18th evoke enough emotion to make you think, “How could anything top this?”
On this list, nothing did.
Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley
Location: Nekoosa, Wis.
Designer: David McLay Kidd
The second course to open at Sand Valley Resort joined the original Coore & Crenshaw design in 2018. Developer Mike Keiser has long said, “one golf course is a curiosity and two makes a destination” and the addition of Mammoth Dunes has made Sand Valley a must-play stop in the middle of Wisconsin.
Mammoth Dunes boasts, well, mammoth dunes, wide fairways, and several holes built over an 80-foot tall ridgeline, the main topographical feature of the course—all while evoking the same feeling of New Jersey’s iconic Pine Valley.
Location: Mangawhai, New Zealand
Designer: Tom Doak
Originally designed as a playground for a Los Angeles billionaire and his friends, the club spent little to no money on marketing and advertising. No need, really, as the “you have to see this” word-of-mouth trumped anything money could buy. The summary—it’s a seaside links on a stunning property with a superintendent who was brought in from Bandon Dunes.
There are no wrong answers when choosing a favorite hole. It’s a high-spirited adventure and you do, indeed, have to see this.
Opened: 2020 (2019 for soft launch)
Location: Leven, United Kingdom
Designer: Clive Clark
Former European Ryder Cupper Clive Clark has taken a 345-acre plot of land—part of the Balcarres Estate, owned by Lord Anthony Balniel’s family since the 16th century—less than 10 miles from St. Andrews and turned it into the area’s newest links masterpiece.
“What Clive Clark and his team have done is nothing short of outstanding,” says Lord Balniel, himself.
You’re certain to fall in love with the wide fairways, expansive greens, risk-reward nature of many of the holes, and stunning links beauty.
Streamsong Resort (Black Course)
Location: Fort Green, Fla.
Designer: Gil Hanse
The accompanying layout to the celebrated Red and Blue courses at Streamsong Resort in the heart of Florida was raved about when it opened, and with good reason.
The course is divided into three distinct typographical regions (known as the Midlands, Ridge, and Glove). The Ridge, which occupies holes 3 through 9 and plays through those massive dunes the sister courses are well known for, is the most striking.
The Black Course plays to a par-73, with five par fives and green sizes that average out at 13,000 square feet. The Black Course came with a ton of hype, and it lived up to it all.
Location: South Pittsburg, Tenn.
Designer: Rob Collins/Tad King
From Instagram-worthy ocean views to sweeping scale and iconic links, we’ve seen some of the best the world of golf has to offer already on this list.
And then there’s Sweetens Cove Golf Club—the little club that could.
Opened in late 2014, this nine-hole layout in seemingly the middle of nowhere is helping usher in a new era in American golf. It’s a fun and stunningly beautiful layout, and a feature in The New York Times in 2017 called Sweetens Cove, “the answer to golf’s post-recession challenges of declining participation and stagnant course construction.”
What courses did we miss? What courses do you think are next up on this list in the years to come?
By Tony Dear
During the 1980s and early ’90s, this fledgling golf addict would watch the European Open from the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club outside London and enjoy the ever-entertaining Peter Alliss mixing witty, playfully acerbic dialogue about the players with keen insights about the course. One observation in particular has remained with me these past 25 years.
Every time the par-five 14th was on-screen, Alliss invariably reminded viewers of the innocuous-looking bunker to the right of the fairway. When player after player found it, Alliss tutted disapprovingly, “Such a harmless-looking thing, but it catches yet another careless soul.”
That, surely, is the definition of an effective bunker—a sinister, silent nuisance that doesn’t look like much, but which foils even the finest golfers.
Whatever their shape or depth, the color of their sand, or how big they are, making good players think about strategy is a must for a bunker to be great. Great bunkers get in players’ heads, causing apprehension, anxiety, and unease. Here are some of our favorites:
Road Bunker—17th hole, Old Course, St. Andrews
Though just a few yards wide, the basin-like effect of the surrounding terrain effectively makes the Road Bunker significantly bigger. Once in, the depth and steep face make getting out pretty tough.
Principal’s Nose—16th hole, Old Course, St Andrews
Yes, two of our favorites on back-to-back holes. The Principal’s Nose was surely the first centerline hazard, inspiring the strategic design of Golden Age architects. Bail left for a harder approach or take the risky line between the Nose and OB right for the easier second.
Centerline bunker—4th hole, Woking Golf Club
“The true hazard should draw play towards it,” said John Low, the Woking member who, along with the club’s greenkeeper Stuart Paton, was responsible for digging the bunker in the 4th fairway, giving players the choice of the risky drive and easier approach, or easy drive and tough approach. “It should invite the golfer to come as near as he dare to the fire without burning his fingers.”
Centerline bunkers—14th hole, Bandon Dunes
David McLay Kidd’s centerline bunkers at the 14th have plenty of safe haven either side, but the closer your tee shot skirts them the easier the second shot. Low would have approved.
Behind the 12th green, Augusta National
The two back bunkers were cut out of the hillside a few feet above the original green. When the green was raised two feet in 1960 to alleviate drainage issues, the bunkers became level with the putting surface, meaning the shot from the sand back to the flag became perilous with water a few yards the other side. As the green became increasingly firm and fast so the shot became ever more dicey.
Devil’s Asshole—10th hole, Pine Valley
Six feet deep and just eight feet wide, the Devil’s Asshole is a tiny, sand-lined perdition best escaped backwards (see picture above).
2nd hole, St. George’s Golf and Country Club
Canadian architect Ian Andrew says the bunker to the right of the 2nd fairway will really get inside the players’ heads at next year’s Canadian Open. “There are two big bunkers and OB down the left,” he adds. “A deep diagonal valley runs from left to right down the fairway at a 45-degree angle. On the right side, close to the top of the valley, is a simple bunker. If the drive doesn’t clear the valley, it will likely bound right into the sand. The bunker doesn’t look intimidating, but it is six feet and at a difficult angle to the green. Once you find that bunker, you soon realize it is a terrible place to be.”
17th hole, Mossy Oak Golf Club
As you’d expect of Gil Hanse, the bunkers on this minimalist Mississippi masterpiece are beautifully built and thoughtfully positioned—nothing excessive, unnecessary, or out of place here. The huge bunker short and left of the 17th green is the course’s most memorable and demands a decision be made with the second shot—carry it and get close to the green with your second, or stay short and have nothing to do with it.
Himalaya—6th hole, St. Enodoc
Okay, sometimes it is just about sheer intimidation. Favor the left side of the fairway to avoid having to clear James Braid’s enormous bunker which most certainly does influence the line to the hole.
4th hole, Barnbougle Dunes
The fear factor is also pretty high at Tom Doak, Brian Schneider, and Mike Clayton’s brilliant 4th hole at Barnbougle in Australia.
By Adam Schupak
In 2011, billionaire Phillip Anschutz achieved a lifetime dream when he purchased The Broadmoor, the sportsman’s paradise on the southwestern edge of Colorado Springs and the longest-running consecutive recipient of AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star honors.
“I started coming here when I was five,” Anschutz told Forbes in 2016. “And when I was 10, I was sitting in the corner of the bar when I told my mother and father I was going to buy The Broadmoor.”
He didn’t stop there. In 2016, he assumed full ownership of Sea Island Resort, located midway between Jacksonville, Fla. and Savannah, Ga., on the picturesque corner of southern Georgia that is St. Simons Island.
This year, The Broadmoor celebrated its 101st birthday while Sea Island turned 91. To keep these two iconic resorts relevant today as much as the day they opened their doors should be a Harvard Business School case study. Both have been transformed from historic to fresh and revitalized with ownership pumping millions into the destinations.
At Sea Island, the resort has added a putting course behind The Lodge, built a state-of-the-art learning center, new cottages reminiscent of the cabins at Augusta National, improved the practice facilities, and even added a swimming pool so guests no longer have to shuttle to the beach club at sister property The Cloister for fun in the sun.
These new amenities should shed the label that The Lodge is solely a golf destination and The Cloister as the place for couples and families.
Perhaps the biggest change is that Davis Love III and his brother, Mark, spearheaded a re-do of The Plantation Course. The layout will have its coming-out party of sorts as co-host of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, held Nov. 21–24.
In short, these enhancements are way more than a fresh coat of paint. But these are the costs of doing business in a competitive landscape to attract new and repeat visitors who may be otherwise attracted to spend their vacation dollars on newer, trendier golf resorts.
The Broadmoor, led by president Jack Damioli, has duplicated this strategy, digging into deep pockets to maintain the property’s high-end image. Anschutz reportedly invested $175 million into the destination at the gateway to the American West after the purchase and he isn’t done yet. It is a reflection of the fact that tastes and expectations of the luxury traveler are ever-changing and goes back to the philosophy handed down by founder Spencer Penrose, who declared the Broadmoor will never be completed.
“Change is inevitable,” Damioli says. “We’ve continued to evolve.”
The main building of this 5,000-acre complex is bathed in terra cotta and features the old-world opulence of a marble staircase and fountain, hand-painted ceilings, and Italian tile. The lobby has been expanded by removing walls, providing a grand entry experience while maintaining and honoring all the historic elements guests expect. Rooms are spacious and the decor is agreeably old-fashioned while conveying a feeling of graceful luxury. There are 20 dining experiences in all, several of which have been updated, from a poolside cafe to Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant.
The Broadmoor features two championship courses and is home to 23 national championships and eight USGA championships. A classic mountain course set in the Cheyenne Mountain foothills, the East Course occupies the lower and flatter slopes on ground that laid witness to the first major championships for three players who would go on to earn spots among the greatest to play the game—Jack Nicklaus (1959 U.S. Amateur), Juli Inkster (1982 U.S. Women’s Amateur), and Annika Sorenstam (1995 U.S. Women’s Open). It has also hosted the 2008 and 2018 U.S. Senior Opens, and the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open—it already has a return date booked for the 2025 U.S. Senior Open.
Donald Ross’s trademarks—elevated greens, well-placed bunkering, doglegs built into the natural curvature of the land—are still ever-present. The Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed West Course is a tad shorter and tighter with narrow fairways wandering between thickets of junipers, scrub oaks, and rocky outcroppings. It may look like a postcard, but it is every bit as formidable as the East.
The golf season may be short in Colorado Springs, but when the weather warms there’s plenty of competition for a golfer’s time. Summertime in the Rockies is consumed with fishing, biking, hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, camping, and whatever else you can pack into a day before running out of sunlight. The Broadmoor has it all, down to falconry, tomahawk throwing, and a variety of activities to immerse the guest in the Colorado lifestyle.
Other efforts to spruce up the property include a refresh on the award-winning spa and re-doing another 150 rooms this winter with new colors, furniture, and carpeting to get “a more residential feel,” Damioli says. In addition, 110,000-square-feet of exhibition space and breakout rooms will open in the spring of 2020.
The ocean and mountain settings of these two resorts couldn’t be more different, yet they share much in common, especially a culture of hospitality. The term Southern hospitality may not have originated at Sea Island Resort, but surely it is perfected there. The resort is a golfer’s playground, where you can get world-class instruction, an expert club fitting, and Tour-caliber fitness training while staying in a setting reminiscent of an English country manor. And then there’s the golf facilities. As Charles Howell III put it, if there’s a prettier view from a driving range than Sea Island’s, set along the Intracoastal Waterway, he hasn’t seen it.
Over the past year, Sea Island has invested more than $30 million to enhance the golf experience, including the addition of the 17,000-square-foot Golf Performance Center, six “golf in, golf out” cottages, an 18-hole putting course, a pool and pool house, and an extended practice facility and short game area. This month, the resort is adding a new King Cottage ideal for golf groups, with four bedrooms and its own private hitting bays. It’s all part of Anschutz’s commitment to keep Sea Island synonymous with golf among the luxury traveler.
“He is slow to spend money,” Love III says of Anschutz, who signed off on the construction of Plantation, “but when he decides to do it, he is all in. He doesn’t do anything piecemeal.”
By Ryan Asselta
College football celebrated its 150th anniversary this season. While Power Five teams jostle for supremacy on the gridiron, many of football’s top conferences also feature some of the best golf programs and courses in the country.
Here’s our list of the best courses in each of college football’s Power Five conferences, and the best from the Non-Power Five:
The Ohio State University Golf Club—The Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)
Architect: Dr. Alister MacKenzie, 1938
The 36-hole Ohio State University Golf Club was designed by legendary architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie with the renowned Scarlet Course opening in 1938, and the Grey course following in 1940. The man responsible for Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Royal Melbourne left Buckeye nation with one of the premier golf clubs in college sports.
Jack Nicklaus called The OSU Golf Club his home for many years, while names like Tom Weiskopf and Meg Mallon also came through the Buckeye golf program. The Golden Bear left his permanent stamp on the course back in 2005 when he completed a two-year restoration project on the Scarlet course.
Runner-Up: The Ackerman-Allen Course at Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex—Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Duke University Golf Club—Duke University (Durham, N.C.)
Architect: Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1957
Duke University Golf Club sits in the shadow of the historic Washington Duke Inn and has the Jones’s family fingerprints all over it. The Durham, N.C., golf course originally had plans to be built by architect Perry Maxwell in the 1930s before World War II got in the way. Years later, Robert Trent Jones Sr. was commissioned to build the course which eventually opened in 1957.
In 1994 the golf course underwent a major renovation, led by the son of RTJ, Rees Jones, who had played the golf course while at Yale University.
Director of Golf Ed Ibarguen says, “The course is like the back nine at Spyglass Hill and the back nine at Augusta National, all within the Duke forest.”
Runner-Up: UNC Finley Golf Course—University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
University of Texas Golf Club—University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)
Architects: Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell, 2003
From the moment you pull up to University of Texas Golf Club, you know you’re in Longhorn Country. “Where Champions Play” is the club’s tagline as the golf program’s team and individual triumphs are proudly commemorated with a Walk of Fame. Framed photographs of UT alums Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, and Jordan Spieth plaster the walls, while the golf team’s most recent shining moment, the 2012 NCAA National Championship, is widely celebrated.
The course itself is truly breathtaking. Built on a 5,000-acre tract of land that used to be a working cattle ranch, the UT Golf Club sits between Lake Austin and Lake Travis, and challenges golfers with small, fast, undulating greens along with some of the most memorable par threes in Texas. Golfers are greeted midway through their round by a life-size Longhorn statue with an accompanying plaque honoring Spieth for his contributions to the UT golf team and his Masters and U.S. Open titles. Spieth also helped design the “Spieth Lower 40,” the club’s six-hole short course which opened in 2017.
Runner-Up: Karsten Creek Golf Club—Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Okla.)
Thunderbirds Golf Complex at Papago Golf Course—Arizona State University (Phoenix, Ariz.)
Architect: William Francis Bell, 1963
After spending 29 years at the Pete Dye designed Karsten Course in Tempe, the ASU golf program officially made its move to Papago in 2018. The state-of-the-art Thunderbirds Golf Complex is a 7,000-square-foot facility funded by the longstanding Thunderbirds Charitable Association. Five-time major champion and ASU alumnus Phil Mickelson designed the complex’s new short game practice area.
Pagago has been considered one of the best public layouts in Arizona for decades. Billy Bell, who also designed Torrey Pines, set the course in the shadows of the Papago Buttes, which provide a dramatic backdrop to multiple holes. The course is within the city limits of Phoenix, with views of Camelback Mountain.
Longtime players of Papago compare the golf course to TPC Harding Park, as both offer golfers an easy walk on an exceptional layout.
Runner-Up: Palouse Ridge Golf Course—Washington State University (Pullman, Wash.)
UGA Golf Course—University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
Architect: Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1968
With one of the top golf courses in the college game right in their backyard, the success of former Bulldogs turned PGA Tour winners Bubba Watson, Kevin Kisner, and Brian Harman should come as no surprise.
Listed as one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s finest works in the state, the famed architect built UGA while simultaneously working on Atlanta Athletic Club and Stone Mountain Golf Club. The course was funded in part by the UGA student body. Back in the 1960s, if a student looked at their monthly college statement they’d see a $0.50 intramural sports fee, which was directed towards the construction of the golf course.
UGA maxes out at just over 7,200 yards providing a stiff test to college golfers during prestigious tournaments like the annual Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic.
Runner up: Auburn University Club—Auburn University (Auburn, Ala.)
The Course at Yale—Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)
Architects: Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and Charles Banks, 1926
Often regarded as the top collegiate golf course in the country, The Course at Yale is a no frills, pure test of golf. Difficult yet fair. Challenging while enjoyable.
The course’s par-three 9th hole, labeled “Biarritz,” features one of the most distinctive greens in all of golf—a 65-yard deep putting surface with the most severe slope ever seen by this well-traveled golfer.
Runner up: Taconic Golf Club—Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.)
What do you think about our list? Let us know in the comments below.