Classic Course: Somerset Hills Country Club

By Tom Ierubino

The Redan 2nd Hole (Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

 

Hidden away in Bernardsville, N.J., seven miles from the USGA’s headquarters in Far Hills, Somerset Hills is a place where time seems to stand still—but in a good way. There are no cart paths, and most of the golfers walk. The understated clubhouse is more about utility than grandeur. The same goes for the locker room, which is compact and intimate. And the course? Timeless.

The Duke of Windsor visited in the 1940s and was particularly taken with the 15th hole, a 404-yard downhill dogleg right named Happy Valley that boasts the course’s largest green set behind a meandering creek with a cascading waterfall to the left. According to club lore, the Duke was so taken with the setting that he recreated it on one of his French estates. That same green figured mightily in the 1990 Curtis Cup, the U.S. team winning four matches there, including the one that clinched a 14–4 victory over Great Britain and Ireland.

The two nines offer sharp contrast: The front, laid out over a former racetrack, is open; the back is hillier and wooded. And while 262 yards have been added over the last quarter-century, the course remains short by modern standards at less than 6,800 yards. But it remains special thanks to A. W. Tillinghast’s creativity in providing a variety of challenges, particularly on the greens, 17 of which are original. Only the 10th green has changed, having been moved in the 1940s when the hole grew from a par four to five.

“As far as I’ve seen, the greens at Somerset Hills are the most bold and varied set of putting surfaces Tillinghast ever built,” says Tom Doak.

To wit, the 205-yard 2nd hole has a classic Redan green, while the one at the 376-yard 3rd features an elevated false front. At the 350-yard 5th, a hump bisects the green making the short approach shot more exacting. At the 413-yard 11th, the putting surface is severely sloped toward the front, while the 415-yard 13th ends on a Biarritz green.

While all the par threes are eye-catching, the most picturesque is the 150-yard 12th. Named Despair, its green sits on a peninsula that extends into the pond on the left.

Doak’s design firm worked at Somerset Hills in 2010 and ’13, and along with course superintendent Ryan Tuxhorn removed trees, restored natural areas and made them more playable, added width to the fairways to provide more options, and expanded the greens to recapture lost hole locations. Over the next five years, the bunkers will be redone.

The club’s website sums it up well: “In a rapidly changing technological world, we hope to pass on to future generations the traditions of simple elegance that is Somerset Hills Country Club.”

Somerset Hills Country Club
Bernardsville, N.J.

Opened: 1918
Architects: A.W. Tillinghast, William Gordon,
Hal Purdy, Tom Doak
Yardage: 6,784    Par 71
Accessibility: 4
Welcome: 9
Value: 8
Fun Factor: 10

Great Courses of Britain & Ireland: Enniscrone

By Tom Coyne

 

The golf club celebrates its 100th year in 2018, but as I round the peak of towering Cnoc na gCorp in search of my ball, I can’t help but ponder the millennia of wind and tides and sliding glaciers that pushed this sandy pyramid up out of the dunes. It is the tallest ridge on a course that is packed with them, and it means “Hill of the Corpses” for the Vikings who were slaughtered and buried here by a local chieftain. My ball finds a better fate than the invading Norsemen, and I knock it through a funnel of wavy hillsides on a landscape that I have chased for a lifetime but have only ever found in Enniscrone.

I played my first round of Irish golf here, as a teenager during a respite from a family trip in search of crumbling castles and tombstones with our surname on them. The receptionist at our hotel recommended an unknown course down on the coast and what my dad and I found left us giddy and gobsmacked: This was golf as we had never known it, a windblown rollercoaster through geological wonders. We ascended each peak and lofted shots into each new valley with the disbelief of golfers playing in a dream. Enniscrone was the impetus of my lifelong love affair with links golf, and when I return each summer the reality exceeds my nostalgia every time.

Golf in this seaside corner of County Sligo dates to 1918, when a handful of locals formed a club. It was not until 1970 that the real magic arrived in the form of Irish design hero Eddie Hackett, who walked the dunes and beaches until he found a course. What he discovered has become a standard against which any adventurous topography in golf can be measured. (Only Hackett’s layout at Carne rivals in the stature of its dunes and the depths of its basins.) An update in 1999 by Donald Steel pushed some of the sleepier opening holes up into the sand hills, and for good reason: You go to Enniscrone for the dunes.

Few traces of the modern world distract you. Fairways edge up against the water, then turn into a cauldron of climbs and stout carries, some of the shots hard to believe as your caddie picks out a white rock or golden peak as the target. Holes 12 through 16 are a stretch of precision links golf I could happily play for weeks on end, plateau tee boxes dropping into valleys between the dunes, followed by approaches that can be bumped, pitched, putted, or lofted onto crannied greens. Enniscrone is genuine in every way.

The place is well discovered now, and I have played it enough times that I should know its every nook, but I return for the feeling of discovering something each time I climb it again. A great summit never gets old, and given another hundred years, I suspect Enniscrone will still play with the joy of a newfound treasure.

 

Enniscrone
County Sligo, Ireland

Opened: 1918
Architects: Eddie Hackett/Donald Steel
Yardage: 7,033
Par: 73
Accessibility: 8
Welcome: 9
Value: 8
Fun Factor: 10

Top 10 Golf Courses: Georgia

Augusta National (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

 

Home to more than just Augusta National, where patrons flock every April for the Masters, the state of Georgia lays claim to a somewhat surprisingly wide variety of places to play golf. From hilly and historic courses dotting Atlanta to the beautiful “Golden Isles” on the state’s east coast, there is no shortage of world-class golf throughout the state. Famously the lifelong home of Bobby Jones, the game’s greatest amateur, Georgia had its place in golf history locked down well before the state held its first U.S. Open in 1976. A rich golf history and plethora of fantastic courses are just a few of the many reasons every golfer should visit Georgia, but there’s only one reason Georgia is on every golfer’s mind when springtime rolls around every year, and it’s rightfully number one on our list.

1. Augusta National, Augusta
There is no contest for the top spot and never will be. Bobby Jones, Alister MacKenzie, an inspired design on a magnificent site, and 82 years as host of the world’s most famous golf event make this not just the best in Georgia, but arguably tops in the nation.

2. Peachtree, Atlanta
The only collaboration between Bobby Jones and Robert Trent Jones, it echoes the ANGC but its broad fairways, elongated tees, large greens, and sprawling bunkers also ushered in the era of bigness in American architecture.

3. Sea Island (Seaside), Sea Island
A Colt/Alison design that dates to the 1920s, it has been updated by Joe Lee and Tom Fazio and is now the gem of the Sea Island Resort, home course of several PGA Tour pros, and host to an annual Tour event.

4. East Lake, Atlanta
The course where Bobby Jones learned to play, this Donald Ross layout fell on hard times for nearly half a century before philanthropist Tom Cousins rescued it, bringing in Rees Jones for a major update. Since 2004 it has hosted the Tour Championship.

5. Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands), Johns Creek
Site of the 1976 U.S. Open and three PGA Championships, this brawny parkland layout begins on relatively wide-open terrain then tightens on the tree-lined inward nine, culminating in a watery tightrope walk through the final four holes.

6. Ocean Forest, Sea Island
Host of the 2001 Walker Cup, this Rees Jones original is as taut and demanding a test as you’ll find in the Southeast. It plays out and back through tight corridors of pines and marshland before culminating in two dramatic holes beside the Atlantic.

7. Atlanta Country Club, Marietta
More than 30 major professional and amateur events—including the first Players Championship—have been contested on this pine-clad layout where fairways drop and ascend and weave right and left en route to artfully nestled greens. The finishing par five stands with the best in the world.

8. The Golf Club at Cuscowilla, Eatonton
Set scenically on the shores of Lake Oconee, midway between Augusta and Atlanta, this Coore/Crenshaw design spreads naturally and beautifully across rolling meadows and through stands of tall Georgia pine.

9. Hawks Ridge, Ball Ground
Architect Bob Cupp’s ode to Augusta National, with broad fairways, dramatic elevation changes, menacing water hazards, fast bentgrass greens, and numerous strategic options. And as at Augusta, the conditioning is consistently immaculate.

10. Reynolds Lake Oconee (Great Waters), Greensboro
The centerpiece of the famed resort/development’s six-course complex, its inward nine plays on a peninsula encircled by Lake Oconee, with the last eight holes hugging its shore. Jack Nicklaus is currently at work on a comprehensive renovation of his original design, due for completion next year.

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What are some of your favorite courses in Georgia? Let us know in the comments!

Trinity Forest: A Golf Course Built on a Landfill

By Graylyn Loomis

Trinity Forest Golf Club
Trinity Forest Golf Club

“Building a golf course should just not be this hard.”

Those aren’t words one expects to hear from architect Bill Coore, who along with partner Ben Crenshaw has been responsible for some of the most important and appreciated layouts of the last few decades. But it’s exactly what Coore said over the phone to Jonas Woods, the main man behind Trinity Forest, the new private course just south of Dallas, one afternoon as the course was being built a few years ago.

Coore-Crenshaw is known for minimalist design, using as much of the natural landscape and features as possible while moving relatively little earth to create world-class courses. So what could be so hard?

Blame the site, a 400-acre, former landfill.

“Candidly, we didn’t think we would be qualified to work on a landfill,” says Coore. “We’d never done it, but Jonas invited us up and Ben made the trip. He called me a said, ‘It’s covered in bushes and tall grass, but I think there might be some interest here.’” What Ben liked was the land’s movement, rumpled waves in the ground reminiscent of sandy linksland close to oceans. When Coore visited, areas of thick grass were cut back to expose even more of the links-like ground. He liked what he saw and the work began.

Building anything on a landfill is governed by environmental constraints. Millions of pounds of trash and waste are buried under a thin “cap,” which seals the site. Depending on what’s underneath, caps can range from a single layer of asphalt or concrete to a multi-layer mix of soil and synthetic membranes. And no matter what happens on top, the cap cannot be broken.

“We couldn’t make the course look like a prototypical Dallas layout with streams, trees, and lakes,” says Coore. “You can’t plant a tree because the roots break the cap. We knew early on there couldn’t be a stream or water, either. The focus had to be the rumpled ground created as the landfill settled over the decades and we tried to highlight those features.”

Something else about a landfill: The ground keeps shifting and settling for decades. Coore welcomes the movement, likening it to how dunes continue to change by the sea.

If you can’t break the cap, you can’t dig, which means the course can only go one way. Up.

“As soon as you build up, I think about greens that fall off on the edges, like those at Pinehurst,” says Coore, who grew up playing golf in the Carolina sandhills. Trinity Forest’s greens were fashioned in the style of those at Pinehurst No. 2. Tons of earth were brought to the site, moved and shaped into mammoth rolling putting surfaces, nearly all of them raised above the fairway. The most notable is the double-green serving holes 3 and 11, which spans over three-quarters of an acre. It’s guarded by only two bunkers, but like almost every other hole on the course, falls sharply off on every side.

Trinity Forest Golf Club
Trinity Forest Golf Club

Starting in 2018, Trinity Forest started hosting the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson, and quickly garnered attention and rattled some players. Had the conditions been dryer in 2018 it would have played like the great Scottish courses and frustrated players even more with odd kicks, funky bounces, and tough greens. In years ahead it will force players to be creative and think differently—something that may meet a frosty reception among the pampered pros.

On the card, the course measures 7,450 yards for the pros, but will play shorter due to the very firm and fast conditions. Players will have to plan for drives rolling 50 yards after hitting the fairway, and may want to land approaches well short of greens letting them bounce and run on. The conditions will be a canvas for players to showcase their skills, and should prove an equalizer. “We didn’t want to build something that constricts top players,” says Coore. “This course provides options so that the longest players on tour and the very shortest players on tour can all arrive and think, ‘I’ve got a chance.’”

While Trinity Forest is sure to frustrate many of the players, spectators and viewers at home will love it.

The architects are justifiably proud of their work, and having seen and played the course, I agree that they should be. So would they do it again? Is another landfill site in the offing? Says Coore, “I speak for Ben and me when I say this was our first, and it will be our last.”

Classic Course: San Francisco Golf Club

By Brian Hewitt

Photo credit: L.C. Lambrecht

 

A.W. Tillinghast’s only West Coast design has been restored to its original splendor

In 1918, when the San Francisco Golf Club unveiled what turned out to be A. W. Tillinghast’s only original design west of Texas, it produced barely a murmur. No one knew the course would set the bar for later Tillinghast classics—Baltusrol (Upper and Lower), Winged Foot (East and West), Ridgewood, and Bethpage Black, to name an elite few.

San Francisco Golf Club, wrote Tom Doak in his seminal 1996 Confidential Guide To Golf Courses, “was Tillinghast’s first masterpiece.”

A century later, thanks to a 2001 Doak green renewal and his 2006 restoration of the original 13th, 14th, and 15th holes, the course again shines brightly. Doak unearthed the famed “Tarantula” bunker, buried by layers of soil between the 14th and 15th fairways. His strategic removal of trees rediscovered sightline after sightline. Also among the reveals were multiple views of the clubhouse, peeks at the Pacific, and glimpses of far off Mount Tamalpais.

The club’s 150 acres now sit up more comfortably across Lake Merced from its more publicized neighbor, the Olympic Club. Meanwhile, SFGC has always minded its own business, its membership close-knit and carefully selected.

Applications to join are by invitation only and aren’t rubber-stamped overnight. As one local member explained, the club doesn’t want new members to “feel” new when they finally gain full status. But…

“It’s really pretty informal here,” says Bruce Mosbacher, a former chairman of the Green Committee. Friday afternoons and Saturdays members go out in fivesomes and sixsomes: No golfer left behind. Show up, put your name in a hat, and you’re in, regardless of age or handicap. Ready golf.

“It’s all part of the fabric and ethos of this place,” says another longtime member.

On the course—par 71, 6,836 yards from the tips—the fairways are tumbling and wide, the bunker complexes multifarious, and the hole locations on the quick, bentgrass greens demand strict attention.

“San Francisco Golf is about as good as it gets,” says non-member Conrad Nilmeier, a former Stanford golfer and accomplished local amateur. “You really would be cheating yourself if you walk around with your head down. There are so many great visuals.”

The full experience also includes a stroll through the retro men’s locker room. Its sepia-toned rows are lined with wooden cubicles on top of which sit golf shoes, polished and piled. There are wine-soaked cheese and crackers available between nines inside the back door. The Papersteak sandwich on the grill room’s lunch menu is right out of a Jack London short story.

The club’s rich history is illustrated and annotated in galleries of photos and memorabilia found in almost every room. In one case are the two Belgian .58 caliber pistols fired during the historic 1859 duel near what is now the 7th tee, the last such event in America, where a California Supreme Court justice shot and killed a U.S. Senator.

San Francisco Golf Club, like the Tony Bennett signature song, is an enduring classic.

First Peek at Hogs Head

By Michael Williams

There is no shortage of spectacular golf in Ireland; indeed, the bucket list of many golfers is peppered with destinations on the Emerald Isle. But with the opening of Robert Trent Jones II’s Hogs Head, every list was just extended one line.

Located in County Kerry just outside the town of Waterville (home of the acclaimed links of the same name), Hogs Head is a reimagining of the modest links course that previously occupied the site. Set into the cliffs adjacent to the Irish coastline and featuring the tallest mountains in the country as a backdrop, Hogs Head boasts vistas that are so beautiful they could be set to music.

The course is just under 7,200 yards from the back tees, but plays considerably longer depending on the weather conditions. The fairways are broad and undulating, with native fescue and a firm sandy base combining to give an authentic links experience. The greens are also fescue, and large and contoured enough to accommodate pin positions ranging from generous to diabolical.

Jones is a master of combining the classic and the unconventional. Among the features of Hogs Head is an homage to the opening hole at Carnoustie (No. 9) and a huge shared green—for the 11th and the 14th—that nods to St. Andrews. The strength of any RTJII course is the par threes, and the five at Hogs Head are equal parts beauty and danger, especially the windblown 13th with its two greens that rotate to keep members guessing.

The motto of the course is “built by friends, for friends, for fun.” With its combination of beauty, challenge, and versatility, Hogs Head fulfills that promise.

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle

By Graylyn Loomis

Skibo Castle

 

After an inspired renovation, this course is the equal of its regal setting in the Scottish Highlands

Skibo Castle dates back to 1211, but the estate just outside of Dornoch, in northern Scotland, really came to prominence when Andrew Carnegie purchased the property in 1898. The famous industrialist hosted everyone from the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Churchills to local Scots to dine, hunt, relax, and play golf on a nine-hole course he built on part of his 8,000 acres.

Carnegie died in 1919 and Skibo Castle eventually was sold. The owner in 1995 hired Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie to resurrect Carnegie’s links and build a new course as part of a private club. Mackenzie returned to Skibo in 2007 to renovate the new course, this time with the help of David Thomson, the club’s director of golf. They cleared substantial amounts of gorse, reshaped many features, and opened four newholes. As a result, the course entered the conversation as one of best modern links in Scotland.

The renovated course—laid out on a windswept stretch of dunes between the Dornoch Firth and Loch Evelix—has three distinct sections along the firth, the loch, and in between. It’s all dramatic and beautiful, but two stretches stand out. The first starts with the short par-three 6th, which plays from the top of one dune to another; the green, once surrounded by gorse, was cleared to expose expansive views and increase playability. Hole 7 is a beautiful par four with a risk-reward, split fairway and a raised green that provides a panoramic vista of the entire course and Dornoch Firth.

The second standout run is of holes 15 to 18, which play near the clubhouse. Bordering and playing over water, all four holes force players to go for broke, making them ideal for match play. Everywhere the golfer looks, dark Scottish hills are in view, and from certain vantage points so is the original castle, on a hill in the distance.

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle is private, but a small amount of non-member play is offered during the week. The club embraces guests with a “member for a day” ethos and everything during the visit—bacon rolls and spiked hot chocolate during the round, anything in the fully stocked halfway house, and lunch in the stone-and-glass clubhouse—is included in the hefty green fee. Members enjoy other amenities, as well, including horseback riding, shooting, off-road driving, and fittingly after all that activity, a full spa.

The Architects of Pebble Beach

By James A. Frank

The 7th Hole in 1928

 

In the early 1900s, the Pacific Ocean was a long journey from the East Coast, which was the center of American golf at the time. So when Samuel F.B. Morse—in charge of developing part of the Monterey Peninsula for a resort and real estate—approached leading architects including Donald Ross and C.B. Macdonald about designing a course at Pebble Beach, they turned him down rather than make the trip.

Instead, Morse stayed local, enlisting two California State Amateur champions—Jack Neville and Douglas Grant—to the task. They might have been architecture neophytes, but they were blessed with an incredible advantage: An untouched stretch of land along Carmel Bay.

The course briefly hosted its first events in early 1918, but course conditioning was a problem. The links reopened the following February in better shape, but still not quite right. More work was necessary, and significant resources were put forward. The routing remained with the maintenance greatly improved and the overall aesthetics enhanced.

Research has uncovered evidence that some other notable architects contributed to the greatness of Pebble Beach. Alister MacKenzie (who would soon lay out Cypress Point next door) rebuilt the green complexes at holes 8 and 13 in 1926. Englishman Herbert Fowler, who was redesigning the nearby Del Monte course, proposed extending the 18th hole from a par four to a par five, creating the formidable shoreline beauty we know today.

But most of the additional work was done by former U.S. Amateur champion H. Chandler Egan, who redesigned many of the greens, and alongwith Robert Hunter (who would aid MacKenzie at Cypress) was responsible for lengthening the course, adding bunkers, and improving the strategic challenges: this included moving the ninth green to the edge of the cliff.

In 1929, Pebble Beach hosted the first U.S. Amateur west of St. Louis, and the course the competitors faced would remain famous to decades of players. But as the 21st century neared, more changes came along.

In 1998, Jack Nicklaus designed a new 5th hole on a plot of land that had been in private hands since 1915. The hole remained a par three, but rather than turning inland through a chute of trees, it now runs along the beach and ocean.

© Evan Schiller

 

Other changes and restorations—along with weather-related fixes—were done. Arnold Palmer oversaw touch-ups to greens and bunkers in 1999. And in preparation for the 2019 U.S. Open, four greens—at 9, 13, 14, and 17—have been restored to more closely resemble how they looked near the course’s inception. They’re also a little bigger than they were 100 years ago, built to USGA specifications, and fitted with underground drainage and ventilation systems.

Desert Golf: Tom Fazio’s Estancia Club

By George Peper

Estancia Club
The Estancia Club

 

When it comes to courses on a dinner menu, dessert may be the favorite, but among golf courses, the one-s variety—desert—is surely the least palatable. Scan the top 100 rankings and you’ll find only one or two.

There are exceptions, however, and at the top of the list is Tom Fazio’s Estancia, winding artfully through 640 acres of boulders and cacti at the base of Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak. Broad fairways keep the nastiest stones and needles at bay, clever routing minimizes forced carries, immaculate bent grass greens insure a consistently smooth roll, and elevated tees enhance the views of the dazzling terrain. This is a course as delectable as an ice-cream sundae.

Honorable Mention

Cabo del Sol (Ocean), Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Diamante Dunes, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Querencia, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

Quivira, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Yas Links, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Fun is the Name of the Game at The Cradle, Pinehurst

The Cradle
The Cradle short course at Pinehurst

 

Golf is too hard, too expensive, and too time-consuming. These preconceptions about the game are exactly what Gil Hanse and Pinehurst owner Bob Dedman are looking to shatter with the resort’s new short course, The Cradle. The nine-hole, 789-yard layout is the latest in a string of fun-loving short courses to be built in the U.S. in the last decade.

What sets The Cradle apart? It’s truly a short course: the longest hole is 127 yards and two holes are under 60 yards each. All nine sit on just 10 acres (about the land necessary for two holes on a regular course), meaning rounds are quick, the walks are short, and the pressure is off. Players cheer for one another from Adirondack chairs strategically placed around the course. So from start to finish, the atmosphere is laid-back and the emphasis is on having a good time, an attitude reinforced by “The Pinecone,” a staffed drink cart that helps keep the party rolling.

The Cradle

Which isn’t to say Gil Hanse and partner Jim Wagner left out the challenge. Take the 3rd hole, which is uphill, semi-blind, and has an extremely deep bunker guarding the front. But it’s only 66 yards and has a classic “Punchbowl” green, its raised sides funneling shots to the middle of the putting surface. On the day I played the course with other members of the media, two holes-in-one were jarred within two minutes, one on No. 3.

The green fee is small, too: $50 allows unlimited play for an entire day. Also, kids under 18 are free with a paying adult. “This is Pinehurst’s grow-the-game initiative,” says resort President Tom Pashley. The Cradle is the perfect accompaniment to Thistle Dhu, the resort’s 75,000-square-foot putting course, which encourages play by non-golfers and shares the short course’s relaxed vibe (drink holders mark the start of each hole). The two tracks are side by side in front of the Pinehurst clubhouse.

A quote from Donald Ross adorns The Cradle’s scorecard: “Golf should be a pleasure and not a penance.” Hanse and the folks at Pinehurst definitely agree. Let’s hope others continue to see the light.