A Day At Oakmont, As Good As It Gets

Three Years In The Works

I think I was first invited to play Oakmont over three years ago. My friends of 20 years became friendly with a member and the opportunity to play seemed inevitable. But life’s funny in how it teases you and torments you. For whatever reason plans to actually play one of the best courses in the world never materialized. 2020 was going to be different. We set the date, we planned ahead, we locked it in…..then a pandemic hit. What was supposed to be an early August prime weather loop around the greatest of all U.S. Open venues was nixed when prior guests caused a COVID outbreak in the guest houses. The text came in that my chance to play was on pause again and I was crushed. But all involved pressed forward. The club re-opened to guest play after Labor Day and our host wasted no time putting us back on the books. It was time for me to make a trek to Pittsburgh to play my white whale, Oakmont.

That’s me putting on #2, and laying up to a good number on #4 with the Church Pew bunkers looking on.

Now that you’re a few paragraphs into this post you’re probably wondering if this is a course review of Oakmont. Nah, nope, no chance. I don’t do that. Sure, I write course reviews on public courses I visit and pay to play like any other schmuck that shows up, but not private clubs. I’m a guest when I play those clubs. I will not review them, that’s just rude. After all, I’m America’s Guest. I like to get invited back to the places that will have me.

The Vibe

This is Oakmont, historic as it gets for American Golf. That’s the vibe. The club is nestled into a Pittsburgh suburb of the same surname. Ironically, while it has an Oakmont address the golf course itself rests in the town of Plum, Pennsylvania. A guard lets you in via the gatehouse, your bag is whisked away to the range, and your day at Oakmont begins. I was in the clubhouse 0.5 seconds before I could smell history. Okay, it was more cigar than history, but you knew where you were and what it meant. You’re now in a locker room where Open champions have toasted their victories, where Hogan changed into his shoe with an extra spike, and where Arnie sat and thought after his final U.S. Open round. There is history around every corner because the club embraces it and puts it on display with great pride. Photos of the evolution of the course are stunning (making 5,000 trees disappear is magic in itself). Equipment used by its major champions is resting in cases. And replica trophies shine out of the corner of your eye as you’re trying to keep up with the conversation around you. Oakmont is a historical landmark for a reason.


Looking up the 9th fairway to the clubhouse.

There isn’t anything snooty about Oakmont compared to several other top clubs I’ve visited. You can where shorts. You can take pictures. And if your physical condition limits your ability to traverse the course you can even take a cart.

The caddie we had was an all-timer. Matt has worked there 26 years and he isn’t a day over 38. His dad worked there 40 years. It is the family business. Matt was pure Western, PA – and the best double bagging caddie I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing execute his craft. I wish I’d trusted his reads the first 3 holes. His lines were gold, he hustled his ass off (even if he didn’t really need to for us) and he had a yardage and club suggestions before I could even think of the next shot. And he did all this on a 90 degree day hiking 8 miles with little to no shade. Stud.

The Course

I could write 50,000 words on the course, but I’ll save you from that. Pictures are better anyway.

Yeah I hit two in the ditches, made par from both.

When you leave the range the caddies steer you up to the real putting green that is the back of the 9th green, you knew that. The property leans downhill from there to the turnpike that splits most of the front nine from the back. That means when you drop a ball on the back of the putting green you see it roll away quite quickly when the greens are running 13+ on the stimp meter. I think we caught it on a slow day as it rained the night before.

The first tee nearly brought a tear to my eye. It is one of the most idyllic opening shots in all of golf. And with out of bounds down the right it can be a bit intimidating. The rest of my group played the member tees. Our host was kind enough to allow me to play the back boxes, so long as we didn’t fall behind the 4 hour pace of play rule. That made the whole experience even better for me. I estimate it was only set up at 7100 yards that day. There’s another 300 yards back there. When I got home I re-watched every US Open final round at Oakmont on the USGA app. I played the course very similar to the yardages and pins used in 2007. Very cool.

That’s hole 3 above, your first look at the infamous Church Pew Bunkers. I hit a big drive up past the far right bunker then airmailed the green. There’s a chipping area behind it, the pin was back. I was told Tiger Woods made 6 from there on Sunday in 2007 and that cost him the championship. I spun one in there stone dead for an easy par. Eat your heart out, Tiger.

That’s 8, the par 3 that can play 300 yards. I bogied it from 255. From there you cross the turnpike again and hike back up the 9th. Seeing the whole course from atop the first tee is stoic. Crossing the turnpike feels historic. And coming back down the 10th hole is almost a little sad because you know your round here is more than half over.

Every shot you hit requires thought and strategy. The collection of short par 4s, par 3s, and ball busting US Open par 4s is unlike anything I’ve ever played. The only course I’ve ever walked with such undulating topography is Augusta National (to watch the Masters not play it). The closing stretch will test you mentally and physically. The 17th is a architectural wonder. Depending on how far you can hit it and where the pin is, the prudent play is to lay up more often than not on the 315 yard hole. But if you only get to play it once in your life, and your host tells you he’ll never invite you back if you lay up, you hit the disco stick and pray. Easy bogey. And then there’s the 18th…

The 18th is Oakmont’s Chef’s Kiss. If not for Pebble Beach it would be the best closing hole in our Open rota, or at least right there with Oakland Hills (but Oakland loses points for converting a par 5) without a fight. I think it is better either way, but that’s a whole other post. The downhill tee shot at 18 lets you bomb away, but you better hit the fairway if you want to hit the green. The clubhouse over your shoulder as you putt out is a fine way to end your day too.

I loved everything about the golf course. I played ok, but some sloppy swings put 80 shots on my card for the day. The highlight was a chip in at 6 for birdie. Just before that I was informed that by missing the green in my first attempt I was in good company as Bobby Jones missed it his first half dozen loops here.

The Extras

Lunch and a complete tour of the clubhouse were a great way to complete the experience at Oakmont. But then I was turned loose in the golf shop. I could spend a few paychecks in there if I had no restraint. They have everything you could want with every brand and fit. Oh, and the lady that works there is a saint. She has 9 months of guests coming through asking her dumb questions and having her pick stuff out for their wives. God bless her. I did enjoy her advising a patron that the slim fit shirt he was looking to buy would not hide his beer gut (she said this much more tactfully that I’ve typed it).

I’ve been fascinated by those bunkers since 1994 so there was no way I was leaving it out of my putter cover collection.

I can’t say enough about the whole experience at Oakmont, and I can’t thank our host and my friends enough for making this happen. There’s so many things in life that can’t live up to the hype you build up in your head, but Oakmont certainly does. It was worth every mile I logged there and back, and I’d do it all over at the drop of a hat if I’m ever invited back.

Posted in Courses, Majors, Uncategorized, Weekend Hacks: Amateur Golf | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

#MichiganPublicGolfBracket Results, Re-ranked, and More

To the Victor Go…

Quarantine/lockdown can make anyone go crazy during a pandemic. Hell, I’m posting on my own website for the first time in 11 months because of it. But this post is long overdue and I wish I’d done something of this ilk before quarantine drove me to it. If you aren’t on the Twitter then perhaps you missed what I’m talking about. Some Michiganders on the social platform were discussing all the brackets out there being filled out to replace our beloved/canceled March Madness. The idea of a bracket for Michigan courses was born and I took the ball and ran with it. Why not? I’m America’s guest. Who’s played more tracks in the state than me?

The Mitten has a collection of courses that can hold its own against any state. While many of its gems are private, for the purposes of a bracket it only seemed fair to make the tournament specific to the great public tracks in the Michigan. I broke the state down by regions. The West, south of Traverse along the Lake Michigan coast including Grand Rapids. The North, consisting of the Traverse City area, Petoskey, Harbor Springs and the Upper Peninsula. The Central, the upper part of the Lower Peninsula east of 127 and 75, while North of Saginaw. And the Southeast, Detroit, Lansing, and the urban sprawl down to the Ohio border.

Obviously the North region was stacked. If I had a do-over I’d move Forest Dunes to the Central, along with the Loop routings. I’d also include Macatawa in the West. But that doesn’t really change the result. In the end the heavy hitters advanced, but a few surprises made the Final Four and a plucky underdog won the whole damn thing. Congrats to Diamond Springs of Hamilton! The Mike DeVries designed course held its own on the weaker side of the bracket and used its social media presence to push past Tullymore in the semi final and Marquette’s Greywalls (another DeVries course) in the final.

Here’s another tweet with the best image I could get of the entire bracket:

Diamond Springs is a great golf course, and a great value. Don’t go there expecting it to be pristine. Have an open mind. Enjoy the value you’re getting, and enjoy the design. The setting and use of the land is divine. You’ll play holes you never could have dreamed of.  And as the title here says, to the victor go the spoils. The Fried Egg has a video that includes shots of several courses that made our bracket and Diamond Springs is heavily featured.

In addition, there’s a whole post on Andy’s site discussing the intricacies of Diamond Springs with some great photos. Hit that up here.

No Bullshit

Is Diamond Springs that good? Should Greywalls have beaten Arcadia Bluffs and Forest Dunes to get to the final? Yes, Diamond is that good, and fun as hell to play. But there’s a reason I made it the 5 seed in the West region to start the tournament. Greywalls? I haven’t played it. But if it is half as good as the other 4 DeVries designs in Michigan it probably earned its spot. The pictures of Greywalls have me planning a family trip to the U.P. for 2021. I have not been there since 2002. Golf, man.

Now let’s step back a minute. In one and done match ups anything can happen. A club pro can beat Tiger Woods, a 16 seed can beat a 1, and a hot drunk girl can hook up with an absolute dork. I’m not saying either of the courses that made the final are duds, they’re great. But perhaps re-ranking 25 of the courses in the bracket makes a little more sense in hindsight. I’ll give it a whirl.

  1. Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs) – still the big dog based on setting, experience, views, and fun.
  2. Forest Dunes 
  3. Greywalls – this tourney run says something. Golf Twitter loves the place.
  4. The Loop – both routings, can’t double dip here like we did in the bracket.
  5. Diamond Springs – from 5 seed in the West to 5 overall. It is now on everyone’s radar.
  6. Tullymore
  7. Eagle Eye
  8. Belvedere – This grandfather of northern golf has quite a following.
  9. Arcadia Bluffs (South Course) – new kid on the block, a golfers golf course.
  10. Bay Harbor
  11. Pilgrim’s Run – Another DeVries that is no longer hidden.
  12. The Heather
  13. Stoatin Brae
  14. Sage Run – I’m not sure how I made this one a 16 seed.
  15. Shepards Hollow
  16. Jones Masterpiece – Treetops
  17. The Orchards
  18. Forest Akers – West
  19. The Gailes
  20. Manistee National
  21. Bucks Run
  22. Harbor Shores
  23.  The Legend
  24. The Grande
  25. Hawk Hollow

Once you get past 25 you’re splitting hairs in rankings. I made moves up/down the ranking based on performance to seed in the bracket and popularity in comments and inquiries. If your course made our bracket it is pretty damn good. If it didn’t, drop a comment and make the case for why it should. Perhaps it will make the next one. Until then, stay safe, and think about which one of these Michigan gems you’ll play next once this whole pandemic thing settles down.

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Course Review: Bethpage State Park (Black Course)

Bethpage State Park (Black Course) – Farmingdale, NY (Architect: Albert Warren Tillinghast 1936)

Background

When the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt set the wheels in motion for his New Deal that would bring the country out of the worst economic times it had ever seen. Part of FDR’s new deal included plans to put people back to work building infrastructure and other public goods, including parks. Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York on Long Island is a result of one of the New Deal’s programs. In 1936 A.W. Tillinghast was hired to build the Black Course at Bethpage.

The Black Course has become infamous for being tough, just like the Long Islanders that play it, but before 1995 Tilly’s fantastic design had been left for dead. Enter David Fay, the USGA’s former Executive Director had played the Black in his youth. He happened by the course on a trip back to his home in New Jersey while still the USGA chief and saw the potential it had. The course simply needed a face lift. Fay got the state, the USGA, and NBC all to buy in and agree to have Bethpage host the 2002 Open only if a severe restoration could be done in time for the championship. Thanks to Fay’s vision and everyone that bought into it the Black Course became the first publicly owned facility to host a U.S. Open. Since then it has hosted a 2nd U.S. Open (2009), a Fed Ex Cup event with more coming, and a PGA Championship and Ryder Cup in the not too distant future.

 

When Fay walked the course on a whim that fateful day he saw a beautiful old girl that needed an influx of cash and some TLC. Rees Jones, the Open Doctor, was hired to do the restoration work. The bunkers you see on the course today are mostly his works of art in Tillinghast’s fingerprints, but the routing and green complexes are all thanks to Tilly. Mr. Jones came back between the U.S. Opens and added another 400 yards and I noticed new tee boxes on several holes that didn’t exist when I first played the course. The Black has some of the thickest everyday rough you’ll ever play thanks to their staff over-seeding it every spring.

I’ve made two trips around the Black. The first was in 2002, 4 months after Tiger Woods won his 2nd U.S. Open there. The rough was cut to 3.5 inches, but was so thick you could not advance a club longer than a 7 iron from it. The sand in the bunkers was so fluffy that any shot that landed in them that had height on it would result in a fried egg. I played from 7100 yards, had two birdies, and shot 79.

I returned in 2006 in the middle of a NYC heat wave. The course is “walking only” and I carried my bag in 102 degree heat. There isn’t much shade on the rugged Black. Moisture wicking material hadn’t yet hit the golf world. My cotton shirt and shorts were ruined for life after that day but I still had a blast. We played from 7400 yards that day and I shot 77. I can practically remember every shot. The Black does that to you. Everything about it is memorable.

Of course the urban legend surrounding the Black course is that you have to sleep in your car to get a tee time. Not exactly. It is a State Park and the New York State employees run the show here. Tee times can be made by New York residents in the tee time system. Back in the day, other state residents could donate a kidney, get in the tee time system, and grab a time by calling to see if anyone cancelled the day before. Ok, not a kidney, but they did want a copy of your license and social security card to add you. I actually am in the system and made a time there my 2nd time around. The first time I showed up around 9 on a nice October day and was on the 1st tee by 10:45. Weekends are a different story. If you don’t have a time you’re sleeping in the car. When you pull in they give you a wrist band to make sure you don’t get out of line. The last car in line keeps their lights on. You get certain times before the sun comes up and a few cancellations. This is the democracy our forefathers dreamed of 250 years ago.

Layout/Scenery

If it isn’t dark out when you pull into the Bethpage parking lot you notice that it is immediately aesthetically pleasing. The old trees that line the drive, the stately clubhouse, the view off the first tee….nothing about it screams “MUNI!” until you see the driving range or try to check in (more on both later). The brick walk behind the clubhouse leads you around the putting green and the famed warning sign comes into view as if you’re about to chug a bottle of poison.

That’s all New York ego. Don’t let it scare you. From the 1st tee your drive will launch out into space to a fairway that is about 50 feet below the tee. It is a majestic opening shot and your ball will travel about 30 yards further than you’d expect (unless into the wind) because of the change in elevation. What a great way to start a round. The grueling walk begins once you find level ground in the first fairway. Holes 1, 15, 16, 17, and 18 are the only 5 holes in the same section of the park as the clubhouse. To get to number two you cross Round Swamp Rd. and the hike truly begins up and down Long Island foothills you didn’t know existed. The warning sign is more applicable to the walk you face if you ask me.

That is the par 3 eighth hole above. It looks benign and the water isn’t in play but that tree will reach out and slap a push into the H2O if you get sloppy. Humble brag alert –   I birdied it both times! The turn is made to the back nine at the farthest point from the 1st tee. They don’t sell rounds of 9 just as the golf gods intended it to be. At this point in the hike the course actually flattens out for 3 or 4 holes, but 10, 11, and 12 can be some of the toughest on the course. If you really bust a drive you may have a short iron to 11, but the 10th is a long par 4 you’ll be lucky to reach in two no matter how good you hit it. If you’re in the rough you have no shot at the green.

Your last hole before you again cross Round Swamp Road is the short par three 14th hole. The USGA will play the hole anywhere from 100 yards to 165. I think you’ll see it more around 150 for the Barclays, PGA, and Ryder Cup events coming up. A reader tells me they’ve revamped the green a touch. Perhaps there was too much slope and it was brushed up to allow for more hole locations.

That’s Tiger at the 15th above. This hole statistically is the toughest but it has been neutered a bit by modern equipment. At 475 yards most players will hit 3 wood then 8 iron to the severely uphill and undulating green. A long iron into this in 2002 made the approach much more troublesome. The hike up to that green is exhausting at that point in your day, and once you get there you have to focus on navigating one of the Black’s few greens that has real teeth.

The 17th might be the signature hole of Bethpage. The 200 yard par 3 has a natural stadium around it. The fescue grown post 2002 between the tee and the green frames the hole well with the hills, trees, and bunkers creating a postcard back drop. The Black’s weakest link is its finishing hole. Eighteen is a mere 410 yards down hill. Three iron followed by a short iron is no way for a major championship to be decided. There’s no room to extend the hole either. In 2009 the USGA had the hole play 295 yards in the final round and almost no one went for it. While the hole isn’t perfect the idea of making it driveable is as gay as cum on a mustache.

If I have a favorite hole (it is hard to pick just one) I’d go with the 5th shown above. Number 5 at Bethpage Black is often discussed as the quintessential Tillinghast hole. It is about a 480 yard par 4 with a new tee added around 2006. There are bunkers down the right and woods on the left. The tee shot requires a slight fade or a 295 yard carry over the bunkers. The approach requires a slight draw to a green that sits 25 feet above the fairway. Fade tee ball with a draw approach, that’s why they say its a classic Tilly hole.

My first grade in this review is a 5 out of 5 for the layout. There were once some ugly backdrops around holes 3, 15, and even 2 but those have been cleaned up. I’m nitpicking the 18th hole only because it is the final hole. If it were played in any other order it would be a fine hole. I won’t deduct a point for that. Tillyinghast’s routing is classic and thrilling. When you walk the land you know you’re some place special.

Score: 5.0

Conditioning

My sample size of what the conditioning is like at Bethpage is a small one, but both times around the Black the place was in fantastic condition. This was true even in October just a few weeks after the greens were aerated. As I noted already the rough is thick and lush as if the grass is being fed steroids. It isn’t kept long for everyday play but the ball settles down easily in it. You don’t get too many good lies. See below.

The greens at the Black aren’t too undulating, minus a few, and from what I saw they were consistent and mowed at decent speeds for both my loops. I’d bet for everyday muni golf you won’t find any better. They probably run about a 10.5 on the Stimp meter. If they made them much faster the every man playing the course for 99% of its rounds wouldn’t break 100. I also noted above that in 2002 the bunkers were too soft. That was fixed 4 years later. The track I saw in 2006 could have hosted a Tour event with 48 hours of prep. No point deductions here.

Score: 5.0

Value

Because Bethpage is a state park the New York residents get a nice break here just like San Diego County residents get a price break at Torrey Pines. You can see the fee structure below.

Bethpage State Park Golf Coursesbpresidents

Yeah, $65 to play a 2 time U.S. Open host site that is getting a PGA and a Ryder Cup…??? There’s no better deal in the world for a big boy golf course. Even the out of state rate isn’t too bad and well worth it. I think I paid $89 and $110 for my fees around the Black. Nothing in New York is cheap, and you rarely find true value in anything within 50 miles of Manhattan, but golf at Bethpage is the exception to the rule.

Score: 5.0

Service/Pace

So far everything at Bethpage Black sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Here’s a category that will take the Black down a peg. When you check in you’re basically cattle. You stand in a line like you’re at a bank. You have to have all your shit ready and your whole group there to get a wrist band that gets you a date with the starter. That’s all after you slept in your car if you went that route. The staff is made up entirely of state employees. They don’t have to be nice because there are 20 people behind you that would love to be shit on just to play the famed course.

Things don’t get much better from the staff once you get to the 1st tee. The starter has seen all types and he’s not there to entertain you like so many with his job might try to do at a resort course. He’s a tough Long Island guy who wants you to be ready and get the fuck out of his sight. He’ll grunt at you as he cuts off your wristband (it is entirely possible that the wrist band system is gone since I haven’t played the course in ten years). Staff at the halfway house is average at best and don’t expect a hot college girl to roll up on a beverage cart. Those don’t exist at the Black.

You like that big black cloud I just threw at you concerning the service? Well, it only gets worse in this category. There is no pace at the Black course. It isn’t a crawl, but you’ve got a packed course everyday that has as many tourists on it as it has locals. The tourists might not even belong on a course this tough but they’ll play it to say they did. They’ll take 5+ hours to do it to. And remember, they’re walking! The hike is tough and it certainly hurts the pace at the Black. I scored BPB low in this category but not a 1 or a zero. The staff is probably a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of rounds and customers. There’s not much more they can do when offering up a course like that with such a low price.

Score: 2.5

Amenities

The part of Long Island that Bethpage is on isn’t exactly a place you’ll want to hang around in after you play the Black course. The park itself has some amenities like a restaurant, tennis, hiking, etc, but there’s no way you’re up for any of that shit if you just hiked the Black. You’re thisclose to New York City. Go explore it. Go to a Mets game, go to a horse track, go to Manhattan and do any of 100 million things there is to do there. Pro tip – when you’re done with any of that find a good seat at Scores and don’t use the ATM once you get there.

As for the golf amenities, this is another category that Bethpage will lose a point or more. The range is a joke. It has no grass hitting area. It was significantly improved from 2002 to 2006 when I came back but it still isn’t up to snuff with what you’d expect at a major championship course. Note that they make a range on one of the other courses when the PGA Tour comes to town. The putting green is fine but there’s no short game area or anything resembling one that I ever saw when I was on the premises. There’s no golf carts on the Black so you’d think they might have a caddie program. They do, but it wasn’t official or affiliated with the course ten years ago. It was local dudes offering to carry your bag for somewhere between $50 to $100 for the round. They sit around the outside of the clubhouse and appear more likely to rob you than they do to give you the right club or read a putt. They might all know their shit and be great caddies, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Score: 3.5

Difficulty

Outside of the pond in front of the 8th hole there’s not a water hazard on the course. There are a few forced carries, TO THE FAIRWAYS, that may be too much for weaker players so you’ll want to make sure you’re playing the correct tees. Note that the white tees are still nearly 6700 yards. That’s long for an average player. Most people don’t check the yardage and tee it up on  the white tees without thinking. That’s too much golf course for a guy hitting 200 yard tee shots. As I said earlier, many of the greens are flat-ish, with a few exceptions. I think the main challenges thrown at you by the course are the rough and the approach shots. It is a tee to green course. No short game wiz that hits it shorter than average is going to win a tournament on the Black.

I do think that the course is fair and playable for players that have an 18 index or lower as long as they don’t lack distance. You have to be pretty far off course to have tree problems at Bethpage. You aren’t likely to lose a ball. The longish heather is way away from the fairway and there’s plenty of primary rough to play from should you miss a fairway. The most difficult task ahead of you playing BPB is hitting to the greens. Many are raised or sit on top of a decent size hill. You’ll be clubbing up for much of your round because a 150 shot here will likely play 160 on most holes with just a few exceptions. There aren’t any true blind shots but there are several holes that you can’t see the putting surface from the fairway. The Black fucks with you that way.

Per usual, this rating isn’t based on a 5 being “way too hard”. I’m rating a course a 5 when I’d say it’s playable and enjoyable, but not easy, for players of all levels. Bethpage Black is hard, but it isn’t tricked up and there’s nothing crazy asked of you outside of the rough and some extra yardage. I don’t think a short knocking 25 handicap would have any fun on it, but the course wasn’t built for them. It was built for championship golf. It has a high slope and course rating for a reason. It is going to punch you in the face a few times. Can you take a punch? If so, play the Black. Don’t be scared.

Score: 4.5

Composite

The composite score from all categories above takes a hit for the service, pace, and amenities the facility lacks, but there’s no shame in the score I arrived at. The course and its conditioning are as good as it gets. If that has more to do with your decision to check a course out then by all means you need to put Bethpage Black on your bucket list. If you need to be pampered, ride in a cart, and have everyone on staff service you like you’re the 1st lady, go play somewhere else. This is the People of New York’s course, they don’t want you here anyway.

Score: 4.25

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10 Reasons I Love The Open Championship

Lists Usually Suck

Three months off is nothing, hibernating bears do it every year, but your favorite blogger probably owes you more. There’s no apologies here though. That’s not the M.O. of this site. Fuck it. I have better things to do. And what did I miss anyway? Koepka won another U.S. Open. Spieth is still in a drought. And Tiger still hasn’t won in his comeback phase of his career.

I’m back tonight because it is the eve of the greatest championship played in the world. The Masters is the best toon-a-mint, but the Open Championship is a different animal for many reasons. I’m here to give you a few of those right now in my 10 reasons why I love the Open. Let’s get on with it.

Image result for open championship image

10.  The Open Scoreboards – You know what they look like and you know what your’e watching as soon as you see one. Yeah, big, yellow, hand operated, and the message they put on them after the champion receives the Jug….it’s all part of the culture of the Open that we embrace. It is as if a giant piece of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field is transported across the pond for the week and spray painted like a bus.

Image result for open championship scoreboard

The board, or boards, are so iconic that the Open website shows their leaderboard in the same style as a simple reminder of the championship you’re tracking. If I ever make to an Open I may just sit in wonderment and watch them for an hour straight as the names and scores change like a stock ticker. If you want more scoreboard hit the link for a Jimmy Roberts piece that aired on the Golf Channel. I had no idea that they’re operated by rival school boys that sleep in tents nearby for the week.

9. WAGs in Europe – Yummy yummy, Paulina in plaid, Jenny Sims in a kilt….hey, a guy can hope. Most likely you won’t see much of them anyway unless their guy is the big winner come Sunday, but outside of the Open the wags don’t get their Euro fix unless it is an away Ryder Cup year.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj3LSZdgge4/?hl=en&taken-by=paulinagretzky

We deserve more, and we deserve better. I’m hoping for Allison Stokke to fire up her sleepy Instagram account while Rickie is on the course this week.

8. Gorse – Yup, just a shrub that is part of the pea family with a yellow flower. Really, that made the list?

Image result for gorse

It has to. For 50 other weeks of the year we don’t hear about this alien plant. Then our golf gods turn up on the British Isles and they’re losing balls in this sticky shit that can cost a guy a major. I love hearing the Euro announcers say the word. I love hearing the American announcers over use it by calling ever piece of the course that isn’t fairway, tee or green “gorse”. Idiots. If you see yellow, you’re seeing gorse. Don’t hit it near there.

7. Unknowns – Every year there’s some guy that contends that I’ve never heard of. Sometimes they even win it. See Curtis, Ben; Lawrie, Paul; or Hamilton, Todd (fucking). I won’t even bring up Jean Van de……no, I won’t do it. My first memory of an unknown almost stealing an Open was in 1994 at Turnberry. This skinny fucking piece of Euro-trash with his hat brim flipped up was about to take a title from one of the best players in the world at the time, Nick Price. I had never heard of Jesper Parnevik and there he was putting with his glove on with the Claret Jug nearly in his grasp.

I remember rooting against him. He was going to ruin the Open. I no longer hold a grudge against him like I do for Steve Jones for ruining the U.S. Open two years later. Jesper eventually became a vetted Ryder Cup staple. That validated his 1994 run. He probably should have beat Price. Watch again this year, a guy you barely know will be around until the end, like Mathew Southgate. Pssst, check his Open record if you’re looking for Draft Kings pick.

6. Ivor Robson – If you don’t know Ivor by name, get the fuck out of here right now. Ok, that’s harsh, but you’ll know him as soon as you listen to this clip.

Unfortunately for us fans, Ivor retired after 41 years of starting every group at the Open Championship. It isn’t the same without him. If he were still going he might be as high as reason number 2 as to why I love the Open.

5. Breakfast and Golf – What is better than this combo? Go back to that 1994 Open again for a second. I can still remember playing PGA Tour on my Sega all night with my buddy and waking up to my mom making pancakes and bacon while we watched Price and Parnevik battle. I love gluttony. I love breakfast food. I love golf. And I love majors. Mix all that together and waking up to it for four days in July is heavenly. That is all.

4. Champion Golfer of the Year – I don’t turn the final round broadcast off until I hear some grumpy ass R&A official call the winner by his rightful title. The only thing that could make it better would be to have the god damn queen come down from a thrown to knight the CHAMPION GOLFER OF THE YEAR on the 18th green.

It is special to us, but even more so to the man of the hour. That clip makes me tingle.

3. The Open Rota – For those that don’t understand that, it is the courses. The list has changed a bit with Royal Portrush now in the mix. The rest are as follows: Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Hoylake, Birkdale, St. George’s, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Troon, Muirfield, and St. Andrews.

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I’ve never stepped foot on any of them but I love them all. There are nuances and romance to all of their settings, their history, and the culture that surrounds them. They hold communities together in some towns and connect train lines to others.  That list is the Open Championship.

2. R&A – Why is the R&A on my list? Because they’re the anti-USGA. They don’t care about par or making the course hard. They let mother nature play the courses of the Open rota as the players do and the chips fall where they may. They’ve advanced the game of golf and protected it more than the USGA could ever dream of. Sure, they may be stuffy and narrow minded, but without them none of us would likely even have taken golf up, there would be no USGA, and no modern game. The Open is their championship. They do it well. I tip my cap to them. There’s no Open to love if there’s no R&A.

1. The Claret Jug – She’s a beauty isn’t she? If only she could talk and tell us stories. I’d love to hear about her first few nights with Darren Clarke in 2011. The 2nd oldest trophy in sports has been filled with thousands of glasses of champagne, whiskey, and beer. It has been peed it, lost, dropped, and crashed from mantels yet it still doesn’t look a day over 147 years.

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A green jacket is nice, a Wannamaker is bigger, but the Claret Jug at your disposal is the stuff dreams are made of.

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Course Review: Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs)

Arcadia Bluffs (The Bluffs Course) – Arcadia, MI (Architects: Warren Henderson and Rick Smith – 1999)

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Background

In 1999 the Northern Michigan golf landscape changed dramatically when the brash, bold, and eye-popping Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course debuted to the golfing public. Architects Warren Henderson and Rick Smith (yeah, the guy who was Phil’s instructor for more than a decade) collaborated on a links style course with sod wall bunkers that rests on the bluffs of Lake Michigan in the middle of nowhere. For nearly 20 years Arcadia has been the crown jewel of buddy trips to the lower peninsula of the Mitten State and there’s no sign of that changing, unless you gain access to one of the stellar private clubs that are somewhat nearby.

Arcadia will expand to 36 holes in August of 2018 when they open the South Course about 1.5 miles down the street, appropriately just south of the original layout. With the birth of a sibling the original course will now be called the Bluffs Course. The Bluffs course sits about 200 feet above Lake Michigan. Only three and half of the 18 holes on the Bluffs course are on the water, but the topography of the land allows for you to see the big lake from almost every vantage point unless the club house is blocking it out.

There’s a lot to love about Arcadia. The golf course is fun to play and the imagery you’re playing in and around is stunning. I’ve played it 6 or 7 times now and have come away pleased as punch with every experience. However, if you talk to a course architecture nerd, many of them will yuck your yum by shitting all over the intricacies of Arcadia Bluff’s design. I’ve heard many complaints about how fake it is, the insanity of the greens and their difficulty, and the bunkers are too deep/hard for hack amateurs to play from. Those are valid complaints, but I try to suspend myself from reality a bit when I’m at the Bluffs. The design isn’t perfect, and I particularly dislike the hole in the picture above (par five, 5th hole), but so what? Look around. Soak it in. And have fun with every shot you play. That’s what Arcadia is all about.

Henderson and Smith gave golfers plenty of room off of every tee. The fairways are man-sized and so are the greens. Off the short grass you’ll have 10 to 15 yards of 2nd cut before your ball finds the native grass. Even the tall stuff is more than fair at the Bluffs. Of the 20+ companions I’ve traversed Arcadia with I can’t recall anyone losing a ball in the junk.

The shot above is typical of what you see from every tee. That’s my boy Werm sniping one down the par five 11th hole. The tees are mostly elevated which makes for great views and long drives downwind. The course plays firm and fast unless a monsoon has come through recently. In the old days of the Bluffs there was a digital weather instrument behind the pro shop counter. It tracked the current temperature and wind speed, as well as the highest gust in the last 24 hours. It got your attention from the second you arrived on the property because there’s seldom a day when you can play the course without wind having an impact on your score. I’d hazard a guess that the normal wind speed is pretty close to 20 mph. That makes some of those elevated tee shots a bit frustrating. At the same time, the holes that play into the typical prevailing wind aren’t overly challenging in their design.

Layout/Scenery

For the first 3 to 4 years the golf course layout played as originally designed by Smith and Henderson. At some point the routing was tweaked and holes 7 through 16 were shifted around to accommodate a better pace of play and to allow for both 9s to finish near the club house. The change didn’t hurt a thing.

The Bluffs begin with the easiest hole on the course, a 519 yard par 5 that doglegs to the right. It is reachable in two unless you really miss one off the tee and there’s no reason not to go for it. The 2nd hole is a mid to long iron shot of a par 3 with the only tree in play on the golf course about 20 yards left of the green. From there you climb a little hill to the 3rd tee and see all that is in front of you for the rest of the day.

The third hole also introduces you to the biggest sod wall bunker you’ll see in North America. It protects the front of the green and will get you to steer your approach shot a bit just to make sure you avoid it. The 4th hole is of interest because it plays into a punch bowl green as you continue your decent toward the bluffs. From 3 tee down to the edge of the bluffs is a 225 foot drop in and of itself. You sniff the lake at the 5th green but then swing back up into the hills where the holes mostly play through man made trenches from tee to green.

The 8th hole, which is the original 12th, is a bit interesting. The actual back tee is never used anymore. From that old back tee the hole plays close to 450 yards uphill and makes it a mother fucker. The true back tee is shut down because it is on the opposite side of the main driveway. When I’ve played it in the past you have to have either the starter (from the nearby 1st tee) or a member of your group stop traffic. You can see why they don’t use it. From the middle tee it is a mere 400 yards and leaves you with a short iron or wedge to the big, elevated green. Yawn.

The back nine grabs your attention quickly as it starts with a tough hole and blind tee shot. Your aim point is a barber pole sticking out of a man made dune. That’s a little gimmicky. The 10th gets a lot of complaints from my playing partners. The bitch of it is that you’re typically stuffing your face with something delicious from the turn. That quick loss in focus will lead to a quick bogey or worse on the tough par four. 11 may be the signature hole to many golfers – hi MGL Bill – as it is the 650 yard par 5 that plays back down to the lake. The forest to your left frames the view quite nicely with the rolling hills to the right of the fairway. It isn’t my favorite hole. The fairway will allow shots to run out but you’ll be just over 300 some yards still with no reason to consider hitting anything but a 200 yard shot for your layup. I like options. This hole doesn’t give you many.

The 12th is a show stopper. You can go big or small off the tee and still have a scoring club in your hand. Of the 3 prior images shown above, this hole is the first two of them. The hole (which was originally the 16th) plays near 400 yards from the back with a huge fairway that you can’t see much of from the tee. That’s a nice feature by itself, but the big lake and 200 foot drop to your left will get your heart pumping. There’s no missing left. The height  alone at the teeing ground has made me grip my driver a little tighter than I should. This is my favorite hole on the course. It is Arcadia.

The 13th hole above is no slouch. It is a 240 yard par 3 that plays over a ravine with Lake Michigan to your left. It often plays into the wind. In the first handful of times I played it I hit a hybrid and might have hit the green once. I might have parred it twice. It is a bitch. When I was there last October, and took most of the pictures you see in this post, we played it at 205 and it was downwind. That’s much more fair but I enjoy the challenge it presents from any 200+ yardage. The green is huge but it is the most firm on the course in my mind because it gets a lot of sun and wind. It has no protection.

The 14th begins to route you back up the hills toward the clubhouse again. Those closing holes are good, and interesting, and 16 is another hard long par 4, but the pizzazz of the round has left you now that the lake holes are behind you. I often wonder if they had a mulligan on the design if they’d find a way to have the clubhouse closer to the lake to allow you to finish your round near it. Overall, any complaining on the layout and the views are nitpicking. I love the place. It is easy to give Arcadia a perfect 5 in this category.

Score: 5.0

Conditioning

In a nutshell, the conditions are good but not great. The super here must be damn good. The place has a packed tee sheet, rain or shine, from the day it opens until Halloween. That’s their entire season. With that much traffic, and 99% of them using a cart, it is amazing the place is a pristine as it is. The contours of the fairway also make for several collection areas which means you’ll see sections that are littered with divots You can’t overcome that with maintenance. It is what it is.

The greens, while huge and undulating, would be impossible to maintain at most resort style course with high traffic but Arcadia doesn’t have any issue doing so. They’re really good and they aren’t too soft, too firm, or too bumpy. They’re just right and I think they are somewhat easy to read because the exaggerations in the slopes make the break obvious. The score here is a tough one to give. I can’t give it a 5 because it just isn’t perfect.

Score: 4.5

Value

For most of the 19 years Arcadia has been in existence the rack rate greens fee has been $180. In 2018 that has moved to $195. That’s a pretty good rate for a top 100 golf course (#68 in the U.S. in 2018 by Golf Digest). Whistling Straits across the lake isn’t as good of a course, in my opinion, and they charge double. That being said, most things in Northern Michigan present some value as the cost of living in the area is much lower than the nearest big cities of Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

In the last decade the club has added a lodge and several cottages so that they can now accommodate a buddy trip of any size. The rooms are plush and they won’t kill your wallet. The restaurant is top notch and if you don’t go deep on the wine list you’ll find yourself satisfied with your meal and your bill.

If you don’t live too far away and you can pick your spots, you’ll also find that some of Arcadia’s shoulder season rates are more than fair. The greens are typically aerated around October 1. The rate after that is half the price. We played on near perfect greens that were fully healed from aeration in late October and got lucky with a 74 degree day. It likely snowed on the property 3 days later. FYI, you’ll never see a discount rate from Arcadia on Golfnow or similar sites as they just don’t do that, nor do they need to.

Score: 4.5

Service/Pace

They do it right at the Bluffs. The bag guys, the shop staff, bartender, cart girl, rangers, starter, etc. They’re all top notch. My group on my last trip included two low single digit players and a 16. We played the tips and the 16 didn’t check his ego so he did the same. Homie teed it up high on the first and went right under it as the tee backed up due to groups having to wait for the green to clear on the short par 5. A starter at most places would have lost their shit right there. I looked over after the whiffed shot from our hack. The starter’s eyes got big, his eyebrows jumped off his face, but he said nothing. I assured him we’d keep the chopper moving along. Kudos to him for not being a dick to a guy that was a little nervous playing with the big boys.

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For as good as the service is, the pace is pretty bad. Plan on 5 hours when you’re here. How can it be any other way when the tee sheet is always full, the wind always blows, and everyone wants to stop and take pictures along the way? The good news is you don’t notice it much because the views and service are so damn good. I swear the cart girl came out of the tall grass near the fairway every time we had to wait. And yes, she was smoking hot.

Score: 4.5

Amenities

As I noted above, Arcadia now has plenty of options for lodging. The accommodations in the lodge rival what you’d find at any 4 star hotel. The work out facilities are new and shiny if you’re a health nut. And the cottages have full kitchens, with grills, and great spaces for watching the ball game and playing cards for your evening activities.

Dining

That is a shot from their new-ish bar behind the proshop. It is a choice place to settle your bets and load up on booze. It has a nice selection of local Michigan beers to sample. The bad news is that it isn’t right out on the back porch where you’ll find a plethora of Adirondack chairs aimed at the sunset and the 18th green. There’s no better spot in Michigan to end a golfing day, smoke a cigar, and give your buddies shit as they putt out on the final green.

The Lodge

The range is good to great. The short game practice area is one of the best you’ll see and it even has a sod wall bunker to give you a taste of the big course. They have caddies available but you’ll have to call ahead for those because they are seldom used. Up until 2018 the only thing Arcadia didn’t have was much nightlife and a 2nd course. With the South course on its way you can check one of those off the list. My only knock in this category is that there’s no nearby strip club, casino, or other evening activity to scratch my itch for debauchery.

Score: 4.5

Difficulty

Arcadia Bluffs isn’t fun for the 20+ handicapper, but if they want to spend the money and frustrate themselves and everyone else in their group, fine. On the other hand, the course is about as much fun as you can have if you can hit a drive moderately straight, over 175 yards in the air, and are better than a bogey golfer. There’s a tee for everyone. Don’t go to the tips if you’re aren’t a 5 or better that can get it out there 275+. That’s not the place for 95% of golfers. If you pick the right tees and bring your A game you can score here. Embrace the wind, realize not every result is going to be perfect, and have fun.

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Per usual, this rating isn’t based on a 5 being “way too hard”. I’m rating a course a 5 when I’d say it’s playable and enjoyable, but not easy, for players of all levels. The Bluffs course at Arcadia Bluffs is too hard for true chopper and it presents a great challenge for the single digit index if they don’t play it too short. Some of the holes are a little tricked up, but there’s nothing too over the top or unfair. I’ve noted how big the greens and fairways are. Like most courses in the top 100, Arcadia was built for championship golf as well as every day play. It has a high slope and course rating for a reason yet it is fun, creative, and unlike the type of golf you’re playing on a weekly basis back home. Next time you’re planning a trip, think Pure Michigan and think Arcadia.

Score: 4.0

Composite

The composite score from all categories above for the Bluffs course comes out to one of the best I’ve given and is in the company of Kapalua’s Plantation Course and Torrey Pines (South). That’s pretty fair as both of those venues are also destination courses with great service, views, and amenities to complete your experience with them. Don’t pass up the Arcadia experience, instead, find a way to get there.

Score: 4.5

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My Dream Eighteen – Inward Nine (Part II)

A Long Walk Home

Hopefully you read my previous post so you have a clue of what is going on here. If not, hit the link and figure it out. On to the inward nine of my Dream 18 otherwise. Hit the halfway house, eat a wiener, and let’s go.

#10 – Inverness – 363 yards, par 4

Are you asking “why this hole” right now? I still kind of am doing that too. The fact is there just aren’t many great 10th holes in our great game. Name one that isn’t Pebble Beach. Go ahead, I’ll wait. And whatever you come up with I probably haven’t played so I can’t use it in this exercise. Nonetheless the 10th at Toledo’s most famous course is an original Donald Ross that plays along the 1st hole down into a fold in the land where the green waits for you.

It is short and strategic off the tee and offers a scoring opportunity to start the 2nd nine as you’ll likely have some kind of wedge into the hole. The 1st and 10th tees at Inverness are mowed together and hug the practice putting green to make a very cool setting near the clubhouse. That alone is worth anointing it has my 1st hole to the home nine of my dream course.

#11 – Cog Hill No. 4. (Dubdread) – 607 yards, par 5

If there is a weak stretch to my course it is the 10th, 11th, and 12th holes. They’re great holes but they’re understated. Cog Hill No. 4 has several holes better than the 11th but there aren’t a ton of other 11th holes that fit the need I have for a par 5 on this side and I’d hate to leave out Rees Jones’ redesigned Dubsdread that I played plenty while living around Chicagoland.

The flyover shows the 11th in all its glory. At 600+ yards it is a true 3 shot hole for us mortals. Before the redesign it played closer to 550 and was reachable under the right conditions. The sub-air system at Cog will provide you with plenty of roll and you shouldn’t play the back tee anyway, but you’re still not getting there in 2. That makes the layup very strategic as you have to play smart and short of the bunkers and play to the correct side of the short grass to give yourself a good angle at the pin. The shaved area behind the green is no bueno if you’re long and the pin is back. All that being said, this hole is usually an easy 5 with the option for 4 if you don’t completely fuck it up. Get a birdie early on my 10th or 11th because they may be your last chance at a red number.

#12 – Medinah No. 3 – 476 yards, par 4

I love this hole and think it may be the best hole that isn’t a par 3 on the number three course. It has length and uses natural topography to challenge players hitting a mid to long iron into a smallish green. You probably won’t have a level lie to strike your 2nd shot from into that green either. The hole takes you away from Route 20 and back toward the clubhouse along an inlet of Lake Kadijah that was dug out during one of many redesigns and restoration projects that have occurred at Medinah. The current 12th was actually the 16th hole at one point back in the in not too distant past.

The angle shown in the image above isn’t a camera trick. That’s an accurate representation of how much the hole slants from left to right down toward the water hazard. The green is at the top of the hill near the upper left corner of the photo. Missing the green right, or even hitting the right side of the green depending on conditions, can result in the ball running all the way down to the edge of the rough along the hazard. I think the hole could be improved by shaving that 2nd cut down to fairway length but what do I know?

#13 – Arcadia Bluffs – 240 yards, par 3

The holes along the water at Northern Michigan’s Arcadia Bluffs rival any course in the United States that isn’t on the Pacific Ocean for aesthetic beauty.  The 13th is the par 3 of that stretch that makes you catch your breath as you hit over a ravine that leads down to the beach 250 feet below your target. Once you calm down and focus at the task at hand it hits you that you’re trying to hit a feathery soft 240 yard shot into a howling wind off the big lake.

I’ve played this hole once from a tee other than the 240 yard marker and it wasn’t any easier. The green is huge but even hitting it doesn’t guarantee a 3. The green complex doesn’t allow for you to run a shot up on to it so forget that idea. Commit to your club selection. Commit to your swing. Aim between the two bunkers near the right side of the green and accept the result no matter what and you’ll be fine. All that is of course easier said than done.

#14 – Forest Dunes – 464 yards, par 4

Staying in Northern Michigan, the 14th at Forest Dunes begins a closing stretch of five par 4s that would thrill golfers of all skill levels. Like many of the other courses included in my Dream 18 posts, Forest Dunes has several holes that I favor over the one I’ve selected for my routing. What I mean is, there isn’t a single other 14th hole that I can use based on the courses I’ve already selected and I don’t want to leave Forest Dunes out. The course is too damn good from start to finish. Fourteen on the original course at Forest Dunes is the longest par 4 on the property. It forces you to (typically) hit a mid to long iron into a very skinny and narrow green. Marshland protects the left side of the hole all the way through the green.

The fairway provides a big target to hit off the tee but that isn’t always apparent when you’re standing on the back box. The tall grass in front of you conceals how much fairway is out there. A bunker on the right side comes up fast if you rip it 285+ so there’s that to think about too. That being said, hit the fairway and put a good swing on your approach and you may have a shot at a 3. I’ve made a few here because a broken clock is correct twice a day too.

#15 – Erin Hills – 370 yards, par 4

The last short hole of my routing is the dramatic 15th at Erin Hills. All I have to say to get you to remember this hole from the 2017 U.S. Open is “Justin Thomas”. You didn’t forget that 3 wood he hit to nearly ace the hole on Saturday on his way to a course record 63, did you? Thomas did that with the tee moved up to 288 yards. That’s part of the charm of the hole, you can place the tee anywhere within an 80 yard range every day of a championship and it is still going to thrill the fans, scare the players, and allow anything from a 2 to a 7 on the scorecard.

What makes the hole great for me is the green complex. The green is psychedelic by itself but when you add in the perch it sits on that is complete shaved all the way around it gives the players a buffet of options and ways to play the hole. The 15th was a star at the U.S. Open as well as at the 2011 U.S. Amateur. Kudos to the USGA for being creative with how it plays. The tree you see to the left above doesn’t really come into play on the hole but it is the most noticeable one on the grounds of Erin Hills and helps to make this a signature hole.

#16 – Oakland Hills (South) – 406 yards, par 4

Hogan called the South course at Oakland Hills a monster, but one of the shortest holes on its exhausting back nine makes my routing. The 16th has been famous for years thanks to major championship heroics from Hogan, Gary Player, and Padraig Harrington. Its also one of only two holes on the Monster where water comes into play.

 

The tee shot is rather benign but after that the hole can and will eat your lunch if you lose focus for a nanosecond. I had a great angle from the fairway and a nine iron in my hand and still didn’t have the balls to fire at the flag over the lake. A pull to dry land isn’t a disaster but your short game will be tested and pitching the ball long back into the hazard is never off the table.

#17 – Kapalua (Plantation) – 549 yards, par 4

Don’t let that number on the scorecard fool you. First, it isn’t a par 5. That isn’t a typo. Second, it doesn’t play anywhere near 549 yards. And third, you’ll probably never play the 17th at the Plantation course from that yardage. The typical wind at Kapalua is behind you on 17 and you’re hitting down the good side of an old volcano. With that in mind, hit anything remotely solid and you’ll hit one of the longest drives of your life on this hole.

Enjoy that and regain your focus because the 2nd shot can make or break you. Depending on the tee you play, wind strength, direction, and conditions you’ll have anywhere from 240 to 180 yards left into 17. From there you’re trying to hit a longer club off a down hill lie over a giant gorge. Thank god it isn’t all carry and there’s plenty of room to bail out short and right of the green. That’s the smart play because most balls hit in that general area will funnel on to or near the green and make a par 4 an obtainable goal.

#18 – Butler National – 484 yards, par 4

Holes 12 to 18 on my course give you one true birdie opportunity at 15. There’s certainly no let up at 18 where you’ll find Butler National’s famed closing hole. The hole was most know for its trademark “Y” shaped tree in the middle of the fairway but the tree was lost about a decade a go and the club decided not to replace it. While it was memorable it was a bit unfair to hit one right down the middle and be stymie right behind it. All things must change and evolve I suppose.

Without the tree the hole is still a bear to make par on. There’s trouble if you miss the fairway to either side and the rough is lush enough to the point where you don’t want to try to advance a 200 yard shot out of it over the hazard that guards the green.  The hole is demanding and full of strategy. My only complaint is that the closing hole at a club as prestigious as Butler should have the clubhouse and/or some kind of 19th hole nearby for spectating.

Inward Nine – 3959 yards, par 36

There you have it, my Dream 18 of holes I’ve played laid out in the order they appear at their course of origin. The result is a glorious par 71 that beats you up but makes it fun along its 7300+ yards. How did I do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below with your critiques and submissions of your own holes or courses. Don’t be shy and don’t forget, sharing is caring.

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My Dream Eighteen – Outward Nine (Part I)

Inspired, If You Can Call It That

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the Dream 18 concept. I first read about a similar concept as a kid when I was becoming a young golf nerd. The book that detailed a dream eighteen holes was the New World Atlas of Golf. Someone gave it to my dad and I’m not sure he ever read it like I did – which was cover to cover, backwards and frontwards, 764 times. If you know the book you know what it looks like.

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I still have it and reference it from time to time even though it is dated. Last week Golf Channel’s Morning Drive started a discussion of their own Dream 18. Matt Ginella and Geoff Shackelford put up their lists and the debate began. Ginella’s was Monterey-centric as it included every hole at Pebble Beach from 6 to 10 and also 18. Shack’s were largely from the links courses of Scotland. Matt kept his holes in order where 18 at Pebble still had to be 18 on his list. Shack put his holes all over the map. Nice lists, but too many from the same courses and too many that most of us haven’t played.

I’ve never been to Pebble. I’ve never been to Scotland. But I was inspired by the concept Morning Drive discussed and decided to come up with my own course. Here are my parameters: no doubling up on courses – meaning one hole from each course; I have to have played it; and they have to keep their assigned hole number in my 18 as they are in their real life courses. I’m a man of integrity after all. It sounds simple but it gets a little difficult to actually pull off if you want to come up with a par 70+ golf course. I pressed on and came up with my Dream 18 based on these constraints. The result is a glorious 7,333 yard par 71 track that stretches from Maui to Long Island. This post is part 1 of a 2 post series. On to the first nine:

#1 – Franklin Hills – 451 yards, par 4 

The venerable, but mostly Jewish, Franklin Hills Country Club starts off with one of the best 1st holes in golf. The tee shot is elevated and allows for you to bomb one down from just in front of the starter shack to a generous fairway and green. From the tips you’ll have mid-iron or less in and give yourself a good chance at par with a birdie reward for a well struck 2nd shot and a good roll with your putter.

Since the great tree removal project at Franklin occurred in the last few years the first tee now gives you a better look at the rest of the golf course. Your entire round here is enjoyable (even more so once you realize your putts generally break toward 13 Mile) and the tone is set with a great 1st hole.

#2 – Whistling Straits (Straits) – 592 yards, par 5

Number 2 on Pete Dye’s most famous Kohler, Wisconsin design probably isn’t a hole many of you think of when you think of Whistling Straits. That’s part of the rub in this concept. You can only use a single hole from any course. It makes you picky. And it means other holes at the Straits that are more revered get left on the cutting room floor.

Watch the video. That’s the best par 5 on this championship layout that has hosted 3 PGA Championships and a Senior U.S. Open. The pot bunker 40 yards short of the green is a motherfucker if you’re thinking about going for it in two. The views down the left and long aren’t too shabby either.

#3 – Torrey Pines (South) – 200 yards, par 3

Any Dream 18 is going to include a few signature holes and the 3rd at Torrey Pines South course is the first one that pops up on my list. 200 yards plays more like 180. The green is huge but the view is distracting. I snapped this pic on my way to the Rose Bowl just a few years ago.

What else needs to be said about it? The hole gets covered plenty during early coverage of the Farmer’s tournament but because it is the third hole is doesn’t have a ton of history. It doesn’t need it and is glorious without.

#4 – Baltusrol (Lower) – 194 yards, par 3

Let me be the first to say that back to back par 3s is a bad idea on any real golf course. But this is a dream and I can do it anyway I want. Baltusrol’s Lower course has a stack of historic, classic A.W. Tillinghast holes but I can only pick one from the great New Jersey course and this has to be it.

Robert T. Jones redesigned this gem back in the 1950s and the members complained that it was too hard. So he went out and teed one up and aced it. No shit. I believe Jones hit a 4 wood for his famous 1. Most professionals were swinging 7 irons there in the 2016 PGA. I think I hit a 5 and a 6 iron the two times I played it. Yes the game has changed but the 4th hole on Baltusrol’s Lower course maybe the best 4th hole in the world. Note – this was the lone hole from the New World Atlas of Golf Book (mentioned above) that made my list.

#5 – Bethpage (Black) – 478 yards, par 4

Speaking of Tilly, golf nerds refer to his 5th hole at Bethpage Black as the quintessential Tillinghast hole because it benefits a player who can work the ball in opposite directions from their tee shot to their approach. Off the tee the 5th hole favors a gentle fade. From the fairway up to the elevated green a draw would be required to find any pin on the left half of the green.

The tee is much more elevated than the picture above shows. I wish I could have found a flyover of this beauty. When I first played it in 2002 it was 455 yards. For the 2009 U.S. Open a tee was added to make it play closer to 480. That back tee forces a near 280 yard carry over the last bunker on the right. You’ve got that, right? The elevated green is also firm and shallow. I think in 2002 I hit an 8 iron in and found it to be fair. In 2006 from 30 yards back my 5 iron approach didn’t hold the same. You will have earned a par here if you get to write one down on your card.

#6 – Point O’Woods – 444 yards, par 4

Point O’Woods hosted the Western Golf Association’s Western Amateur for nearly 25 years. Greats like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Justin Leonard won the event at P.O.W. While the first 5 holes are rather getable for players of Phil and Tiger’s caliber, the fun at this legendary Southwest Michigan R.T. Jones design begins at the 6th hole. When I’ve played it the firm fairway conditions have typically allowed for a scoring iron approach shot. That wasn’t the case when the course was designed in the 1950s.

Short iron or not, that narrow green you see above makes the 6th anything but a pushover. I pulled a sand wedge from 135 into the left bunker and made a 6 without hitting a shot that I was really pissed out. The right side of the hole once featured the old log cabin home of Pro-Emeritus, Sam Drake. His dwelling was removed a few years after Drake’s death.

#7 – Crystal Downs – 335 yards, par 4

There have been books written about the 7th at Crystal Downs. Ok, not really, but the short par 4 with the boomerang shaped green will make a golf architecture nerd hard quicker than a Vegas hooker could.

I love the hole because of all the options it gives the player. On the day the picture above was taken my partner laid back off the tee by hitting a 200 yard 6 iron that left him a flat stance in the fairway. I hit driver into the middle bunker you see in the side of the hill about 50 yards short of the green. I had to hit a miracle chip to a left hole location to save par. My partner flagged a pitching wedge to 3 feet, made birdie, and won us the hole. You can make a 2 or a 7 on this classic Alister MacKenzie design no matter how you play it. I could talk about the green for another 3 paragraphs but I’ll keep this brief. It is subtle yet insane, but soooo much fun.

#8 – The Dunes – 515 yards, par 5

The best 9 hole course in the world has to have one of the best holes in the world, right? Legendary writer Dan Jenkins thinks it does. That hole would be the 8th at the Dunes.

The short par 5 plays anything but unless you know its secret. A large waste area covers the hole from 255 yards from the back tee to about 330 yards. In other words you either hit it 254 or 331. There’s nothing in between. That being said, most players lay back and it becomes a 3 shot hole. Your layup 2nd shot becomes very important. Lay up too short and you’re blocked by a tree on the corner of the dogleg. Too far right and an over-hanging tree can be in your line. 75 to 90 yards short is about right but to get there you have to hit a pure 225 yard shot with accuracy. 2nd shot layups aren’t that tough on any other 3 shot hole I’ve played.

What’s the secret of the hole? If you can carry it 270 or so you can hit it down the 5th fairway and go for the green in 2. That doesn’t take anything away from the hole for me. I look at that as a secret you have to unlock. The club caddies don’t seem to want to put the idea in your head for some reason.

#9 – Kingsley Club – 165 yards, par 3

Ahhhhh Kingsley. I love this place. And I love about 6 other holes here as much as I love the 9th. But the 9th is truly unique for a hole that looks almost like you could throw it on the green from the tee. When you leave the 8th green a sign points you to either the south or east tee that is being used for the day. The south plays shorter at 135 or so. The sets of tees are 90 degrees apart. The hole is very much exposed to the northern Michigan winds. And the fun as only started because you’re not to the green yet.

That picture above is from the east tee and gives you a sense of the contour on the greens. You have to use the banks to get it close but a smart shot to the correct depth will allow you to snuggle it in tight or even make an ace. Miss the green and do your best to make bogey and move on to the 10th. She’s a motherfucker but she’s fair with a wedge or short iron. I’ve heard the club now has a 225 yard tee behind the original east tee box. I can’t imagine they use it much. The green is too small and a shot with a long iron into it would be insanity. However, I’d like to be invited back to give it a try.

Outward Nine – 3374 yards, par 35

On to the inward nine. Part II coming soon.

 

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It Isn’t the Ball

A ≠ C But A+B+Dx5 Does = C

Did I lose you already? Good. Hang in there. Ok, so I haven’t posted in 3 months and you’re wondering what has drawn me out of my cave of hibernation to do so on the biggest bar night of the year. Well, I’m sober as a church mouse so it isn’t the booze, for once. With the USGA announcing they’re looking into taking measures to roll back or limit how far the golf ball goes the interwebs are a buzz with opinions on the matter. What you see from Golf Twitter and other forums is that something has to be done because precious courses like Augusta National, St. Andrews, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach will become obsolete if we don’t roll back the ball. Slow your roll, folks. As America’s Pro – Michael Breed of the Golf Fix – points out, there are several other factors that have made golfers hit it further over the last 20+ years. The golf ball is only a small factor.

I agree with all of that, Trackman technology is another you could add to that list as it allows for precise refinement in launch conditions. I also think that agronomy is over looked too much as a variable. I see Tour pros get 65 yards of roll compared to the 2 yards I get on my home course. Can someone show me the increase in roll out yards from the tee over the last decade? The Tour courses play firm and fast and are prepped to be that way for months before a tournament. Public courses I play are over watered so they look good to the guy that just paid $80 to play on Saturday morning.

On top of what Michael has pointed out, check out this data from Golfweek’s David Dusek:

Club head speed going up is a big deal. When you look at a decade’s worth of driving distance data on Tour you can see that it has gone up, but it isn’t a huge amount within 5 to 7 year segments. It is only large over 20 years. That doesn’t scream “problem” to me. When you see the club head speed numbers going up over a decade that explains the distance gains more than companies “improving” their balls. In 2002 the numbers were about 110 mph and 161 mph for club ball speed. The trend is there. And that has nothing to do with improvements to the ball. Fitness and other equipment improving are much bigger factors which are exacerbated in the numbers produced by highly skilled pros.

In the same 15 years from 2002 to 2017 my handicap has ranged from +1 to 3 and is currently a 1. I play about 50 rounds a year down from nearly 100 in 2002. I’m still in my 30s and haven’t lost muscle mass yet. My club head speed is within 1 mph hour of what it was in 2002. Ball speed is similar. I still play the same irons from 2002. I hit my irons nearly the exact same distance that I did 15 years ago. Where’s the extra distance I’m supposed to be getting with the so-called ball that goes too far?

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I’d bet dollars to donuts that if I spent money on some refined training techniques, fitness, and new irons I’d start hitting my 7 iron 185 instead of 170. Is the ball better? Yes. Is the ball the problem? No. Is there a solution? Probably not. The cat is out of the bag. The USGA limits the COR on a driver so perhaps they can come up with a similar measure on the ball to hold it in its place but it won’t go backward. There’s too much money in play for that to happen. In the meantime, tell anyone that will listen that they need to bark up a different tree and find a new argument to save St. Andrews from the nuclear bomb that is the newest Pro V1 (sarcasm). Golf will be fine, some people just need to complain and try to govern things they can’t control. Let them get it out of their system and move on.

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Its John Deere Week, You Know What That Means…

It Means I’m Re-Blogging My TPC John Deere Course Review

An oldie but a goodie, here’s my 2013 post reviewing my trip to TPC Deere Run in 2009. Enjoy.

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Course Review: The Loop at Forest Dunes

Forest Dunes (The Loop, Red Routing) – Roscommon, MI (Architect: Tom Doak)

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Background

Forest Dunes’ 3rd owner finally figured out how to make money at his gem of a facility and decided to invest some of it back into a 2nd golf course. He turned the design over to world famous architect Tom Doak because TD sold him on his idea for the first reversible golf course in the United States. After Doak waived his magic wand, pushed some sand with a dozer, and sprinkled in some fescue seed, the Loop at Forest Dunes opened for play in June of 2016. The original course at Forest Dunes set the bar very high for for me so needless to say I was a bit excited to get on the Loop for the first time in May. In 2016 the course was only open to preview play, meaning guests staying at the Forest Dunes resort. In 2017 the public can make tee times a week in advance. The Loop is a walking only course that plays clockwise one day and counter clockwise the next. The different paths of play are known as Red and Black.

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You read that right. On a Monday you could play the Red course, which would start you off the first tee and play to the first green for that routing. On Tuesday you would play the Black course, which tees off in the other direction, down a different fairway, where your first green was your 17th the day before. I’ll go out on a limb and guess you’ve never played anything like that in your life.

From what I understand, Doak has always wanted to create a course like the Loop because he’s intimately aware that St. Andrews used to be played that way. What Doak set out to do at the Loop was accomplished and now gives the original Forest Dunes course a sibling across the street worthy of being in the same family. The vibe of the Loop smacks you right in the face as soon as you drop a ball on the fescue putting green. It sounds like someone just kicked a coffin. The greens are rock hard and meant to play that way. They’re top dressed regularly and watered only enough to keep them from dying. What lays ahead of you for the day from the first tee on feels a bit like a game of croquet being played in a neighbor’s yard.

Layout/Scenery

As you make your way across the parking lot and main drive way from the Forest Dunes clubhouse you find yourself at the caddie shack of the Loop. If you’re taking a jock, pro jock, you’ll meet your looper there and be told the routing in play for the day. On the day I visited Loop players were working with the counter clockwise routing of the Red course. If you’re looking at the 18th green, that would be to the right, nearest tee to the caddie shack. The holes are framed with fescue and some trees and brush outside of the mowed area, however, they don’t have the traditional shape you see on most courses. At the Loop most holes are laid out in a rectangular shape, like a back yard. I’ve only seen this before on certain Seth Raynor designs and Onwentsia in the Chicago area. This feature was most prominent on the Red’s 13th hole (not pictured below).

I later recalled that Doak was involved in late 1990s renovation to Onwentsia and think he might have brought some of those visuals to the Loop. That look also works well when you need to be able to play the holes in opposite directions every other day. The bunkers and fairway ribbons that traverse the square look still leave plenty for the eye to take in regarding how the hole is framed.

 

There’s nothing boring about the layout. Both routings take you in different directions so you’ll rarely play the same shot with the same wind. The mix of holes is fantastic. You’ll play a little bit of everything in long par 4s, short par 3s, long par 5s, short par 4s, long par 3s, and short par 5s. They’re all a treat. The shot above of my father-in-law playing the short par 3 sixth hole on the Red. From the back tee it might measure 125 yards, but it is no picnic. The green has different sections to play to and you’d be wise to use the natural contours of the green complex to snuggle the ball in close. We both did but walked away only with pars. You can also get a better look at the most recent top dressing that occurred 5 days earlier in that image.

What you see above is the typical look of a hole at the Loop. We played it about a month into the short northern Michigan golf season so the longer natural grass wasn’t all the way up yet and there were still trees with minimal leaves. I’m sure the property looks better in the fall when the longer grass is bronzed on the top and the trees are at peak fall foliage. There’s not water in play and no dramatic views so if I have a knock on any part of the layout it is the lack of scenery. The golf itself is a purists dream.

Score: 4.5

Conditioning

Firm, fast, and more firm. That’s what you get at the Loop. A typical 100 yard wedge shot from the fairway should be played like a 90 yard shot. 200 yards into the wind, hit your 200 yard club because the fucker is going to roll up on the green even after the wind kills it 15 yards short of the front edge. The sand based soil, fescue fairways, and bent grass greens with mucho top dressing provide you with an experience you’re probably unfamiliar with. That style of play takes a few holes to get used to but it also allows for you to be creative with your shots and play the ground game you don’t ever practice. Good luck with that.

The course is only a year old so it isn’t plush yet and to keep the rugged feel that I believe Doak wants here I don’t think you’ll ever look at the Loop as you do its perfectly manicured sibling that shares the same mailing address. That being said, the fescue fairways never left me with a bad lie.

The greens on the other hand were a bit of a conversation starter in our group. We all knew what we were getting into with how firm they are, but I think they’re pushing a very fine line. The course received almost an inch of rain the day before we played it and we still barely made ball marks. On the 8th hole I hit a pitching wedge from the fairway into the wind that released 35 feet to the back fringe. I played for 20 feet of that roll out and still only had a 12 foot putt, but yikes.

I’d like to give a score for conditioning of “incomplete” because of the newness of the track, but will forge ahead with a numeric score nonetheless. I was impressed with the fescue grasses and like the intent they’re going for on the greens. If they take the harsh edges off the greens, like dial the firmness back from 9.9 to 8, I think they’ll have it about perfect. Until then I can’t go much higher than a 4 because I did see a few trouble spots that looked out of place after a morning mow as a well as some long, healthy fescue a yard off the fairway that was nearly unfair thanks to being over watered.

Score: 4.0

Value

The original Forest Dunes course has a rack rate of $149. I think that’s a decent value considering several publications rank it as a top 100 golf course. I don’t think the Loop will ever achieve the same lofty status as its sibling, but it is a unique course and a great 2nd fiddle. Golf Digest just ranked it the 6th best course in Michigan with the first course being number 4. Not too shabby. That being said, it isn’t a great value at the $149 rate they want. Throw in a caddie fee and you’re well over $200. I liked it, but I’m not paying that freight for that course.

Now, shoulder season rates in May, early June, September and October….I’m in. Those are about $90 and if you don’t take a pro jock and carry your own bag there’s no other fee added on. Remember, no carts!

Score: 3.5

Service/Pace

Because I didn’t take a caddie I can’t say if they’re any good. The rest of the staff at FD is everything you’d expect at a 5 star course. The starter is more than helpful, but he should be as he only sees about 12 groups a day right now, and the beverage cart girls do all they can to sell you whatever you need from their parked carts along your walk. Yes, they don’t even allow the beverage carts on the course.

If I can complain about anything it is that the halfway house was closed behind the 9th green. I have no idea why other than they had so few groups scheduled to play. But at the rates you pay there someone should be working it just for 1 group on the course.

Because there’s no groups on the course to clog things up the pace is whatever you make of it. Three of us walked, two of us were in the push cart mafia, and I carried. We made it around in 4:10 with my dad taking his sweet time and me waiting out a 5 minute rain delay on the 18th green (I left rain gear in the car!).

Score: 4.5

Amenities

The facilities at Forest Dunes are 2nd to none. They have one of the best practice ranges I’ve ever used. The short game area is fantastic. A caddie program. Oh, and they’re bringing back their natural grass putting course soon! Now throw in a great restaurant, fantastic proshop, cottages, new lodges…..what more could you want?

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Hopefully nothing because there is nothing. The Forest Dunes property is in the middle of nowhere. The small town of Roscommon nearby doesn’t give you much either unless you feel like getting a bite at Fred’s and bowling if your golf is washed out. No strip clubs. No good bars. No night life. Just you and your buddies hanging out at two great golf courses among the wildlife. Enjoy it.

Score: 4.5

Difficulty

From the back tee the Loop’s rating is just over 71 on a par 70 and it plays about 6700 yards. Unless the wind is really blowing, which it can, there’s nothing a 0-15 handicapper can’t handle off the tee. Your 2nd shot is where you start to think, and overthink, or not think at all. You’re figuring yardages to the front and playing to that number. Miss a green, now you’re in a pressure cooker. The severely undulating greens that are concrete hard put a lot of stress on anyone’s short game. I usually make my money from 100 yards and in and pitching around the green. Good luck with that at the Loop, especially seeing it for the first time.

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While I noted above that there’s no tee shot that should scare you here, you’ll find plenty that don’t exactly fit your eye. Because of the lack of framing or a true target you can have trouble getting aligned properly on the tee. There’s no mowed tee boxes. There’s just 3 sets of tees in large fairway areas. They can be placed almost anywhere. Some are not exactly put in flat spots. Now picture that kind of space, getting square to a target, and trying to rip your tee shot through the wind and keep it out of the long shit. All those factors will fuck with you.

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Per usual, this rating isn’t based on a 5 being “way too hard”. I’m rating a course a 5 when I’d say it’s playable and enjoyable, but not easy, for players of all levels. There are no forced carries and I don’t think anyone in my group had a penalty stroke. My dad who plays to about a 12 scored well from the middle tees. My FIL and myself were a little bit above our averages. The Loop gives players of all levels a chance to score, but it will make a good player earn a good score too. The only reason I didn’t give it a 5 here is for the concrete greens. Firm is good, but too firm is dangerous, and too difficult for the average player.

Score: 4.5

Composite

My expectations of the Loop were pretty high thanks to my trips around the original Forest Dunes course. The Loop mostly met my expectations and the composite score came out to the very same rating as its sibling. That being said, I’d probably play the original course 7 out of 10 times now that I’ve seen them both. I plan on coming back for another look at the Loop and the Black routing sometime in 2017. Perhaps that return trip will give me a different opinion and I’ll revise some ratings.

Score:  4.25 (out of 5)

That final score is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve given lower scores to higher ranked tracks. Anytime you have a chance to play either FD course you should do it, but I’d recommend playing the Loop 2nd to the original course only because the first course gives you the true Forest Dunes experience. Shit, just stay there for a long weekend and play them both twice. You can’t go wrong.

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