Postcard From Streamsong

On a recent buddies trip we had 16 guys spend four invigorating days at Streamsong, the destination golf resort in central Florida.  Streamsong has it all, three supreme golf courses, a couple of happy hour extras in a 6-hole approach and putt course as well as a massive recreational putting green,  a wonderful upscale hotel with all the accommodation elements you would expect, and food that far surpassed our buddy trip standards.

Streamsong sits in the middle of nowhere on thousands of acres of what used to be a major phosphate mining operation.  The owners realized that, with the insight of the game’s top design teams,  the sandy soil along with the topographical remains of the mining operation could be made into a bunch of very unique walking golf courses that are anything but Florida typical.

Typical vista from the the Black Course…..Dorothy can you believe this is Florida?

In 2012 the placed opened with the first two courses, the Blue Course by Tom Doak and the Red Course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw making an immediate splash to rave reviews.  Having clocked over 30,000 rounds each of these two layouts, the owners opened the Gil Hanse Black Course in the fall of 2017 and it may just be the best of the three of them.

The hotel has everything you want in a destination resort-fine restaurants, health club, spa, swimming pool, clay shooting, fishing, hiking, and some pretty good golf.  The added bonus, a very casual atmosphere where you don’t need much more than golf casual to do anything you want during your stay.

Howard with the catch of the day…..there is a big story to go with this of course!

This wide mouth greets you at the end of the hall near the Health Club and Spa

The dining covers all genres with great aptitude-supporting libations as well

The golf is what you come for and there is plenty of it.  Set up for walking you better come with your golf legs fit for action because these are not your typical flat Florida tracks riddled with man-made water hazards.  The caddies are a must because all three of these tracks have a wide, tactical character, similar to what you would encounter in Bandon Dunes or across the pond.  It is way more than just knowing how far it is to the pin.

Doak’s Blue begins off a precipice tee box-climbing up takes your breath away

So will the stunning view once you turn around

World Wide Weber, The Mish, A.I. Minkie, and The Koach strike the pose

More kulprits-Chop Stix, Billy B, Pete The Grass Maven, and Sol The Hunter

The rugged natural look that Doak reclaimed for the mining remains

You could swear you are in Ireland when you take in the pure drama from the high tee to the green nestled in the dunes on the Par 3 7th Hole

Once safe in the landing area of the Par 4 12th, it is anything but a simple approach across the hazard to stepped green complex with plenty of static

One last savory look…..the approach to the 443-yard finishing hole on the Blue

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are known for the minimalist approach of designing golf courses.  They really did not need to move lots of earth here to get a wild and natural look for the Red Course.

The Red opens up with a stunning look at the dunes and the waterways created in the old mining crevices

The green complex on the cape style Par 4 5th is set against a Wailing Wall of sand behind.  If you end up there you might as well leave a note in a crevice to your maker because up and down from there is highly unlikely

A 54-yard long sprawling green on the Par 3 6th has many pinable locations.  This day it was in the Clark Kent phone booth front behind the encroaching dune

Wildlife on a stroll….not an indication of pace of play issues……

Delectable provisions available at BBQ Shack at the turn…….

The postcard hole of the Red features this dramatic forced carry to the 16th

What you don’t see from the tee is the Biarratz dip in the middle of this 72-yard green which makes for an even steeper challenge with the pin in the back section

They opened the Gil Hanse/Jim Wagner Black Course in the fall of 2017 which added another dimension to what was already a fabulous selection of links-like courses.

As we have seen at other resorts they added a couple of Golf Happy Hour facilities to occupy the masses apres round.  At the Black you will find a 6-hole Approach and Putt Course as well as a massive recreational putting green called the Gauntlet.  It is not the Ladies Putting Course at St. Andrews but, with an adult beverage in hand, it does provide great entertainment possibilities.

Acres and acres of extreme putting challenges….with beverage holders

The Black is a long walk, almost seven miles, because of considerably more distance between greens and tees.  The caddies will tell you, it is actually an easier walk because the terrain is much more tempered then it’s Red and Blue Cousins.  The bunkering and sandy fairway surrounds on the Black have a very natural feel and, with a wee bit of wind, you could swear the Atlantic is just over the next rise.

Uphill approach to the short Par 4 second has full sand features

Devil’s orifice is the lone bunker in front of the 6th green…it is a doozie!!

As you come up the Par 4 9th, the signature windmill behind the green, which was reclaimed from the mining days, becomes your aiming point off the tee as well as into the blind punch bowl green.  It can be seen throughout the front nine and can be very helpful for ascertaining wind direction, which can be enigmatic considering there are very few trees along the way.

Driveable 14th….don’t go long of this extreme green or a 5 will be a difficult score to make…..

A meditative moment for The Mish before pulling the club on the 15th…..

The #1 Handicap Hole 16th presents multiple challenges…not the least of which is the carry over this mini Sahara to a sharply tilted green from the left

The finish on the Black is a stunning cape hole with all the fixins…..

Equally spectacular looking back up once you are done……

The Streamsong experience is one that all golf addicts should experience.  The quality of the courses makes it well worth the effort of getting there.

28 Shades of Cute

The Keepers held our 8th Annual First Tee Mentoring Outing at Woodmont Country Club with 28 delightful kids from every background you can imagine who participate in the programs of the First Tee of Greater Washington D.C.   We had 17 volunteers from our club along with the professional golf staff as our guides doing golf clinics, a picnic lunch, and a couple of hours of course time with the kids.

These kids come every type of background you can imagine and they have gleaned from their First Tee experiences self-confidence, poise, and grace as well as being introduced to the game of golf.  It is a wonder to witness the etiquette, course awareness, and basic skills of these 7 to 14 year-olds who attend this event each year.

The almost 50 staff, volunteers, and kids that made this day so special.

Our volunteers provide the smiles, reassurance, and support to help these kids understand how much this game has to offer.

These guys and gals get as much out of this outing as the kids.

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Sometimes the mentoring is as simple as a hug or a pat on the shoulder.

Kommander Keller mugging with Quinn

Marlyn with Sophie and Amanda

Marlene with Nahyun and Hannah

Amanda, Avery, and Hannah with Dale watching over

The mentors share their knowledge and experience of how they have earned their crack handicaps.

Arthur helping Amra with her grip

Andy and Daniel discuss proper takeaway

Jackie gives Carina a little thought on direction

Eddie shares with Dhira the importance of face alignment

Best part is just kickin’ back and watching these amazing kids do their golf thing.

Gail and Bonnie chillin’ on the range

All the kids went through the rotation of three clinics-range, short game, and putting-led by our professional staff.

Konnor and his guys explain the program for the day

Proper technique is proper technique…even if it is on the wrong side

Konnor explains some of the do’s and don’ts of exceptional putting

Some of it was group drills……

….and group observation as well

Then the kids get to show their stuff….as well as their individuality and style.

Akil has no breakdown of the wrist..nice extension in his pitching

Quinn and Isabella observe each other’s technique

Peter is looking for a little clarification or is it reassurance

Skyler has it down as Delana, Iris, Yaphet, and Peter get ready to launch

Hannah, Nahyun, and Sumi are in a high level conversation

Delana, Iris, Yaphet, and Peter are grinding away at proper technique

Obviously satisfied, Daniel is working on this celebration dance

Marlyn and Konnor are appraising the work of Eugene, Sean, Hannah, Nahyun, and Sumin

Anticipation across the line as the balls are off in the lag putt drill

You can work up an appetite at these clinics so they are followed by a break for a picnic lunch where we got to just sit and chat…..healthy sandwiches, real chips, fresh fruit, and some chocolate chip cookies for the big kids.  We were all single digit eaters.

Starts with an orderly line….followed by a choice….Tuna or Turkey…..

Circling the wagons….lots of mouths to feed both kid and adult

Amra and Isabella just hanging out and having fun

Quinn and Jayden with the old tomato sandwich trick

Carina, Sophie, and Avery….are these kids cute or what?

Then it was out to the big course to put what they learned to work.  It is amazing how these kids handle themselves on the course.  Fixing ball marks, raking bunkers, marking their ball properly, and respecting the efforts of their playing partners.

Amanda and Evalyn head out with Kaptin Keith

Dale with Sumin and Hannah are not far behind

Amanda, Evalyn, Sumi, and Hannah setting up approach shots with Keith and Dale

Randy is helping Nahyun and Hannah plot some course strategy

Arthur, Jayden, and Quinn are all smiles on the way out to their designated hole

Akil, Skyler, and Iris on the 11th Green with John and Moe

One last bit of business to thank the volunteers, the golf staff, and the organizers for putting this together.  And most important, thanking these adorable and talented kids for being part of this beautiful day, sending them away with a participation certificate and a few goodies to commemorate the event.

Special thanks to Connor Farrell, Steve Keller, John Friedson, Moe Dweck, and Alexandra Uduk and the professional golf staff for all the hard work in assembling this event.  Thanks to Woodmont Country Club for graciously hosting this and the First Tee of Greater Washington D.C. for hooking us up with these awesome kids.

First Tee Greater Wash LogoRespect-Perserverance-Honesty-Integrity-Courtesy-Responsibility-Sportsmanship-Confidence-Judgement

August, 2017

(Photos provided by Steve Keller, Arthur Blitz, and Melanie Padgett Powers)

If you have any corrections to the captioning please email them to moedweck@comcast.net

Kingsbarns Golf Links

The heritage of the Kingsbarns Golfing Society dates back to 1793 but the availability of golf under their name was interrupted twice over the centuries. Most recently during World War II when ground was taken by the military for defensive war purposes.

In 2000 Kingsbarns was revived under the watchful eye of a couple of Americans, Mark Parsinen and Art Dunkley, who hired Kyle Phillips to manufacture this stunning links course on 190 acres of farmland in the current location.  Kyle gave it the full high-end treatment complete with grand scale dunes, crumpled fairways, bumps and hollows galore, revetted bunkers, and sprawling green complexes with character.

They spared no expense in creating this place, tapping into the knowledge of Robert Price the author of Scotland’s Golf Courses for advice on design features and Walter Wood the retired greens superintendent at St. Andrews for guidance on local turf issues.  They created a bit of Whistling Straits in St. Andrews……to even the experienced eye it looks like it is nature’s work.  This stiff links experience is not for the faint of heart, it was built for hosting professional championships like the annual Dunhill Links and Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Click to see the panoramic shoreline view of the finishing holes

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The course plays hard and fast with generous run ups from as far out as 100 yards to accommodate play along the ground.   By no means is this a target golf course, it will punch and counter punch you during the round so you have to be ready to respond.  Plenty of swerve in the fairways so don’t be surprised if your ball is not as obedient to your commands as you expect.  Bunkering is not overdone but it can be severe around the greens where the revetted faces are quite steep.  Further sculpted ground contours can gather balls without sufficient intent into the bother.  The greens have robust engineered undulations so a sharp short game and focused putting are very important to success out here.

Appreciate the severity of the greenside bunkering and green surface undulation

The day begins temperately enough off the side of the clubhouse to a high fairway overlooking the sea.  The approach into a green complex with deep face bunkers and the steeply undulating green set the tone for the day.  The story continues to unfold as you look down the short downhill Par 3 2nd where the North Sea crashing into the shore behind is a breathtaking sight to behold.  A little out with a long par 5 at sea level followed by a pair of difficult par 4s turning back just above will get your game to full throttle.

The backdrop of the North Sea seems to be everywhere

Stepping on the high tee on the wondrous short Par 4 6th you get a stunning panoramic view of all the holes along the sea.  This is a little downhill 300 yard shot that tempts your mischievous side but it will take a perfect strike with the right curve to get the reward they are dangling in front of you.  From the teeing round, if your eyes are 20 x 15, you can just make out the clubhouse at the Crail links down the coast.

#1 handicap 7th presents a stiff challenge, especially if the breeze is in your face

What follows is the challenge of the #1 Handicap hole on the course which, to add insult to injury, often plays into the wind. You get a bit of a breather on the 8th with a very technical short pitch Par 3 that looks like it tumbles right into the surf.

Another stunning Par 3 against the sea at the 8th

It is a long trek back up the 9th to the clubhouse and a chance to catch some replenishment at the Halfway Hut before taking on the very difficult inward half.

The second nine begins with a pair of tumbling par 4s that bring you back down to the sea next to the 8th green.  Both of these holes have severe downward elevation change and lots of side contours as well.  A couple of pars would be good for the scorecard storehouse before getting to the technical part of the course ahead.

The sequence of the 12th through the 15th will leave you breathless

Now you venture around the corner to a spur of land that holds four breathtaking holes that will challenge your full skill set.  As Malcolm Campbell says in his descriptive of the course, “It is a gentle walk to the 12th through a woodland…..where the ocean is stolen from our gaze.  When it is given back at the top of the incline at the tee, the assault on the senses is often difficult to believe.  The spectacular view ….is the one instantly recalled by many long after they leave Kingsbarns.  Here we find not only one of the most memorable …three-shot holes but one that cunningly conceals iron within the velvet glove”.    Hitch up you pants, aim at focused targets, and play away with abandon.

The 13th proves that three-par challenges your skill set in a different way

The Par 3 13th is a lovely short pitch down to a well guarded green complex wedged into a hill with a harsh stone wall covered with foliage.  Sorting out the wind effect and the elevation change makes this an elusive target.

After a scoring opportunity on the 14th, you meet face another windblown postcard Par 3 that completes this section of the course.  This requires a difficult uphill shot into a precipice green sitting on a jetty overlooking the raging sea.  Aim at the pot bunker nestled in the left third of this green in that the forced carry over the rocks gets much longer as the breeze blows the ball out to sea.

Managing the approach to the Par 5 16th is about lay-up positioning

If you got through this section with minimal scorecard damage what comes next are three strong finishing holes where, with strong execution, good scores are there to be had.  The first of which is the 16th, an ambling five par along the shore.  Long hitters can try to cut the corner but if the wind direction is off the left you are bringing a high score into play with anything wayward right.  Aiming at the corner of the clubhouse will leave you with a layup from the left center of the fairway to a safe space between the bunkers about 75 yards from the green. Worth noting on your approach, there is a pesky burn that runs right and behind the green.

Wending one’s way on the last march up to the high ground to the 17th green

One last one along the coastline, the penultimate hole is a punishing dogleg right par four if you do not hold you intended shot lines.  The drive is into the dogleg elbow well left and what remains is a daunting uphill approach into a perched green with three tiers.  Make sure you embrace the extra club required to get up into the middle of the putting surface.

The approach shot into the 18th green is a doozy…..or could make you woozy

The day finishes with an inland par four that plays across a high ridge adjacent to the first fairway.  With a strong drive you are left with a approach carry to a very difficult green shelved into a hill below the clubhouse.  The green complex really affords no safe lay up area so if you choose not to go for it over the burn you are probably laying up outside of 125 yards to an area on level to the green.  Try to ignore all the noses pressed up against the windows of the clubhouse grill room who are soaking their bruised egos having already failed to negotiate what you are currently trying to pull off.

Once the last putts fall, I do recommend you visit the members grill for some adult refreshment.  It is a beautiful vantage point from which to appreciate the vast beauty of what they created at Kingsbarns Golf Links.

St. Andrews, Scotland

 

Architect:  Kyle Phillips and Mark Parsinen   ( 2000)

Tee                 Par       Rating   Slope   Yardage

Medal              72         73.2       136       6807

Regular           72         70.7       132       6351

Ladies             72         70.7       126       5238

Oooo’s, Ahhh’s, and Oy’s

It is pretty standard fare to hear the winner at the Open Championship remark how cool it was to play in front of the most knowledgeable golf fans in the world.

For anyone who has played links golf in the British Isles they know that this is true. In any of these small hamlets or large towns associated with the famous links venues the level of golfspeak is off the charts, no matter gender or age of the person you are talking to. Golf is just part of the fabric of everyday life for the golfing public in these communities.

This was driven home to me as I was riding in my car attentively listening to the streaming broadcast of the Open Championship from Royal Birkdale. It was like trying to follow a Senator baseball games on the radio on a sultry summer night back in the late sixties on my way to the Hot Shoppes to meet high school buddies. I admit sorting out the accents and some of the expressions of the British announcers were a challenge.

Truthfully, listening to these broadcasts, I did not need the play-by-play to discern how the shot just hit had turned out. Reading the nuances of the murmurs of the British fans picked up on the field microphones I knew whether Bubba’s big curve had avoided mounds in front and trundled up next to the flag for an eagle opportunity (an Oooo) or Kootch’s ball had failed by two feet to carry the mound’s edge and had been sucked back into the collection bunker (an Ahhh) or whether Jordan had actually driven it off the planet on #13 down the stretch on Sunday (an Oy).

The collective groans were discordant when the crowd witnessed this tee shot
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Listening to the broadcasts from the Open there are no awkward “Go In The Hole” or “Baba Booey” shouts interrupting the sound track as we witness in every PGA Tour broadcast. To me this is the signature of the pervasive ignorance of far too many American golf fans who spend way too much time drinking beer whether watching or playing golf.

The fans at these events across the pond are sophisticated, they all play the links game regularly. They know how hard it is for the players to manage the trajectory of a tight approach into a 30 m.p.h. cross wind out of the wispy grass or how to use the ground as their friend on an intentionally mis-directed pitch into a back pin location. They even get the adjustments required to line and speed by the effect of the winds on the putting.

Rory has to manage the environmental parameters on this approach in the 18th
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On Saturday walking up the 18th hole Spieth was getting ready to do his green research as he pulled out one of the many reference manuals he carries in his back pocket. Kootch walked over to him and said of the cacophony of applause they were walking into, “It doesn’t get any better than this”. Being mature beyond his years Jordan recognized that Kootch was right and put the topo book back in his pocket. The two of them then just basked in the crowd adoration walking up to the green.

Saturday’s memorable shared walk up to the 18th Green….
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Then there was the incredible finish on Sunday. That wayward right tee shot of Jordan on #13 on Sunday was partially intentional. In an interview he said on that hole you cannot drive your ball into the fairway or the hard ground will feed it into an halacious fairway pot bunker through the fairway. You have to aim this blind tee shot at the right rough. He just overdid it a wee bit.

It took a while but Jordan found a way back into the hole from the driving range

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But for all the post game pushback for the time it took for him to sort out his options and take his drop, I am sure all the fans on that hole fully appreciated the mental machinations Jordan was going through to optimize his chance to make that magnificent bogey. These fans understood they were watching golf history as he responded to the emotions of the crowd and played the next four holes five-under par to claim the Claret Jug in a display of links golf aptitude becoming of a British native.

Emotion and respect of two friends and competitors when the game was done…
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The humility and emotion shown by both Jordan and Kootch in presentation ceremony on Sunday afternoon speaks to their appreciation of the sophistication of these British golf fans. Jordan even did the Hale Irwin high-five run around with the Claret Jug in his hand to let these masses touch the gravity of this moment. It seemed like a spontaneous reaction to the engaging pulse of the crowd.

Jordan shares the moment with the adoring masses….

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It is not just platitude when the Open Championship winners say it is special to play in front of the most knowledgeable golf fans in the world. Jordan’s actions speak to this and, much like Young Tom Watson or Arnie before him, I am sure he is destined to be a favorite son of these folks every time he tees it up in an Open Championship over the next two decades.

Reflecting on what it means to add his name to all those other names

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Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course

George Thomas and Bobby Bell, a pair of graduates of the Philadelphia School of Golf Architects, migrated their professional shingle to the West Coast around 1920. They quickly established themselves as a go to pair for pulling quality golf courses out of the challenging terrain of this part of the country. Along with Alister MacKenzie they went on to produce some of the finest golf courses in this region.

Ojai Valley Inn was created around the same time of it’s more storied sister Thomas-Bell designs like Bel-Air, Riviera, and Los Angeles Country Club. Set against the dramatic mountain ridges that surround the Ojai Valley, you will see genius of these two men in their ability to refine the effect of the rugged topography with innovative routing and implementation of the strategic design concepts that make their courses a joy to play.

Small but accessible greens with deep bunkers and fall offs call for articulate approach shots

The tight configuration of the available land for golf led them to an unusual course routing that includes three Par 5’s and five Par 3’s in a Par 70 layout that now measures just under 6300 yards from the back tees. But when you consider about 350 yards in exchange of a long hole for an extra short hole and the effect the hills and the wind have on lengthening many approach shots, there is nothing meek about the golf challenge Ojai Valley presents.

The elevations changes throughout make club selection a chore…especially when the wind is up

This set of green surfaces are as consistently small as any I have seen on a championship course, so finding the target requires great precision. They have segmentation and slope which means approach line and trajectory really matter if you are going to avoid putting humiliation on the greens. The signature high edge, flash faced bunkers that Bell brought to all of their creations coupled with the drastic fall offs adds intimidation to the mix. To have success out here it takes a tactical approach to driving to find proper approach positions based on the day’s pin.

High edges and flash faces of the Billy Bell bunkers mask your landing areas from view

There is a convenient grass turf driving range and short game prep area just below the golf shop, make use of it to get your swing tuned in before you embark to the first tee as the front nine opens with five holes that will get your immediate attention. They play across some of the hilliest terrain on the property and demand disciplined shot making right out of the gate to avoid inflicting serious scorecard damage early in the round.

Green on #1 is typical-shelved into the hill above-open on one side forced carry on the other

The first two holes you have to put your tee shots in a relatively small landing area (see the Hole-By-Hole Analysis below) to have a credible approach to two very angular green complexes.

Tight window leaves a dexterous short approach across the barranca to an angular 2nd green

On the second if you succeed in finding the center of the fairway, you have a short club in hand but are staring through a large picture window at a steeply pitched green that hovers above a harrowing barranca from which there is no recovery.

#3 seems innocuous enough…short pitch to a sloped green with trouble all around

Two short Par 3 holes on the front, the first of which you reach at the third, require delicate short shots into tiny greens with no bail outs. The 100-yard pitch on the third seems innocuous to the eye, but picking the right club given the elevation change and any wind can make this very small target particularly elusive.

After another bracketed carry across the “Deer Canyon” on the short Par 4 fourth, you face a classic George Thomas uphill approach over a browed Billy Bell flash faced bunker that guards the left front of the green. The pitch up the hill better have serious friction because the green is barely the size of your thumb nail.

From high atop “Condor’s Nest” on the fifth…it is quite a view of the landing area below

Take a pause on the precipice tee of the hole they call “Condor’s Nest” to appreciate the glorious backdrop the surrounding mountains present as you look down at this long Par 4 unfurling below your feet. This represents a swift change in gear as four of the next five holes will give you plenty of room to unleash your swing and channel your inner Dustin Johnson.

The seventh hole, “Crosby’s Creek named in deference to the Hollywood star who played here often throughout his career, is the #1 Handicap hole on the card and it demands two well executed blows to have any chance to make a par. The key is to protect from the train wreck number if you are out of position off this tee, as a stream runs diagonally through the second half of the hole and will give you serious pause in your club selection to reach a very tight plateau green complex framed by trees and deep Billy Bell bunkers.

Bunkering on the Par 5 9th is pure artistry and genius…the putting surface isn’t bad either

After the second of the short pitch Par 3’s you have a very handsome march up “Eucalyptus Alley” on the long awaited first Par 5 of the day. The green complex set into a hill just below the hotel is framed by stacked flash faced bunkers and makes for one of the many Kodak moments of your day.

Negotiating with a birdie putt on the top shelf of the 9th Green….so so so close!

Make sure to get a little snack and some cold refreshment from Libby’s Market as you make your way up the hill on the other side of the hotel to the tenth tee. This next series of holes have delectable visuals as they play on the high side of the property to start the inward half.

Sweeping panoramic looks are like fraternal twins off the high tee boxes of #10 and #13

The look off this tenth tee is majestic as a sweeping long Par 4 falls below your feet and then works back uphill to the tight green complex. The mountain backdrop is the stage for the Pink Sunsets this place is known for.

“Pink Sunsets” appear most evenings over the mountains on the reachable Par 5 12th hole

Two scoring opportunities presents themselves on the long Par 3 and short Par 5 that follow as you work your way back to the thirteenth tee to play a mirror image Par 4 adjacent to the tenth.

The approach look down to the Par 5’s green complex on “The Landing” #15

Preparing for the final run you start wrapping back around the lower end of the property you experienced on the opening nine where elbow room is going to disappear and precise shot making will prevail. You need to take advantage of the getable Par 3 and Par 5 at fourteen and fifteen because the mysterious “Lost Holes of Ojai” are just ahead.

The “Lost Holes” plaque at the 16th tee tells the story or repatriation of these holes

In the years of the Second World War the military had abducted the land under a few holes in a remote corner of the property which made them disappear. But in a restoration in the late 1990’s these two “Lost Holes” were rediscovered and, along with the stiff finishing hole, set up a dramatic final exam to your golfing day.

“Captains Pride” the signature Par 3 16th plays over a flotilla of sand bunkers

Part I is “Captains Pride” a unique survival par three that you may think does not fit the flavor of the course. But the spectacular view you take in from the precipice tee makes it the signature hole in all their publications. The parameters of this hole are as tight as any you have seen all day so a very conservative approach is requisite in avoiding a bad number at this point of round.

View of the driving area and surrounds from the tee on #17 is truly an “Inspiration”

Part II is the multiple choice section of the test called “Inspiration”. The tee box on seventeen is perched by itself, cocooned by high mountain topography, which creates a tranquil respite that many have used for memorable wedding ceremonies. Nupitals aside it takes two dexterous decisions and well executed strokes to make a much needed par on the second of the reincarnated holes.

Confined look off the back tee of the 18th..fortunately your tee is up another 50 yards

The essay section is the eighteenth, a steep march back up to the clubhouse which will put extra pressure on trying to win the back nine Nassau. The amount of defensiveness required in the final approach is totally dependent on your tee ball position. There are pars to be made with a dexterous pitch and putt from short right if the carry over the yawning Billy Bunker that fronts the left side of this precipice green complex seems too much to swallow.

The imposing look up to the cloistered green complex on the finish hole

If you picked the right tee length there is a good chance the tally ends up in the satisfactory range, but I assure you that on reflection you are going to feel you left a few out there. A return visit to get another shot at this intriguingThomas/Bell creation is something I look forward to as well.

Ojai Valley, California

Architects:  George Thomas and Bobby Bell (1923)

Tee      Par     Rating     Slope      Yardage
Blue     70        71          131         6292
White   70       69.3        126         5908
Red      71       71.3        131         5211

(Click to review the downloadable Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

 

Erin Hills Designed For The Wind

When Dr. Michael Hurzdan, Dana Fry, Mike Hurzdan, and Ron Whitten developed this course with the blessing of Mike Davis and the USGA for a U.S. Open Championship, they presumed the wind would be the wild card in making it a championship test.

For three days there was no wind to speak of and with rain softened greens the players had their way with this layout mocking par along the way.   But winds of 20+ mph greeted them for the Sunday round of this Major Championship and the design features of this layout will have their say in the outcome of this U.S. Open.

USGA got its wish….blue skies and winds up for the final round

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Unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory, Erin Hills is not about narrowed playing parameters with a long grass punishing any miss on drive or approach no matter how slight.   Historically it is Hack-A-Mole pitching from 6 inch green side bluegrass where it is more luck than talent in saving a par.

Instead Erin Hills is a roomy minimalist design that traverses rolling and swerving topography with innovative green complexes that put a premium on using the ground as your friend to get at cloistered pin positions.  There is tight short grass around these green complexes which have severe fall offs and punishing bunkers awaiting shots without sufficient intent.  A creative and innovative recovery short game, much like what you see on display at many on the European Tour events, will pay great dividends for the first time in memory in a U.S. Open.

Brian Harman’s dexterous approach into the Par 4 Third Hole

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In watching this week the look and feel of Erin Hills reminds me of some of the links jewels I have played on the Emerald Isle of Ireland.  The unrelenting design challenge of Pat Ruddy’s European Club and Eddie Hackett’s Enniscrone come to mind.  Both have swerving undulating topography, tall fescue to greet wayward shots, and raised, tilted, and undulating green complexes where angle of attack can make a big difference in getting an approach close.

Rickie Fowler misses his line off the tee and pays the steep price

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In a similar way Erin Hills has contoured driving areas that favor a particular shot shape to find the advantageous approach position or stay out of the tall fescue.  Into the greens there are plenty of forced carries required, not many places where the player can bounce it short and feed it on.  When the wind gets up it becomes more of an issue of strategic use of the interior green contour to slow and feed the approach to the pin of the day.

The early broadcast featured the voice of Gil Hanse, one of the premier designers of this generation, and he contributed valued insight into how the design will play into the strategic approach required to control shot outcome for those in the thick of this championship run.

The heightened wind makes negotiating the sharp edges of the green complexes and avoiding the evil decree of the near misses all the more difficult.  Short side recoveries in the cross winds become much harder to convert into par saves. The slightest misjudgement of pace on a downwind pitch can result in an unexpected roll out off the putting surface leaving an equally problematic four-story pitch back up the slope.

With the precipice greens totally exposed to the wind’s effect reading the greens can be like reading a Ouija Board.  Figuring control of the line and roll out to avoid knee knocker six-foot comeback putts is a must to avoid a scorecard hemorrhage.

Jordan negotiating his approach putt on the windswept 9th green

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Lengthening of the downwind short par three ninth from 130 to 170 may actually help the guys since it is easier to flight down an eight iron than a wedge or sand wedge.  The problem remains the Roberto Clemente Memorial pin position in a tight Bermuda Triangle in the back of the green.  Missing the flag by five paces in any direction may mean calling in the Coast Guard for search and recovery.

He pointed out that the short par fours and the two five pars on the back nine may be the hardest to reconcile.  Making a decision to take on one of these “driveable” four pars is enticing but the degree of difficulty of recovery if you miss these blinded targets makes that decision somewhat specious.  Same goes for hoisting a long and high approach at flags on the two potentially reachable par fives. With the thought of a game changing eagle in mind the margin of error from hero to goat could be four steps in one direction or the other.

No question the unique design of Erin Hills coupled with the stiff winds that took four days to appear will make this Sunday round look more like an Open Championship finish at Muirfield than a typical U.S. Open finale.

Rewarding Good Shots

There are two ways of widening the gap between a good tee shot and a bad one.  One is to inflict a severe and immediate punishment on a bad shot, to place its perpetrator in a bunker or in some other trouble which will demand the sacrifice of a stroke in recovering.

The other is to reward the good shot by making the second shot simpler in proportion to the excellence of the first.  The reward may be of any nature but it is more commonly one of four-a better view of the green, an easier angle from which to attack a slope, an open approach past guarding hazards, or even a better run to the tee shot itself.

Bobby Jones

As quoted by Tom Doak in Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture

SKLZ Foam Practice Balls

With the arrival of a new grandson my mind starting thinking way ahead to low impact training sessions in the back yard.  In searching about I discovered this product that turns out to be perfect for the task and way more.

These foam practice balls are “full featured” with:

  • Alignment stripes for consistent setup and alignment
  • Standard golf ball size
  • Soft foam is safe for use indoors or outdoors
  • Comes as a 12-pack

Besides all that, you can take a full wail at these suckers and they only go about 30 yard max.  Even though you are hitting a foam ball the ball flight is, unlike those airy wiffle balls you played with as a kid, surprisingly familiar as they replicate the spinning parabolic flight of a sand or pitching wedge to a T.  The stripes help with setup and alignment and make the spin imparted very evident for good feedack.  They even have a convenient cool mesh bag for storage, transport, and containment during your practice regimen.

Back to the original goal of creating a backyard Approach Practice Course (APC), it opens up great creative possibilities for the budding course architect or simply the entertaining Grandpa.  Seemingly extraneous lawn art or an inverted plastic step stool can be used to create the perfect green complex with all the tactical bells and whistles.

Double dogleg meanders between the weathered hazards…..a very Golden Age look on the opening hole

 

In this live loop you can see the realistic ball flight off the 3/4 swing of a 53 degree Ping SW with the drop and stop spin leaving me a little recovery from just behind Scooby Doo left.  Not being an official USGA event, the square grooves have been “grandfathered in” and are perfectly legal.

Safe for indoor and outdoor use, I imagine a plush rug and a pool table in the basement rec room would make for a nice alternative winter golf destination.

This is not a serious investment at $11.99 from a number of sources on the World Wide Web and, with Amazon Prime delivery, you could be setting up your own short game extravaganza in just a few days.  I highly recommend the investment for improving your short pitching game and nurturing the golf skills of your kids and grandkids.

 

 

 

George Wright Golf Course

A strong handful of renowned public golf courses exist in the United States that represent the most virtuous commitment of their municipalities to providing access to high quality design to everyone.  The George Wright Golf Course in Boston, an original Donald Ross design through and through, is one of these.

French Chateau Clubhouse stands sentinel on the hill as you walk up from the car park

The Wright was built in the Depression period of the 1930’s on the old Grew Estate that had been conveyed to the Department of Conservation of Massachusetts through the efforts of George Wright founder of the Wright and Ditson Sporting Goods stores in Boston.  This major project of close to $1 million was financed through the Roosevelt Administration’s Works Project Administration.

In what proved to be an enormous undertaking because of the rugged topography, the construction employed almost 1,000 people as it was completed over a three-year period opening for play in 1936.  There is a unique local flavor to the artistry of this facility in that it included a three-mile long perimeter flagstone wall built by the Italian and Irish masons of Boston and a stunning French Chateau style clubhouse that belies a typical municipal golf course setting.

Note the stone manson’s wall behind the green…3 miles long it encircles most of the property

From the time it opened this course was well reputed and hosted many big local and regional tournaments.  Among the best players it was considered an equal to the posh private venues of Boston.  But time took it’s toll and after the war and a series of financial problems that ensued, it fell into disrepair and by the mid-1980’s faced imminent closure.  Against all odds, an assiduous lobbying effort by the Massachusetts Golf Association kept it in operation for the next 20 years.  Finally in the early 2000’s the powers that be in the city of Boston made the bold commitment to restore George Wright to the original quality and design.

The key to this effort was the arrival of head pro Scott Allen in 2001, who spearheaded the restoration effort, and the hiring in 2004 of Len Curtain, a greens superintendent with a special affection for the place,  who grew playing the Wright.  With the consultation of a Massachusetts course designer Mark Mungeum, together this group embarked on the long term project to peel back decades of neglect and bring this wonderful venue back to original glory.

Lots of trees were removed and the green complexes were restored to their original Ross shapes and surrounds.  Fairway bunkers were relocated along with a few new additions to help the course meet the challenge of the contemporary equipment.  Together they brought back the Wright to a course worthy of being designated as the site of the 2018 State Amateur-the first time in the tournament’s history it will be played on a municipal golf course.

The wide open driving area on the first is a teaser…this is a precise driving course

The first, ninth, and eighteenth holes are on the flattest portion of the property just below the clubhouse veranda so the course begins and ends on a fairly tame note.  On the second tee, in spite of the abundant width of the driving area, you get the sense this is a tee ball position course as the green in the distance is suspended on an alcove shelf tucked in the corner of the property.  From three thru fifteen the course is enveloped in a solitary cocoon and you won’t see any man-made structures besides the clubhouse and the maintenance facility. It makes you wonder how it could be just four miles from the center of a major American metropolis.

The Par 5 3rd gives no room for wandering

Standing on the third tee the challenge is at hand as you are staring up the narrow hallway that defines this uphill and stringent five par.  Keeping the ball between the hash marks off the tee, controlling the roll out, and finding the proper angle of approach for the day’s pins into these Ross green complexes will determine how your scorecard will fare today.  It goes without saying that it will be peppered with some high numbers but you have to accept them and remain aggressive to balance the outcome.

The landing area on the Par 4 4th is saddles the high ground

One thing you cannot fail to notice is that the holes are often lined with rock outcroppings or tall mounds.  These mounds were created by covering the piles of rocks rendered from the fairway demolition and you can begin to appreciate how much went into discovering playable fairways on this severe and rugged terrain.

Looking up the 6th you see how much was excavated to find this fairway

The devil is in the detail as you can see in the Hole-By-Hole Analysis below, the contours of five through twelve in particular will challenge your tactical instinct trying to find the line of charm.

Peaceful tranquility of the green complex on the 9th hole just below the clubhouse

Note: If there is someone manning the dog-at-the-turn cart between the 10th and 12th tees I recommend well done with relish and mustard.  The homemade cookies are not a bad chaser either.

The 8th one of the four intimidating three pars-very demanding little room for error.

As an aside, the par threes may be the most interesting holes on the course.  Every one of the four stands apart in visual distinction and precise shot making is demanded.  Not one of them is over 190 yards yet playing the four of them anywhere near par is a major accomplishment.  The Ross bunkering and segmenting of these four green complexes will sustain vivid images in your mind when you rehash the day’s journey later staring at your dark bedroom ceiling.

Bungee drop approach to the 12th from the top of the ridge

The inward nine takes up right where the last one ended with roller coaster elevation changes on the first three holes.  Be cognizant on all three of these not to drive the tee ball too far and overreach the best landing spot for the approach.  As you can read in the detail the blinded approach shot into the tenth green takes serious visualization.  The approach into the eleventh will take a different kind of creativity as it will take all your ground skills to give yourself a good scoring opportunity there.

Drop dead green setting on the Par 5 15th…just don’t hit the green wall netting behind

If you reach the thirteenth tee with minimum scorecard damage there is great opportunity to make up ground on the way to the house.  This hole is one of the most visually pleasing all day but you have to hit two very articulate shots to avoid the hazards that haunt the hole from tee to green.  What follows is a challenging uphill par three followed by a stunning three-shot par five that should give you a good chance to apply some salve to the scorecard.

Talking a 2+ club elevation change into the mountainous 16th green

I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to the Mt. Rushmore green complex of the sixteenth hole.  No course architect would even consider building a hole like this today, but it is just flat out fun.  From the base of the hill where your drive will end up it looks like you need to hit one over George Washington’s left eye and land it on the crown of Thomas Jefferson’s head.  That is kind of what you have to do…long or Roosevelt right is no good at all.

The 18th appears sedate but there is trouble lurking if you get out of position

The two holes that bring you back to the house are very interesting.  The short par three seventeenth is one of the truly quaint looks of the day.  Encircled by sand it takes a lawn dart to give yourself a good birdie chance.  The home hole is a level walk on ground similar to the first, but the green is very deep with severe contour so you must focus to get your approach all the way to the day’s pin.

The apres golf Sports Bar and Grill is a memorabilia must stop

When it was said and done, I found the George Wright an amazing municipal golf experience, right down to the clubhouse building and the players Bar and Grill.  Linger for a cold Samuel Adams and some nachos, check out all the Boston sports memorabilia on the wall, and savor what has been a wonderful day of old style golf at a very accommodating price.

Boston, Massachusetts

Architect:  Donald Ross (1936)

.                       Par    Rating  Slope   Yardage

Blue                 70        69.5     126      6440

White              70        68.6     122      6096

Red                 70        70.3     115      5131

(Click to read the Hole-By Hole Analysis of the George Wright Golf Course)

Penmar Municipal Revisited

On a recent trip to L.A. to visit our kids and newly arrived grandson, I had a spur of the moment impulse to pay a return visit to the Penmar Municipal in Venice, CA.  For the non-resident price of $16, I had a pleasant 9-hole walk with a couple of locals-Big Al and Gary.  The course was lush and the weather conditions were idyllic, though the caterpillar pace of play the first six holes was a bit unsettling.  Gave us plenty of time to get acquainted.

No clubs on hand, I had to resort to this $5 unmatched rental set

The collection represented the full breadth of club vintages, equipment brands, and engineering breakthroughs from over the last 50 years.

Included therein:

-Callway 10.5 degree 450 CC Driver-unknown shaft and a Jumbo (Sammy Sosa variety)

-Titleist 15 degree 3 Wood-Aldia Voodoo Firm graphite shaft

-Callaway V 19 degree 5 Wood-senior graphite shaft

-Ping Eye 3 4 Iron-standard Ping steel shaft

-Lynx Paralex Cavity Backed 6 Iron-steel men’s regular shaft

-Clone 7,8,9, and PW-Ladies graphite shafts

-Cleveland forged 56 degree sand iron with a super large bounce

-Acushnet Bullseye Bronze Putter circa 1966 (I owned this in my teenage years)

I also invested in hand cart rental for $2 and the finest sleeve of performance balls available in the Snack Bar/Pro Shop.  These are state of the art low compression Callaway Superhot 55’s.

They proved to be a perfect match for the variable requirements of the inventory of clubs I had to work with.

 

 

 

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The driver was out of play because I was uncomfortable with a full baseball grip and pine tar that would have been required to handle it.  So I worked the Voodoo Magic of the Titleist 3-metal about 210 off the tee on the driving holes to great satisfaction.

The trick was figuring out how to match swing speed with the wide variety of approach clubs that were available.  This is how I imagine it must have been to play proficiently with a set of Hickory Shafts back in the day.

Overall the middle of the set performed admirably in that I registered three pars across the nine.  One with a flush Lady’s shafted 7 Iron from 125 yards in a cross wind to 18 feet on the Par 3 third. The second was with a slinging draw 5 Metal around and over the trees onto the back fringe, after I bounced the Voodoo 3 Wood off the chain link fence on the seventh hole tee shot.  Finally an awesome up-and-in on the tricky 360 yard final hole with the 56 degree Cleveland SW and a channeled 14 year old’s putting stroke from my past with the vintage Bullseye.

What a rush!

All in all it was a nostalgic walk with a couple of new friends on a delightful municipal track in sunny California.

March, 2017

(Click to see more on Penmar in our Postcard From Penmar Municipal)