The Wrong Culprit

We have an old saying on Tour that when we’re putting poorly, we go get another putter, but it doesn’t take that putter long to know who has it.

Once it gets to know you, it will start putting just like the one you threw away.

Lee Trevino

Be The Ball (2000)

Charles Jones/Kim Doren

The New Rage-Approach and Putt Courses

There is a seminal trend building in the world of golf course construction to build short courses at destination golf resorts.  The trickle has now developed into what looks like a steady stream and I believe it is now starting to spread to high end private clubs as well.  For those who are looking at initiatives to “grow the game” this is very good news indeed.

For those of us with long memories, we can recall in the days of poodle skirts and weejuns when date night often meant a visit to a skating rink, bowling alley, miniature golf, or pitch n’ putt golf course with our honey.  Who did not look forward to putting an arm around her as you skated to carousel tunes or gently instructing her on proper grip of the bowling ball or the putter.  Unfortunately these fun “family” entertainment venues effectively went the way of the hoola-hoop and got wiped as the value of real estate in the exploding urban suburbs saw them replaced by more lucrative strip shopping centers, motels, and garden apartment complexes.

Fast forward about 50 years and Mike Keiser gets the notion that at a destination golf resort like Bandon Dunes would be a perfect place to bring back the fun and high jinx of a short Approach and Putt Course (I prefer this traditional name from the Golden Age to the more crass Pitch n’ Putt moniker of later years).  From the beginning Keiser had the Par 3 “Shorty’s Course” just off the driving range at Bandon Dunes.  It was opened on alternate days when range balls were not flying in that direction.

Availability indication for Shorty’s-Green Flag it is open/Red Flag it is closed

But this was not good enough for Mike Keiser.  In 2012 the resort opened a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design-Bandon Preserve-a fully functional approach and putt course with real tees (and lots of them), real green complexes, and a fully stocked adult beverage dispensary in the middle.  The draw was instantaneous as folks found 13 real golf holes could be played in an hour and a half with a couple of clubs, a drink in hand, and a festive attitude.  There were no rules-play with as many people in your group as could corral, make as much noise as you like, and play the holes from any distance that met your fancy.

Four patrons at the Preserve….light carry bags…a bet…and some libations coming soon..

What was never discussed was that, with serious elevation changes, real green complexes, and a endless teeing grounds to choose from, this was a perfect place to hone your links approach game for the next day’s round.  It was a D.I.Y. Approach and Putt golf experience that became the delight of all the “retail golfers” who came to the resort.

The second hole at Bandon Preserve…that is a real serious bunker!!

Truth was this was not really a new idea at all.  Back in the 1930’s Bobby Jones asked Alister Mackenzie, the designer of Augusta National, to design the Augusta Approach and Putt Course for the members.   The innovative approach MacKenzie took was to have 9 double greens so the front nine could be played in one direction and replayed in reverse as a unique back nine.  Unfortunately with the pressures of the depression weighing on the operation of the club , it never saw the light of day.

Proposed Augusta National Approach and Putt Course (courtesy of National Park Service)

With the success of Bandon Preserve others started to take notice and various iterations starting popping up at resorts and high end private facilities across the country.   It is safe to say that these things are becoming standard fare as high end resorts are looking at them as combined family playgrounds and happy hour entertainment centers.  It is just another way to engage their patrons of all ages with new and different entertainment options.

New offerings include Tiger Woods putting his name on “The Playgrounds”,  a 10-hole short track at the new Bluejack National in Texas. Tom Doak did a short course in 2017 at Ballyneal Golf Club in Colorado.  Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner just finished “The Cradle” a playful addition to the PInehurst Resort.  Most recently, Jordan Speith had a hand in creating a 6-hole Par 3 Course called “The Lower 40′ next to the campus of  his alma mater,  the University of Texas, Austin.

The next wave of these approach and putt courses is likely to happen at a high end country club near you.  Since it can be done on a small parcel of land they already own at a fraction of the cost of a full blown 18-hole course, private country clubs will see these as a way of engaging new players, kids, and their older members.   These facilities are a great way to enhance an outside event or create a unique multi-generational club competition.

The best part is that players need only a couple of clubs and an hour to get a pretty robust golf experience.  Talk about a great vehicle for growing the game.

As they saw at the Preserve, these tracks also serves as an full-fledged short game practice facility which is much more interesting than a single practice green and a couple of bunkers.  Private clubs struggling to attract and retain membership will begin to look upon an approach and putt course as essential as the health club and the lap pool in meeting the needs of it’s membership.

The Maddening Difficulty Of It

It is not the love of something easy which has drawn men like a magnet for hundreds of years to this royal and ancient pastime; on the contrary, it is the maddening difficulty of it.

….But that is what fascinates man and leads him to leave business, home, wife, and children to pursue this hard mistress in the foolish hope of conquering her.

….Golf beats us all, and that is the chief reason we shall never cease loving her, nor ever give up our attempt to subdue her.

Robert Hunter

The LInks (1926)


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.

Built on the site of an old mining operation the presentation of the course and the architecture of the clubhouse has an appropriate industrial feel to it

Embed from Getty Images

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.

World Wide Weber, The Mish, A.I. Minkie, and The Koach strike the pose on #1

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

The rugged natural look the architects reclaimed from the mining remains

Embed from Getty Images

Doak swore they were anywhere but Florida when the copter landed at this mine-made dune and basin that became the signature Blue 7th and Red 16th Par 3’s

Embed from Getty Images

Doak framed the back of the industrial style clubhouse in the last look of the day

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

Embed from Getty Images

The sprawling cape style Par 4 5th hass the water down the right and a massive dune behind the green complex

Embed from Getty Images

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.

To download any photos to your PC just right click on the image and pick “Save Image As” to save it to your computer.

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

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


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

(Click to view a downloadable hole-by-hole description of Kingsbarns Golf Links)

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
Embed from Getty Images

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
Embed from Getty Images

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….
Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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…
Embed from Getty Images

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….

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images

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

Embed from Getty Images


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

Embed from Getty Images


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

Embed from Getty Images


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

Embed from Getty Images


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.