Casa de Campo-Teeth of the Dog

Early in his career Pete Dye established a beachhead in the Dominican Republic with the creation of this course at Casa de Campo.  He was so enamored with the place he bought a residence next to the 7th green and spent his lifetime tinkering with this beautiful seaside course.   What resulted is a distinctive seaside layout that has been chosen as the site of the prestigious Latin American Amateur Championship twice in the last five years.   Because of the success of his first design Pete’s fingerprints can be found on a plethora of resort and private courses on the island and as a result the Dominican presents a full treatise of the Dye design expertise.

The picket trim accent on the dry hazard along the 2nd is pure Pete Dye

Looking at an aerial view of the jagged coastline Pete must have noticed that it resembled the snarl of a German Shepard guard dog from a WWII prisoner of war camp.  This is where the course gets it’s moniker and Pete staked his reputation on the difficulty that represented.  If the wind is up at 20 mph plus the reputation is well earned and all bets are off on the medal score.  As I suggest to people when they play wind swept capricious links lay outs, make sure you have a match going, it is a hedge against a medal score train wreck and will insure that you have a good time no matter what transpires.

It is worth noting that with so many greens set against the seaside backdrop it gives you little depth perception which makes calculating approach carry distance a major challenge.  An experienced caddie with an accurate range finder can instill some needed confidence in solving the riddle of picking approach clubs.

Having said that, in spite of the reputation as Pete’s most punitive design, I think the course has a bark that is far worse then it’s bite.  This is very much a positional driving course where success on the approach depends on the angle of attack you are left with off the tee. If the wind is not debilitating, a player who thoughtfully positions their tee ball can, for the most part, control their own destiny.

The call of the rocks and the surf is the obvious psychological battle you must negotiate. But, as you see with Pete’s most challenging tracks like TPC Sawgrass and the Ocean Course at Kiawah, it is the innovative green complexes that present the stiffest challenges and make the value of position off the tee so pivotal to scoring well.  This is a relatively flat seaside piece of ground so Pete created topographical interest by raising many table top greens to create shoulders that will spill a shot without the requisite intention into low hollows or fierce collection bunkers from which full Phil antics are required for recovery.  The green surfaces are often narrow irregular shapes which accentuate the difficulty in keeping an approach on the dance floor-the proper attack angle makes that much more plausible.

The greens and surrounds have Paspalum grass which is a hearty plant that survives well in hot, seaside conditions.  The stuff is very grainy and affects putting pace and, equally problematic, chipping off the sticky surface of greenside surrounds.  Both of these factor into your play so, in anticipation of the Paspalum effect, you should probably prepare by hitting a dozen pitches and chips in the designated short game practice area next to the driving range.

Once on the greens take notice of the angle of the shadows which will reveal the direction of the setting sun and help you anticipate the effect of the grain on all putts. This is a place where you should read the pace of the putt first and then consider the line to match up. There is sufficient swerve in the surfaces themselves that makes picking the accurate line difficult enough, but controlling the speed of your putts will have more to do with avoiding a knee-knocker above the hole or a six-footers coming back.

The bottom line is that you better carefully consider your preferred drive position on every tee and expect that a short game with a wide variety of creative recovery shots will be required if you are to shoot something within your handicap range.

As is detailed in the Hole-By-Hole descriptive below, both sides have a similar rhythm-they start with mellow inland holes before tossing your fate to the call of the Sirens on the rocky coast line.   Standing on the first tee a wide fairway fans out in all directions but it is a solitary palm through the left rough that is your shot line.  With a short club in your hand, a coffee table green complex that repels shots in three directions awaits your approach so it is evident early on that dexterity will matter.

The Par 3 5th looks so manageable but the wind and that one tree will wreak havoc on your ball

The next three holes slowly ramp up the challenge before you reach the first toothy stretch of The Dog.  From the fifth to the eighth it features a pair of rocky par threes and a couple of tough par fours mixed in for good measure.  At only 125 yards an on-level pitch into a tiny green of the fifth seems very doable, but wind, fear, and one tree with long reach off the front right make this anything but a pushover.

#6-Surf, rocks, and the great beyond lurk ominously on the left

This is followed by the #1 handicap hole on the course, a mid-range four par where the prevailing wind pushes your Titleist toward the rocks that snuggle the coastline.  The further right you play off the tee to play safe from the sea the harder the angle into the green tucked back to the left.

The 7th-Pete’s backyard bar-b-que and you are the main course

Next is a signature par three that sits adjacent to the backyard of Pete’s Dominican residence.  This green is a much more generous target then the fifth but the sweeping contour of the putting surface can lead to serious head scratching as your ball separates from the hole and you think you can make out an audible chortle from just over the fence to your right.

Much like the sixth, the eighth profiles right-to-left around the coastline but it actually plays a half a stroke harder to me because the green complex has much more immediate peril associated with it.  This puts a premium on the distance control and accuracy of the second shot.

Here is a unique Pete Dye accent….he just had to get the old international airport to comply

The outward half ends with a three-shot par 5 where you drive it over remnant of the runway of the old Casa airport.   In the old days you had to sequence your drive with arrival and departure of jets servicing the resort.  Once in the fairway show sine restraint on the layup to get into position for a short pitch to get one more birdie chance on this side.

The inland start of the 10th is tame to the eye but it has it’s challenges

Relatively tame inland holes start out the second nine but the wake up calls begins at a very kitchy Par 3 at the 13th hole.  The descriptive below tells the story, this is a tough par if you miss the elusive putting surface.  The sobering Par 5 that follows brings you back to the sea and it is definitely a hole where you must keep your wits about you.  Pete sets you up for a sucker punch baiting you to go for the green in two but you have to resist that temptation because the green is set on a tight angle to the hazard and it is very shallow to your approach.  There are bad results lurking on missing in any direction.

A fang in the mouth of this dog-the Par 4 15th green sticks out into the sea

From 15 through 17 you are back in the jowls of the dog and it takes sound strategy and great shot making to get through this sequence without serious scorecard carnage.  Both par fours have green complexes hanging over the Atlantic so the wind influence is at it’s maximum.  The par three in between is probably the hardest hole you will play all day. Pay close attention to the pin position which will dictate the proper intended flight line for your approach.

Biggest of the three par challenges of the day-the 16th will treat all indecision with disdain

Turning back inland the day ends with a solid four par which once again calls for articulate shot placement off the tee and conservative line on the approach since a watery grave is hovering below the left front of the green.  There is plenty of room right of the green complex and, with the right shot shape, the contours in that landing area can feed your ball onto the putting surface.

When you are done make sure to enjoy a post game buffet lunch in the Lago Restaurant that overlooks the finishing hole of the Dog and a long view of the shoreline.  The food is excellent and the atmosphere is perfect for decompression after the round.

Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic

Architect: Pete Dye (1971)

Par     Rating  Slope  Yardage

Black               72        76        135      7263

Gold                72        74.4     134      6969

Blue                 72        71.2     132      6429

White              72        68.8     126      5954

Red                 72        68.0     118      4827

(Click here to review the Teeth of the Dog hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more on the Casa de Campo resort click to see Postcard From Casa de Campo

Streamsong Blue

At the lowest point of the economic downturn in 2007, with virtually no new golf course development going on, the management of Mosaic Company called the two design firms of Tom Doak and Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw to come out and look at a reclamation project of vast acreage in central Florida from which they had been mining phosphate for a half a century.

Mosaic had made a deal with the state that, rather then expend the money to bring the ground back to it’s original condition, they would be permitted to build a golf resort on the property. Mosaic had in mind kind of Bandon Dunes East, multiple, free-flowing sand based golf courses in the middle of central Florida to attract the high end retail golf community. They could not have picked two better modern, old-school architects to help put this resort on the map in a very challenging economic environment.Doak’s reaction, when he stepped off the helicopter that brought his team for the first site visit, was a “Dorothy you are not in Kansas anymore” moment. There is just no way they would have expected to see such a turbulent piece of sandy topography in the state of Florida.

Given four parcels to consider, the two groups set about a collaborative process of identifying the best ground and prospective routings for the first two courses. The central part of the property had the tallest piles of sand and the deepest crevices from the mining days, so this was what they identified as the most opportune place to create 36 holes of walking golf with plenty of width and plenty of drama.

Tom Doak will tell you that his team got the more cohesive and dramatic part of this parcel which meant he could route greens and tees in close proximity to make the walking efficient. Better still, the width and elevation changes already existed to support his preferred design style, open and accessible green complexes with lots of adjacent short grass contour which would require careful thought by the players off the tee to get to the optimal approach line for the day’s flag positions.

With very little perimeter boundary in this part of the property and few absolute forced carries, he could provides players of all caliber a way to get around without the anxiety of penalty shots and searching for Titleists and Srixons. Nice feature in a resort golf experience.

The walk up to the 1st Tee is your first workout of the dayThe hike up to the first tee box may leave you winded but the view unfurling beneath your feet will set a tone for this Blue Course experience. The hole is only 330 yards and there is plenty of open ground on which to land this drive, but the steep slope up to the green complex and the angle to the day’s flag that avoids the offset greenside bunkering puts a premium on picking the advantage approach line. As Jack Nicklaus used to say, you have to play the holes backwards in your mind if you are going to be successful on a course with so many strategic options in play.

All the options on the 1st Hole as seen from the top of the world A couple of sprawling holes in the next two bring you to the middle of the outward half, which is one of the most unique sequences on the course. It speaks to Doak’s ability to draw from the existing terrain natural looking holes with strategic challenge for the strong players while giving the lower trajectory players plenty of options for success.

4th Hole has a rustic flair of a links gem

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The fourth hole could have come straight out of the Coore-Crenshaw Bandon Trails Course at in Oregon. After hitting the drive into a generous upramp framed by bunkers on the left, the player who wants to challenge the flag has a super steep elevation approach to a blind green complex perched on a corner plateau above a constellation of nasty sand bunkers. For those with less adventure in mind there is a diversionary option to play at the huge bail out area right and long from which making a bogey should be a cinch.

Just 120 yard pitch, the green on the Par 3 5th is very elusive even with no wind

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What follows is a short pitch 120 yard Par 3 that most architects would not have the temerity to present today. The narrow serpentine green is 74 yard long stretching along a spine on the hill below that falls sharply away from the line of flight of your tee shot. If the wind is blowing at all the exposure of the green will make getting a ball to find and stay within a particular section of this green an act of pure golfing wizardry. Many a big hitter will be walking off this green writing down an above par score, scratching their head wondering what went wrong.

The next short, quasi-driveable Par 4 is where Tom alighted from his helicopter on his first site visit. From the tee you are looking up and across the brow of the hill to a wide landing area that feeds down to the foot of one of the most prominent dunes on the property. Given the juxtaposition of the slope of the green to your approach angle this could be one of the most difficult 75-yard pitch shots you will have to hit all day.

Pure eye candy off the tee box on the Par 3 7th HoleA short walking path brings you around the dune to the most awesome Kodak Moment of the day. From the precipice tee on #7 you get to watch the majestic flight of this 175-yard shot plummeting into the pocket of a catcher’s mitt green nestled into the base of the nasty dune complex on the other side of this mine-made lagoon. If you end up on playable turf it will be a big fish story to share at dinner tonight.

As you finish the opening nine, make sure to saunter over to their halfway hut that features an interesting array of southwestern fare. These tasty and homemade these tacos are not your typical dog at the turn.

When you look at the work of Tom Doak and his associates the real architectural genius is often displayed on holes where they did not manipulate the ground very much at all. Such was the case on the 11th, the number 1 handicap hole on the course where they draped a rumpled fairway over and across a low hill leaving just enough landing area blindness to put doubt in your mind of the best line to play. What follows is a long downhill approach to a bunkerless green that drops away with the natural flow of the land. Picking the right landing area short of the green with just the right release to let your approach leak onto the putting surface requires great judgment and skill. The brilliance in this hole was letting the ground speak for itself and not adding any unnecessary static to what nature presented.

The 12th is the first of two very technical holes….hazards leave no room for errorAs you approach the middle of the back nine the two courses coalesce as the Blue Course is working just inside the perimeter of the property and the Red Course is circling back along the property line toward the clubhouse. The short Par 4 13th is probably one of those holes that could have fallen into either man’s route plan and I expect there might have been pretty fiesty conversations on just how to handle it.

Doak is tempting you to reach for the Big Dog on the ‘driveable ’13thStanding on this tee the expansive driving area goads you into reaching for the big stick and maybe have a go at the green. Adhering to the adage “restraint is the better part of valor” is the way to go since even an 80-yard pitch into a slender, long green suspended above a seriously nasty waste bunker and the lagoon is all you can handle. The bail area to the right may comfort you but a recovery pitch from there brings the bunker across the narrow green back into your mind. This is a cleverly designed short hole which demands two controlled and accurate plays to get on without any serious scorecard damage.

The finish is very strong-three of the four hardest handicap holes on this side are in front of you. The sequence begins with a very natural looking minimalist presentation of a Par 4 that plays similar to the 6th with about 50 additional yards on the approach. No bunkers to avoid in the green complex but the short grass surround contours and the pitch of the green surface make using the ground to control where your approach will come to rest of crucial importance.

The longest Par 3 of the day-plays effectively over 225 yards with the uphill green setting-is followed by a very kitchy truncated 575 yard Par 5 that requires three strong and accurate blows for a par opportunity.

Courses that finish with a grand look of the clubhouse are rare, but Doak was blessed with a perfect piece of sloping ground to create a memorable and difficult finishing hole to do just that. Standing on the tee it just looks like an horizon of fairway in front of you, there is no hint of what is to come if you can land your ball at the top edge of the hill that looks down at clubhouse green setting below.

The look down to the final green is surreal against the dunesThe long approach shot must carry a distracting bevy of bunkers almost 100 yards from the green complex and one solitary pot directly on line to the center of the green about 40 yards short. Doak provided plenty of bail room to the left but that is the devil’s bargain since even a short pitch from there is straight down the fall line and it will be difficult to keep a recovery pitch anywhere close to the flag. No, this approach shot is a hitch up your pants moment where a draw working around the pot bunker straight at the flag is the only sensible shot to play.

Taking the short walk off this green to the clubhouse staging area barely gives you enough time to exhale and appreciate how vigorous a golf experience Doak orchestrated in the Blue Course at Streamsong.

Streamsong, Florida

Architect: Tom Doak ( 2012)

Tee         Par      Rating       Slope       Yardage
Green     72         74.1         131           7176
Black      72         72            127           6698
Silver      72         69.7         123           6285
Gold       72         71.6         122           5531

(Click here to review Streamsong Blue Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more Streamsong images click to see Postcard From Streamsong.

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)

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)


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)

Cape Cod National Golf Club

ccnationallogoCape Cod National was one of Brian Silva’s first new course offerings on his watch but he came to it very schooled from the time he spent working with his mentor Geoffrey Cornish.  For an early effort this course has woven into it’s fabric amazingly mature design concept.  The course is built with lots of elbow room but, like courses built back in the Golden Age of Design, the width provides plenty of tactical choices for players with imagination. Searching for and losing golf balls should not be a problem out here which makes for fast and enjoyable play.

It is very playable for the average member while it maintains intrinsic challenge for the better player at the same time.  This is a private club but access to it is available to the guests of the Wequassett Resort outside of Chatham.

The look off the 10th tee is truly breathtaking

The look off the 10th tee is a truly breathtaking challenge

Generous width off the tee with parenthetical bunkering to emphasize the proper targeting line is the operating principle.  In most cases the first bunker is in play for all players where the opposing bunker, which sets your target line, is only reachable by the biggest hitters.  As a result there is plenty of room to play and you should not spend much time in the rough or the adjacent trees.  But picking good lines is critical to having advantage angles into the green complexes.

The second principle is green complexes with bunkering on one side and bail pitching areas or grassy rough hollows on the other.  Once again this is good for the broader golfing masses who can work there way around the green size bunkers without taking them on but for the low digit guy up-and-downs off the tight grass pitching areas presents a solid challenge.

The greens themselves are very clever-oddly shaped to compliment the green approach lines with plenty of slope.  The specs the greens were made to allow them to reach quick green speeds which, when matched with the slopes, puts a premium on leaving even the recovery pitch below the hole to avoid the three putts.  The generous setbacks of the greens from the trees makes depth perception when reading the breaks a huge challenge.  Once you determine the prevailing break of the green you must pay attention to countervailing internal breaks they worked into the putting surfaces.

The first three holes give you all of this in heavy dosages.  An unusual sequence of two par fives in the first three holes gives Silva an opportunity to lay out this theme early on.  Setting up the lay ups on these two holes is all about finding a good line off the tee to set up an opposing line of approach to a narrowly confined lay up area from where an attack wedge can be played to the open side of the green complex.  All four of the five pars have interesting tactical options so the opportunity for scoring is there but it takes good planning melded with good shot making.

Finesse demand on the par 4 12th will drive big hitters bonkers

Finesse demanded on the par 4 12th will drive big hitters bonkers

The par fours have great variety-long and short versions that smartly use the prevailing topography to feed into the strategy of  the holes.  Three short ones of 335 yards or less call for very articulate club selection and execution to get the ball into the attack position into the greens.  On some of the longer holes, if you tee shots are not of full measure, it may be smarter to play to a lay up spot and rely on an aggressive pitch and a putt to make a par.  Biting off big carries over the bunker side of the green complex can lead to big numbers if you do not pull them off.  Kenny Rogers golf….you got to know when to hold them..know when to fold them.

Just a little pitch down the hill into a dicey 16th green

Just a little pitch down the hill into a dicey 16th green

The par threes at 178, 159, 209, and 127 cover the gamut when it comes to look and demand of approach shots.  The fifteenth is the longest and probably the easiest one and the shortest is sixteen and may be the one with the trickiest green placements to get at.  My favorite is the sixth where you have a full carry long iron/hybrid across an environmental area and one of the deepest hurdle bunkers you will see all day framing the carry across the full face of the green.  With a little breeze this becomes a real question of how much risk you want to take on to get it in the correct third of the green.

Talk about framing...the tee shot on the final hole

Talk about framing the shot…the tee view on the final hole

For the most part the wide playing area prevails throughout the course but there a tight corner of the property from eleven through thirteen where you have to bear down tightly on the luge runner to stay on the track.  Any towardness issues to the left of these three holes can ring up the register reading of the scorecard in a hurry.

Despite what looks like fairly hilly terrain the course is eminently walkable.  Greens are close to tees, there are very few steep transitional hills to traverse, and they even provide a walkers cut from the tee to the fairway.  Hand carts are available if you like to walk and I would recommend them so you get the full flavor and aroma of the golf experience.

Spy Pelican with a range finder adjacent to the 16th

Spy Pelican with a range finder adjacent to the 16th

One of the real kitchy things about this place is the prevalence of animal accent lawn art.  You will see hippos, seals, pelicans, and more strewn through the course.  Love the sense of humor this indicates.

Some reclining pelicans watch your warm up at the range

Some reclining pelicans watch your warm up at the range

As one of the greens staff said to me on the course, Cape Cod National does not have the reputation of some of the other older, more established courses on the Cape but it probably has more memorable holes on it than any of them.  I would agree.   Silva did a great job in creating a course that the members will enjoy playing every day or a visiting dignitary will appreciate on a one up.

Brewster, Massachussetts


Designer: Brian Silva (1998)

Tees                 Par       Yardage          Rating      Slope

Blue                 72          6954                74.0         135

White              72          6375                71.2          131

Gold                72          5829                69.4          124

Red                 72         4884                 70.7          125

(Click to see the complete hole-by-hole description of Cape Cod National Golf Club)

Carnoustie Golf Links

Carnoustie_logoCarnoustie has had it’s share of critics over the last century, most of them said it was too boring, too penal, or had too many weak holes to hold a place in the Open Championship Rota. But in the late 1990s, under the direction of their green superintendent John Philip, an astonishing renovation/restoration of the course was done and the result is a very difficult links golf experience. Of the resultant course changes James Finegan says “A sow’s ear had metamorphosed into a silk purse. This eighteen is the ultimate golfing challenge.”

This is not a course you can play gripping it and ripping it, you have to play almost every shot with proper forethought and flawless execution. There are no breather holes out here-play with absolute resolve on every hole or your scorecard will be punished. Sound of report of shooting range gunfire from the nearby military installation early in the round should remind you that you are in a full contact skirmish out there.

Famous people have left their mark in over 85 years as a championship venue

Carn Hogan SignBuilt on about as flat a piece of land as any links layout you will ever see the excitement had to be made in the strategic layout of fairway landing areas, green complexes, and the extensive use of burns and OB to cordon off reckless shot execution. As you experience in Florida they incorporated heavy dosages of burns (water) and Barbasol bunkering to make this place very punitive-especially when the wind is present.

A proper Scottish burn….not much water but significant scorecard pain

Jockies BurnThe closely shaven surrounds to the burns and bunkers give the hazards an especially strong magnetic attraction to a ball hit without sufficient resolve. There are many times when you think you hit the perfect approach and you are scratching your head in disbelief at where it ends up.

Greens that pitch and yaw even without the ever present wind

Carn 5 Green


To add more intrigue the greens are sprawling, oddly shaped with tiers and elevation transitions that make getting the ball close to the day’s pin a big challenge. Without any topography to block the breeze the putting is very wind affected which makes downwind, downhill putting particularly treacherous.

The typical hurdles you must negotiate on the way to the greens

Carn 3The scorecard reveals much of the difficulty of this course in the yardage alone. Close to 7000 yards from the white tees with a par of 72 with only three par fives on the shortish side there are a bevy of brutish par 4s that add up to that yardage total. From the yellow tee at 6600 yards two of those five pars on the inward nine become punitive par 4s as well.

Crossing the Spectacles Bunkers on the 14th takes extra focus

SpectaclesThe last four holes are the most difficult finish you have ever encountered with a manly par three close over 235 yards and the three par four holes all approaching 450 with serious diversionary hazards everywhere you look. The result is a slope rating of 144 and 142 respectively off the white and yellow markers which tells you all you need to know about the challenge at hand.

I will leave the details of this trek to the hole-by-hole description below but suffice it to say that this is the most excruciating test of recreational golf you will ever play. It needs to be experienced once simply because of it’s place in Open Championship lore where the likes of Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, and Padraig Harrington have claimed the Claret Jug.

Simpsons Golf Shop…one of the kitchy treasures in town

Simpsons Golf ShopTell the women and the kids to enjoy the day walking the quaint fishing town of Carnoustie and make sure they visit Simpsons Golf Shop across the street, they will have a much more delightful day than you have had.

The Frenchman’s epitaph etched over his watery grave

John V Carn 18The place is infamously known as the graveyard of Jean van de Velde’s Open Championship dreams. His nightmare finish on the 18th is commemorated by an inscription of his name on the top of the burn wall where he arrogantly tried to play one of the silliest recovery shots in major championship history. I don’t see you rolling up your pants legs and playing anything standing in the water on the last hole but I am pretty sure that once you are sitting in Calder’s Bar with an Irn-Bru in your hand there will be many wounds to salve from your walk around these links.

Carnoustie, Scotland

Architect: Allan Robertson, Old Tom Morris, James Braid (1840)

Tee        Par      Rating      Slope     Yardage
White     72         75          144        6948
Yellow    70         74          142        6595
Red       72         72          132        6144

(Click here to review the complete Carnoustie Links hole-by-hole descriptions)

For more pictures click to review Northern Scotland-Day 7: Carnoustie Golf Links

Los Angeles Country Club-North Course

LACC LogoGeorge Thomas, an east coast native who cut his design teeth with others from the Philadelphia School of Design back in the teens, moved to the west coast in 1919 to establish a beachhead of quality designs in California in the full Golden Age tradition. With Bel-Air and Riviera already under his belt he took on the job of redesigning the two courses at Los Angeles Country Club at the request of their members. What he and his sidekick William Bell created with the North Course at LACC turned out to be the centerpiece of the George Thomas design portfolio in California.

Over the next 80 plus years a combination of meddlesome board decisions and some nature-based changes mollified the character of the course to the point where it had lost it’s soul. In the early 00’s an initiative by some younger members sought out Hanse Design to propose a plan to restore the North Course to the original design. Gil Hanse, with the capable help of his longtime associate Jim Wagner and some historical perspective from Geoff Shackelford, put together an ambitious restoration plan to bring the course back to it’s original character and full grandeur. The board had the good sense to fully embrace the restoration plan and in 2009 a staged restoration began to take place.

Gil Hanse’s Master Plan for the LACC North Course restoration

LACC Course MapThe work included rediscovering and restoring the original Billy Bell bunkering, returning to their rightful homes greens that had been senselessly relocated, thinning out the 80 years of overgrowth of trees and related ground vegetation that had compromised the views on the course, and establishing throughout the course the influence of the dry wash that had given this course it’s distinct character.

There is so much talk these days about recapturing the look and playability of courses of the Golden Age of Golf Course Design and that is precisely what Hanse and Associaties have done at LACC. The fact that the USGA and R & A are bringing a Walker Cup to LACC in 2017 and the U.S. Open in 2023 would tell you that the restoration was a roaring success.

Built on hundreds of rolling acres of some of the most valuable urban real estate in America LACC sits in the middle of Beverly Hills in the shadow of apartment buildings, palatial homes, and commercial development. They have maintained a reasonable buffer for the most part-while on the property you feel relatively secluded from all that with a few notable exceptions. The ground itself is a wonderful hilly piece of property that presented interesting possibilities for Thomas and Bell for the routing of holes and placement of tees, hazards, and greens. The genius of the design is that they used the flow of the land, the dry wash, and nature’s assets to create holes that do not intrude on the environment, they look like they were always there.

You contend with the dry wash everywhere-here as a forced carry off the 3rd tee
LA #3 Par 4 TeeStepping onto the first tee you take in the flavor of the course immediately. The grass platform for the teeing grounds are not distinct from the fairway in front of you. The vast continuum of short grass just melds into the course that is unfolding below your feet. The placement of the fairway and green side bunkers is very creative. They give clear direction to your strategic options off the tees and on approach. Many times you will realize that the movement of the pin 30 feet on the green can change both the preferred distance and angle of the approach you are trying to set up. This is why an investment in a good caddie is a must when you play LACC.

As you get out through the second and third holes the presence of the dry wash makes itself very apparent. Fortunately there is no water running through it and the fact that they do not seem to let it get overgrown means you can technically play from it without grounding your club. Having said that it is incumbent upon you to give the presence of the wash full consideration when weighing options of approach lines and club selection. Both of these holes will taunt you in terms of carry to reach the putting surface, especially if you are not in the fairway. First lesson to be learned at LACC is a bogie is an acceptable result when double or worse is possible taking on a shot that is just beyond your skill set.

First postcard view of the day…from the tee on the Par 3 4th
LA #4 Par 3 2The par three fourth is one of the signature holes on the course-from it’s teeing ground the full splendor of LACC is apparent. Elevation change, wash, sand, even some exposed sand hills thrown in for good measure makes for a true Kodak moment. Once again Thomas gave you options that allow you to mitigate risk and protect your scorecard. Getting it close is a real risk/reward deal but hitting it to the fat part of the green should mean making par is very doable. If you forget what neighborhood you are in take a gander back up the hill from this green-that is Lionel Richie’s little bungalow looking down at you.

The neighbors are quiet, reserved guys like Lionel Richie and Hugh Hefner

Lionel Richie's HouseIn 1927 Thomas wrote a book called “Golf Architecture In America’ at about the same time he was doing this course where he talks about the notion of designing a course within a course. The idea was that holes could play to different strategy, even different par depending on how they set the tees and pins on a given day. As you will read in the link to the Hole-By-Hole Analysis below five through nine are all half par holes that speak to this notion-depending on set up and your degree of chutzpah they can be very different day-to-day.

Course within a course…219 to 242 yards across the abyss…7th hole is a Par 3/4

LA #7 Par 3Six is a “drivable” par four where you have to be certifiable to try to go for the green. Seven is a par three where laying up may be the best option depending on the wind influence. Eight is a truncated, switch back, shish-link of a five par that throws all strategic convention out the window and dares you to play with a sense of abandon. If you survive the tee shot on tourniquet approach to the par three ninth a double has turned into a three with one swing of the club. The only thing I will guarantee is that once you have played through this fungible part of the course you will have goose bumps or the sweats depending on how you fared.

Gynormous driving areas like the 10th still require precision decision making

LA #10 TeeThe inward nine is even more dramatic and just as thrilling. The tenth shares fairway with the sixteenth, a characteristic you see repeated a number of times through the round. This gives the course the appearance of great width and allows you to see through to others holes as you play. It reinforces the seamless character mentioned with continuous tee boxes to the fairways and reinforced often by continuous short grass between greens and the next teeing round. Thomas is playing with your mind because in spite of the width presented there is always a favored area, usually 20 to 25 yards wide that you want to place your tee ball in to have a sporting chance of taking on the challenge of the hole.

Reverse Redan….an uncomfortable approach down to the 11th green
LA #11 Par 3The other postcard par three is the downhill eleventh. Here they reversed the classic Redan with an abruptly downhill tee shot that must be played off a side hill short left of the green to feed the ball onto a green that runs away to the right. Like most Redan holes, trying to take on the pin directly will likely put you in the nasty short side bunker or over the green with a thankless recovery shot at hand.

Green side bunkers are deep and nasty
LA #12 Par 4 GreenYou cannot talk about LACC without paying homage to the Billy Bell Bunkers. They are deep, intimidating, thoughtfully placed, yet totally playable. The toothy edges and gnarly brow grass is what people notice but the steep faces tend to avoid plug lies and the playing condition of where you end up-both sand and slope-lends itself to a typical bunker shot swing as long as you are wisely willing to accept 25 feet for the first putt.

On many of the par fours Bell embedded a bunker in the center front of the approach creating a notched arrangement in the front of the green. This provides a pinable section on either side of the bunker but often one of those sides hangs perilously above nastiness you do not want to engage. More decisions….this course is all about making clear headed decisions. Jim Wagner, with the help of Geoff Shackelford, labored tirelessly to restore the sod walls on the bunkers to support the signature jagged look that Bell had originally built into these hazards.

The Billy Bell Bunkers will make you take pause on planning your approach line
LA #3 Par 4 GreenThe three par fives are all holes you can try to reach in two if you are very long and very disciplined. The fourteenth is one of my favorites because even as a three-shot hole the lay-up and approach are fraught with difficulty if you bite off more than you can chew. It looks so simple yet the slightest deviation in execution can mean severe consequences to your scorecard.

I have read elsewhere that the genius of George Thomas was his ability to create something special on a short hole with little topographical feature. He did this repeatedly at Riviera and the short approach and putt fifteenth is another gem. The slender, crescent shaped green orients to tightly fitting bunkers with just enough elevation to mask what should be a simple, short iron approach. The hole can be as short at 75 and as long as 135 but I guarantee you more people are shaking their heads side-to-side rather than up-and-down when they are walking to the sixteenth tee.

Every great entertainment experience has a memorable finish and on that score LACC will not disappoint. With the Nassau bet in the balance the last three holes will determine the winner based on judgment, execution, and a little bit of existential fate. The walk to the house encompasses three par fours where success comes from thoughtful drive position followed by flawless execution on approach leaving an uphill putt where you can threaten the hole.

Wow quotient is high from the elevated tee looking down the 17th fairway
LA #17 TeeIf you find the fairway off the tee on the sixteenth the approach is a repeat of the tee shot into the reverse Redan arrangement you saw on the eleventh just off your left shoulder. From the tee on the seventeenth the full monte of LACC sits below your feet-the wash, layered bunkering, and a wide driving area with a very focal sweet spot. The second is one of the most articulate approach shots you will hit all day as the green is set on a diagonal to your aiming line behind a nasty bunker front left and no bail out salvation anywhere. The finish is a walk back up the subtle ramp you played down on the first with a driving area that makes the 18th at the Old Course look narrow. Once again the position of your tee ball is critical to getting an accessible angle at a green tightly ensconced by furry sand.

Driftwood trimmings work well with the rah-rah logo

Tee Stantion #7The ambiance of this place is traditional with a kitchy twist. The unusual pennant style of the LACC logo is everywhere on the course- on hole stanchions, tee markers, pins, practice green flags, scorecards, hats, and the shirt you will want to take home with you. This theme lends a youthful collegial feel to the facility that just seems to fit.

Bonus Coverage: #17 Alt the extra hole rediscovered in the restoration

LA #17 Alt holeMost important George Thomas created a course that is a graceful combination of raw nature and good, balanced design, a golf experience that will cling to your memory long after the walk is over.

Los Angeles, California

Designer: George Thomas (1927)

Tees      Par     Yardage     Rating     Slope

Black     70        7010          74.6        139
White    70        6466          72.4         135
Red       70        6089          70.2         131
Green    70        5610          67.7         122

(Click to read the Hole-By-Hole Analysis of Los Angeles Country Club-North Course)

PGA West-Arnold Palmer Private Course

PGA West LogoBuilt in the mid 1980’s as part of the PGA West lavish vacation home development, the Arnold Palmer Private course nestles at the foot of the scenic Santa Rosa Mountains. This is an array of wonderful visual holes that weave among manmade water hazards and manufactured rolling desert topography to present a onerous challenge emulating the TPC design tradition propagated by PGA Commissioner Dean Beman at that time.

The course has been a regular feature of the tour’s Bob Hope Desert Classic (and it’s later commercial iterations). You may remember it as the place where you saw David Duval shoot his remarkable 59 in the final round to win the 1999 event.

An oasis sculpted out of the desert for your recreation and enjoyment

APP #3 Par 3

Arnold was obviously keeping up with the Dye’s who created the neighboring the PGA West Stadium Course at the same time in following the TPC formula of cookie cutter driving areas, flanked by ominous water and deep bunkers, and tight green complexes with large undulating surfaces. It is not a track for the meek of heart or those who lack trajectory and spin in their game. For the pros the slope is an impossible 143 and mere mortals face a stiff 133 from the 6500 tees.

The approach on the drive and pitch 8th is anything but easy to negotiate

APP #8 Par 4

This course was designed to be taken on full bore. The only way to play it is Arnold’s way, roll up your shirtsleeves and be aggressive. The biggest challenge is in the four pars and not necessarily the longest ones. The par fives are relatively mundane and similar in design except the finishing hole which has some chutzpah (Duval hit driver, 5-iron to 8 feet and drained it for eagle to cap off his 59). The par threes have lots of visual interest but not that much bite. The front nine works clockwise away from the clubhouse to the north and back. The back nine mimics the pattern in a counterclockwise direction which means that given the day’s desert wind direction you should have the same difficulty factor on half the holes on each side.

One of Arnie’s many cape holes-water all the way up and a forced carry to boot

APP #9 Par 4 3The real treachery is in the multitude of forced carry cape par fours strewn throughout the layout. Holes like 4, 7, 9, 10, 13, and 16 all use the same combination of harrowing water adjacent the full length of the hole with a tight green complex cordoned by water as well. When you get deep into the back nine you reach the Venetian section of the course from the 14th on where the canals haunt every shot and the only thing missing are the voices of gondoliers humming a sad tune if your shots get wayward right.

Part of the Venetian Stretch approach to the 16th must contend with the canal

APP #16 Par 4 Green

These final holes are spectacular to look at, set up against the foot of the mountains with towering sheer rock faces looking over your right shoulder on every swing. At least the short holes are short and it ends with a Par 5 so maybe you can find some redemption for your scorecard at the end.

Duval hit 5-iron to 8 feet and made eagle-the cherry on top of his 59 Sundae

APP #18 Par 5 2This is a high end facility so the conditioning of the course-fairways and greens-is impeccable. They keep them on the pacey end of the Stimpmeter so you will have to mind your approach position to try to leave yourself uphill putts you can handle. Cavernous bunkers throughout are real hazards as are some of the grass mogul fields that abut many of the green complexes. As I have seen on other TPC style courses most of your recovery game is with a sand iron or a loft club.

This image of the Par 3 15th will cling to your memory long after the round is done

APP #15 Par 3The rest of the facility is first class as well. They have a wonderful informal dining area that overlooks the staging area and sprawling natural grass practice grounds which you should take advantage of for a post game lunch and lick your wounds session.

Palm Desert, California

Designer: Arnold Palmer (1986)

Tees     Par    Yardage     Rating     Slope

Black    72        6950           74          143
Blue      72        6492          71.4        133
Bl/Wh   72        6217          70.3        129
White   72        5995           69.3        126
Red      72        5226           71.2        133

(Click to see the full hole-by-hole review of the Arnold Palmer Private Course)

To see more photos: Click to check out our Postcard From PGA West

Desert Willow-Mountain View Course

Desert Willow LogoMountain View is the demure younger sister of the feature Firecliff Course at Desert Willow. Designed by the same crew of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry with Tour Pro John Cook commiserating, it shares the look and feel of Firecliff with a more user friendly interface. It shares the stunning backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains throughout the course and plenty of money was spent moving dirt to create interesting topography with desert flora plantings as accent.

No shortage of Kodak moments here

Par 3 8

Mountain View was built to be the member’s everyday course, a kinder, gentler experience with less obvious danger and reverberations to the scorecard. The metric difference of 5 less in the slope from the 6500 yard Blue Tees speaks to this. There is simply more unfettered access to the preferred driving areas and the green complexes on approach and the severity of penalty for missing either is less significant. The small greens have somewhat milder undulations and are kept at a pace much less disarming than her more athletic sister.

Stone walls, palm trees, and desert flora accent throughout

Par 5 6Having said that this is not a course where you can play on auto pilot, it takes your full concentration to plot your way around. If I have any criticism at all it is that most of the holes are relatively straight, very few holes that turn dramatically to focus your attention to the A drive position off the tee. But even without elbows on the corners the green complexes still dictate a preferred drive position in the generous driving areas.

Generous driving areas but position matters into confined green complexes

Par 4 10th TeeThe small size of the greens and the fact that many are raised from the fairway is the scorecard’s best defense. The front pins are particularly difficult because there is no advantage way to be short of these pins and have an uphill birdie opportunity. Your pitching recovery game will get a workout because you will miss greens so an adept short game is a must to scoring well. Much like Firecliff reading these greens is difficult with all the static of the mountain backdrop and the manufactured topography. If you have your Everything-Breaks-To-Indio compass on hand it can prove relevant on many of the reads.

The 16th you have to work your drive around this bunker constellation


This is a fun afternoon of golf, an opportunity working taking if you are in Palm Desert for long enough to play both courses at Desert Willow. I actually like it as a warm up round the day before taking on the full Firecliff challenge.

Palm Desert, California

Designer: Michael Hurdzan (1998)

Tees     Par   Yardage    Rating   Slope

Black    72     6913         73.4     130
Blue      72     6507         71.5     128
White    72     6128         69.8     126
Red      72     5040         69.6     126

(Click here to review the Desert Willow-Mountain View Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

(Click to read the review of the sister Desert Willow-Firecliff Course)