Proper Golf

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: Queenwood

Queenwood Golf Club, 2001
Arch, David McLay Kidd
Surrey, England

Playing up to the patio of the clubhouse, only the boldest will try to
reach this par-5, #18, in two when the pin is on the left

The Queenwood experience is certainly unique. I have shared the practice facilities, some of the best in the world, with Darren Clark here on multiple occasions, and rubbed shoulders with other London based tour pros like Graham McDowell and Adam Scott in the magnificent clubhouse. One of the most exclusive clubs in the world, British Royalty have been denied membership multiple times (fact). Because of its location amidst Wentworth, Sunningdale, Woking, and more, the relatively young course has had to hold its own in order to survive with its Surrey address. With intricately shaped bunkers lined with purple heather, imported gorse and towering pines setting the scene, the course plays around a few ponds and has some gentle elevation changes. I'm not afraid to call this David McLay Kidd design the prettiest inland golf course I have ever played.

While Queenwood may not be the best of the heathland bunch, the designer Bandon Dunes has built some more good golf holes here, at his first course in the UK. Although not as good overall as Bandon, the greens here are great fun. Often sectioned to play as small targets within each individual putting surface, the greens here are kept at some of the fastest speeds in all of Europe. With limited rounds and a high maintenance budget, the course is also known for its manicured look. Don't let the frilly bunkering, flowering yellow gorse, or one of the five ponds blind you, Queenwood is good and fun, but the overall experience is better than the architecture.

#3 is a beautiful short par-4, but at 325 yards, a long-iron off the tee to
avoid the bunker and 9-iron in, this hole lacks in strategic interest

The best part of the routing is the collection of long holes. At par of 72, Kidd has built three par-5's on the back, and five overall (same goes for the par-3's). The architect eases into the round with the emphasis on club section rather than ball striking giving golfers a chance at par on #1. Not the best of the lot, the tee shot has been reworked under Kidd's supervision, and is a nice way to start the round. I really enjoy the downhill #9 and #13 which leaves you with a blind approach if you don't lay-up in the proper position. #18 also has some nice design elements giving players some risk reward opportunities for matches coming down to the wire.

My favorite hole on the course, #13 has pretty bunkering
and tall pines, but if you don't focus on your second shot,
you wont be able to see your target on your next.

Most of the members I have asked will tell you #16 is their favorite hole on the course, which is not a surprise at all (see photo bellow). Somewhat reminiscent of Bay Hill's #18 with its green wrapping around the far end of a pond, driver is not the normal play off the tee here. Turning left at the water, most will run out of room on a straight line if they play the #1 wood from the tee. Some players may try to take on the hazards down the left with a drawing fairway wood trying to shorten the water carry, but if you are willing to be bold on a relatively short second shot good scores are manageable on this heavily slanted back-to-front green. The fairway wraps all the way around the pond if you really want to stay dry, but chipping across this green isn't much easier, I've seen balls end up in the water from left and certainly above the hole.

The approach to #16 is so beautiful you might think you are in a dream,
until you four-putt this very difficult, very wide green!

Queenwood isn't the first place I would go looking for a game of heathland golf. An entirely unique golf experience, the Surrey layout is bit of mixed bag. If you are lucky enough to get offered a chance to play behind the locked gates, I definitely recommend it, if for nothing else, the beauty and pace of play, which is always great because you are almost assured to be one of the only matches that day. The course has seen some changes since its opening and should be about to reopen after complete re-grassing of the greens. I look forward to my next round here, if I haven't been banned for writing this review!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

List: Shorties

Pinehurst No. 3 may be short, but has steep contours and small targets
shaped like No. 2. Its a great place to study half-par holes
and the dropkick approach.

5 Courses Under 6,500 yrds of architectural interest:
Dedham Country and Polo Club (6,223 yrds) - Dedham, MA (Raynor 1910)
The Equinox: Glenagles (6,432 yrds) - Manchester Village, VT (Travis 1926, R Jones 1991)
Pinehurst No. 3 (5,682 yrds) - Pinehurst, NJ (Ross 1910)
Seaview Golf Resort: Bay (6,247 yrds) - Gallaway, NJ (Ross 1914, Wilson)
Southern Pines Golf Club (6,268 yrds) - Southern Pines, NC (Ross 1906)

Honourable Mention:
Rockaway Hunt Club (6,251 yrds) - Lawrence, NY (Emmet 1878, Tillinghast)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Pinehurst No 2

Pinehurst Golf Resort
Course No. 2 (1903 with renovations by Ross until 1935)
Arch: Donald Ross (Currently under renovation by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw)
Pinehurst, NC

Side view of #14 green late in the afternoon

Contrary to popular belief, Pinehurst No. 2 is NOT the place to go if you are looking to understand "classic/stereotypical" Donald Ross, or why his style produced so many great courses all over the United States. Although it had no grass on its greens when originally designed (no Southern golf courses during those days knew how to make Bermuda puttable yet), Donald Ross spent more time tinkering with No. 2 than other course that bears his name, and it is no doubt his best course. Over time the greens at Pinehurst No. 2 have evolved into what many experts recognize as the best green complexes in the world. Top-dressing myths, and "original intent of design" aside, the raised and crowned greens surrounded by short grass of No. 2 provide a world class test as well as great fun for resort guests.

Where Pinehurst No. 2 differs from most great inland golf courses is that it is relatively undefined by its trees, yet the towering pines that give the resort its name line both sides of every hole. Some like to criticize the home of American golf for lacking in aesthetic interest or beauty, but what few realize during the course of play, surely adding to the experience, is that very few golf balls are ever lost during a round. I have never played another golf course that is known to be a such a terror to professionals, hosting more championships than any other course in the country, yet virtually no time is spent by hackers looking for balls. Pinehurst No. 2 is a masterpiece of playability for all players, yet as Donald Ross tells us via plaque on the first tee, he plans to provide challenges for even the championship level golfer.

#1 Approach has a deep bunker left, and bunker short right for slicers.
Also note how close #2 Tee is to the green, Pinehurst #2
has remained a great walk for over a century.

From start to finish the No. 2 Course doesn't not have a single dull moment on it with 18 very different golf holes that are good and only get better; don't let any convince you otherwise with tales of how the course really starts on #2 tee. Yes #2 is a monster par-4 with a fabulous double-crowned green angled to the right, and probably the hardest hole on the course, but the first recovery shots around the notable domed greens are not easy. The first stretch of holes #1-5, is a word class opening phrase, but it is #3 and #5 utilizing the steep hill for greensites which steal the show.

Donald Ross lived in the house just left of #3 green

#3 is a short par-4 that requires accuracy from the tee, normally with less than driver, trying to avoid the sandy waste area on the right guarding the direct line to the green. Ross has contoured this green to sit high above the hill waiting to punish long shots, yet squeezes the opening of the green between deep bunkers and sharp ground contours asking the golfer to be bold with their approach. After a plunge down the hill on #4, which used to be home to the golf Hall of Fame (now in Florida), #5 is a long difficult par-4 which climbs back up the hill before settling back behind #3 green. The fifth hole must be approached from the right side of the fairway to utilize the fairway contours; because of its length and uphill nature most golfers are forced to attack this green with a running approach from either fairway wood or hybrid. The right side opens up the green this style of attack. Golfers who fail to recognize this and take on the left side of this hole often find their balls back at the bottom of the hill. Remember Donald Ross intends on having the golfer solve a variety of problems, you are going to have to be a little creative to hold some of the boldest greens in the game.

Plenty of room to bail out right on #5, very few birdies are made here.

The opening nine concludes with my favorite par-3 on the course, #9 . Normally not more than a mid-iron, #9 is all about club selection into the relatively shallow and horizontal green. The wide green which is split into two tiers requires an extra club when playing to a pin on the left side. Normally set as the shortest hole on the course, #9 is the most heavily guarded, a trait it shares with many of the games finest short par-3's in the game.

The back left pin has been made easier over time as the ball
flies higher and softer,but the false front on the right has
become increasingly difficult for the pros

The meat of the back nine comes between #11-14, four straight par-4s that play in four different directions. This interesting part of the routing essentially takes the golfer out and back, across flat terrain before making a left hand turn to go up and then back down a hill. It is the differences in these four holes, along with the other 14, that make Pinehurst No. 2 so great. Each hole offers a unique problem to solve, and even offers a variety of different style hazards, which is part of the mystery of the Ross style. Sandy waste areas, pot bunkers, figure-eight bunkers, and even bunkers with fingers, are found on these four holes, adding to the memorability of each individual hole.

Don't be surprised if you see more sandy waste area on #13 after
Coore and Crenshaw finish restoring No. 2 back to its original intent

The last chances for birdie on No. 2 come at the par-5 #16 and par-3 #17. The only water hole on the course #16 plays as a difficult par-4 in the US Open, but for most, a strategic lay-up on the second shot avoiding the hidden bunker on the left, can open up the green which is cut into a hill. Next is #17, another short heavily guarded par-3 on both sides, but easily accessible with a well struck mid-iron.

The downhill #14 has a variety of bunkers styles and
a very pronounced crowned crowned green

The finishing hole at Pinehurst No. 2 is obviously very famous. Playing back to the clubhouse, where Payne Stewart finished off his victory with the celebrated fist pump, is something a lot of golfers enjoy. Personally I don't feel like it qualifies as a great closing hole, but it certainly is no slouch, especially playing into a difficult setting sun.

If you stay away from the fairway bunker on the right, #18 is rather
straight forward up the hill, if you can get it there.

Pinehurst No. 2 is absolutely a world class golf course. It is no wonder some of today's best architects have spent tons of time studying Ross' masterpiece. While the Pinehills area of North Carolina offers many great golf courses, No. 2 is simply unmatched in the region. While it can be extremely expensive playing Pinehurst No. 2 during peak season, I highly recommend late Fall or early Spring seasons when the rates drop and the ground game is just still plenty interesting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Photo Tours

#6 - Kingsbarns, Scotland

There are now 24 Photo Tours up on
(Including: Bandon Trails, Ballyneal, Pinehurst No 2 and No 4, Southern Pines, etc )

Next Up: more reviews... Pinehurst No 2 and Yale

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Formidable Hazard

From the Golfmeister's Sketchbook. Bonus points if you can name
the no longer existing course that inspired this drawing

Modern bunkers, especially in America, tend not to offer the penalty that the sandy hazard was originally intended for many years ago on the original links courses. Any golfer who has played these classic links no doubt remembers what it was like the first time they played out sideways or backwards from a pot bunker. For whatever reason, what is understood as fun and interesting challenge escaping from these hazards, all of a sudden becomes unfair when back in America.

It is my theory that we can make golf a lot more fun and interesting by making our "hazards" into real formidable hazards, like the sketch above. With more punishing bunkers, where a full recovery will not always be an option, architects will be forced to be much more careful of their placement and construction/maintenance costs should actually be lower because there will be fewer. While spending an entirety of ones round in bunkers of this sort will no doubt cause a golfer to quit, leaving a golfer with one or two memories of such gnarly bunkers surely will create a positive experience.

Monday, February 7, 2011

List: Favorite Modern

Loosely defined by the invention of the bulldozer circa 195/60's with the rise of Robert Trent Jones Sr

Friars Head #15. On top of the sand dunes,
Long Island Sound ahead

This is not a list of the best courses. These are my personal favorites.

Top 3 (no order):
Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club - Holyoke, Colorado: Doak
Friars Head - Baiting Hollow, NY: Coore and Crenshaw
Old Macdonald Golf Links - Bandon, Oregon: Doak and Urbina

Next 5 (no oder)
Bandon Trails - Bandon, OR: Coore and Crenshaw
Kingsbarns Golf Links - Fife, Scotland: Parsinen and Philips
The Ocean Course - Kiawah, SC: Dye
Sebonack Golf Club - Southampton, NY: Doak and Nicklaus
Tobacco Road - Sanford, NC: Stranz

Honorable Mention:
Bayonne Golf Club - Bayonne, Bayonne, NJ: Bergstol
Bandon Dunes - Bandon, OR: Kidd

notable omissions: Sand Hills, Pac Dunes, Shadow Creek, Kingsley, Ballyhack and many more, I simply haven't seen/played them for myself yet to be on my list

Thursday, February 3, 2011 COMING SOON!

While content is still being loaded, check out a rare photo tour of The Dormie Club, while it was still under construction in 2009. Coore and Crenshaw's new course in the Pinehurst, NC, right now appears to be the front runner to be crowned the next best new course.

Right now I plan to have reviews, photo tours, video, construction essays, and of course, this blog. Suggestions for content are welcome.

The Golfmeister,