Proper Golf

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: Walton Heath (OLD)

Walton Heath Golf Club

Old Course, 1904

Architect: Herbert Fowler

Surrey, England

One of the many vast open views at Walton Heath, a very different look than most other courses, especially in the Surrey area. It is rare to find a golf course (or two in this case) where so many holes can be seen from virtually any spot on the course.

And then there is the rugged and clumpy natural areas of heather throughout the course which eat errant balls. This is surely what the site was like before Fowler and his crew hacked away,
and found the two golf courses.

The first course of many laid out by Herert Fowler, the Old Course at Walton Heath is located on one of the highest points in the heathlands in what was once a jungle of heather and gorse. Unlike many of its fine Surrey neighbors, Walton, surprisingly, is built on clay. What is even more amazing, is Fowler, and his crew of barely over 10 men, 2 horses (1 borrowed from a local girl), a wagon and a handful of shovels and rakes, was able to fight through the field of unrelenting nasty plants and created some of the most brutal and hazards found in inland golf. Unlike most hazards in todays game, Walton's actually pose a threat to modern technology. Made famous by four time Open champion James Braid, the course is not as photogenic or dramatic as many of the other heathland layouts, but when it comes to providing a fun and interesting golf on a championship layout, few can compete.

The Old Course's 5th green is without a doubt the most interesting putting surface. Like nothing else on the property, retired Pro Ken MacPhereson was telling me how James Braid believed the contours seemed to grow from year to year.

Walton is a stern test of golf, all the way around, as evident by the many tournaments it hosts, but is more than playable for its large membership. The combination of large greens and firm turf gives players plenty of options in finding their way around the seas of heather and nasty hazards. Relatively flat for this area of the country, the out and back routing takes great advantage of the contours it does have, using the firm turf and undulations to send balls bounding to the right places in some situations and gathering them into places you wish you had never seen in others. Fowler, who designed the course from horseback, clearly spent most of his time on the details, as the natural layout shows virtually no evidence of a mans influence on the property aside from the bunkering. Although the course has seen a few changes, due to the M25 motorway, which shortened the 8th hole, a new (25+ years ago) 9th hole, lengthening for tournament play, and the maturing of many pine trees, the course feels as natural and classic as any I have come across.

The author and his playing partner playing out of two of the countless severe bunkers and hazards that can be found around all 36 holes at Walton Heath. Unlike so many modern bunkers dug out by big machines that look pretty and offer virtually no penalty, the deep revetted and heather faced pits here can ruin a score quickly.

The golf course itself, has big greens, but relatively small and subtle contours. Because of its length and difficult hazards, if it had wildly shaped greens, it might boarder on unplayable, and certainly lack a lot of the fun and charm it has. With so many good holes, and a remarkably strong finish it is hard to pick out a single favorite, although most, including longtime Pro Ken MacPhereson prefer the 5th, with its unusually wrinkled green. For myself, holes #7, the difficult mid-length par-3, the long and angled par-4 10th and short par-4 12th stood out to me, but on a golf course that has more great holes than most, you could go back and forth days.

The approach into #12, the best short par-4 on the course, plays over a common ground road where you are likely to be held up by horseback riders, bikers, and pedestrians out for a stroll.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: The Addington

The Addington Golf Club, 1913
Architect: John Frederick Abercromby
Croydon, England

One of the best inland par-3's in golf, the long #13 has the right combination of difficulty, fun and beauty

After The Old Course at St. Andrews, The Addington, in the heathlands outside London, may be the most ideal golf course. Abercromby, known as Aber, the benevolent dictator and architect of his home club, who clearly discovered this rugged minimalist gem, rather than built it, has given us one of the most fun and interesting courses in the world. With little bunkering necessary on this ideal piece of property only a few miles from the center of London, Aber routes the course to get the absolute most out of the property, using deep ravines as intimidating and natural hazards. There are big slopes to help the smart player strategically move the ball along the ground, and not a single hole that looks forced or out of place on the property.

#12 at The Addington is one of the most unique and quirkiest par-5's in golf. A very different take on risk/reward, bordering on luck, if you can navigate around the seas of heather which gobble up balls that you would have sworn were sitting pretty in the fairway from tee to green there is a possibility of reaching this green in two shots.

There is certainly not much leeway at The Addington. Because of the rugged and severe terrain, that is a bit reminiscent of Pasatiempo in California, the ideal way to play each hole is well defined and big numbers can start to pile up very quick if you start to stray from that line, as you may need a machete to find your ball in the rhodendron, heather, and trees. However with todays modern technology, the shorter length golf course is not as difficult as it surely once was, and there are certainly alternative ways to make pars here, and even birdies as well.

The last place you want to end up on #6, this brutal hazard requires stairs and bridge.

The course starts out a little slow, as holes # 1-5 are not terrible special aside from the fact it starts with an uphill par-3. Once the 6th tee is reached, everything changes. The stretch of holes from #6 to #9 is as strategically sound and exciting as any in golf, with stark shot values, treacherous hazards and a few bridges over some of the deep ravines. Each of these holes offers something unique. #6, a relatively short par-4 has a two options off the tee, no matter which is chosen the idea is to avoid one of the deepest bunkers in existence, cut into a ravine short right of the approach, at all costs. While it should be easily be avoided, the deep bunker needing a large staircase to enter and exit will often eat up balls from over zealous golfers. After a partially blind tee shot on the par-3 7th with some trenched out bunkers placed high above the green creating extremely difficult short game shots, the 8th hole, a bunkerless gem provides the par-player one of the most exacting tee shots on the course. Although not entirely clear from the tee, the ideal line is just inside the tree line on the left to using a diagonal ridge at the crest of a hill to gain an advantage of length and full view of the green. The final hole on outward nine surely cannot be replicated anywhere, jumping over deep ravines on both the tee shot and approach. Club selection is at a premium on the 9th as driver is probably to long for most, but any shot no long or left enough will create problems on the approach as trees will be hide the green or distance over the 2nd ravine will be to great to conquer.

The blind tee shot on #8 may not imply the most obvious of lines the first time you tee it up, but the ideal line here is just inside the trees on the left, and with either a draw or a friendly bounce, the green will open up on the approach. Tee balls played straight up the path will face a second blind shot and added distance in. Stark shot values, but nothing overly complicated gives golfers something to really fun to think about on almost every shot.

The best holes on the back nine are two of the most natural par-5s, numbers 12 and 16, as well as a pair of exacting one shot holes. With so many interesting and unique holes, it would be nearly impossible to describe them appropriately. All I can do is suggest you take the time to experience this incredibly fun and demanding golf course for yourself the next time you are in London. I took my boss' advice and certainly owe him some credit for my love of The Addington, so Tom Doak... thanks for sending me in the right direction, now I will try to convince more to do the same.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Pasatiempo

Pasatiempo Golf Club, 1929
Architect: Alister Mackenzie
Santa Cruz, CA

Pasatiempo has plenty of the artistic artistic flair Dr. Alister Mackenzie is known for as seen in
the bunkering and contouring of the downhill approach to the long par-4 #10

The home of Dr. Mackenzie is one of the best courses anyone can play in the country. Semi-private Pasatiempo Golf Club looks out over Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean from the elevated valley of Santa Cruz. The original routing and greens remain intact, and most of the bunkers restored over the last 15 years, however, the development along the perimeter of the property has cramped a bit of the original feel, especially on the front nine. (see historic photos from the clubs website:

#2 accepts low running shots into the fall away green, playing downhill
and sloped right-left the entire way

The course is separated into two distinct sections of nine holes. The front nine, on the lower half of the property, starts off downhill looking out over the water from an elevated tee next to the clubhouse and has 3 short holes. The better holes on the front are: #2 with a bit of an awkward tee shot to a hidden fairway below and a wild contour short right of the green, and the par3's #5 and 8 which both have lots of movement in and around the green allowing balls to roll in close to pins, or trickle to the far side side of the putting surface.

The most pictured hole on the course, #16, is a real beauty with the massive bunker on the right
approach after not being able to see the green from the tee, but it is the green,
one of the steepest in the world, which makes it great.

The back nine, is a bit of a different story. One of the best inward nines in golf, Mackenzie routed the second half of the course on the higher land above the clubhouse where he takes you over and around the baranca on most of the holes. With some of the most unique par-4's around, the golfer hardly cares how difficult #10, 11, 14, and 16 are because each uses the landscape to create beautiful and strategic golf holes which are indescribably fun. Without a week hole on the side, what makes Pasatiempo such a joy to play, is that 4 of the last 5 holes play at least partially downhill, making the walk in a little more pleasurable when they are most tired.

Playing across the deep barrancas on the back nine, is as exiting a natural hazard as there is.
(# 10 pictured)

... I would try to schedule your round early, because this course is so interesting, you are going to want to play it twice.

A view back at #18 tee and the gnarly hazard the par-3 finishing hole plays across