Scotland - I spent a week in East Lothian, Scotland playing some of the very best links golf has to offer, along with teeing it up for the 3rd time in Tom Doak's Renaissance Cup, which was held at The Renaissance Club, highlighting the changes since the additional beachfront property was acquired, along with the new clubhouse. Some thoughts on the course:
My favorite shots on the course were certainly the recovery shots around the greens. I also thought the group of par-5's is probably among the best I have seen from the RGD team. There was some really inventive, and creative thought that went into these holes, which I really think went a long way in bringing out the quirky linksy spirit of the place. Its easy to fall in love with the walls, and tall brown grasses blowing in the wind, and obviously the setting is epic, but it was in the approaches to the par-5s that I think the true East Lothian shows.
Renaissance Club #11
Aside from multiple rounds at The Renaissance Club, I was able to tee it up at: 2x at Muirfield, 3x at North Berwick + 1 walk, and once each at Gullane #2 and Kilspindie which was a delightful little links, with some great seaside holes.
North Berwick #13, The Pit
#13, The Pit, at North Berwick easily became one of my favorite holes in the world. Muirfield I do think is the best course in the area, but North Berwick's West Links was my favorite of the bunch! Here is my take on Murifild, as I wrote to my host from The R&A:
To put it simply, the golf course is an absolute 10. The routing was the one characteristic of the course I was most familiar with prior to visiting, based on my time at Quaker Ridge with the reversed "Muirfield Routing", but I never realized how much change of direction there was within the clockwise loop. I thought the routing was wonderfully artistic in that sense, and really worked to maximize the golf course to its fullest potential. One thing I thought was particularly brilliant was the use of the of the dune ridge running north/south towards the eastern edge of the site. As I was telling Alan (playing partner), many of the best routed courses in the world will use one or two dominant features of a site to define the strategies for multiple holes, rather than just building one or two postcard type holes. This ridge was used as well as any I have ever seen without being to obvious. #4 green, #5 tee, #6's beautiful fairway contours, were all products of the ridge. Then on the back nine, #11's horizon-line green is located back on top, before playing off of it on #12 tee, and then back one more time at the world class par-3 #13.
The second dominant feature of the site, that makes the course so interesting was the effect of the natural drainage pattern that emerges from #2. This super subtle feature plays havoc on the golfer trying to judge the speed of his putt on #1, 12, and brilliantly contoured #15. When greens are so well tied-in at grade, one can easily forget through round of the subtle tilt always pulling towards the North, which is rare.
While there are countless descriptions of Muirlfield's exacting test, fairness, and how it tests every part of ones game. I thought an interesting example of the remarkable variety, which is the essence of what these accounts are trying to explain, is at #17 green. After playing narrow holes, long holes, holes that bend one way, and the other, hitting up on the dune, and down from the dune, the sunken green at #17 could not have come at a better time in round. After negotiating the cross bunkers, nearly any green would have resulted in a good hole, but locating the green in the hollow providing the golfer with a different sort of puzzle to conquer is a wonderful crescendo to the round.
If I had to sum up the brilliance of Muirfield it would be in the fact that nearly every modern architect would want to build the course in the dunes down by the water, but someone long long ago had the foresight to realize that best course was not an out and back trip to the water and back, it was waiting to be subtly crafted just through the gate at the end of Duncur Road.
Other golf courses played, back in NY/NJ:
Tallgrass's #10, par-4 w a very narrow angled green
-Gil Hanse's, Tallgrass Golf Club in Shoreham, NY. It has a "Muirfield" routing, it is very smart/simple with lots of width and few bunkers, nicely contoured and very fast, pure, greens thanks to Bob Ranum's former assistant!
-Split Rock Golf Course, in the Bronx, NY. My favorite NYC public course.
-Hollywood Golf Club, in Deal, NJ, recently restored by my friends at Renaissance Golf Design.
-Mountain Ridge Country Club, also in NJ where I did some construction work years ago, but never played until this week... It is one of the best in NJ.
Mountain Ridge's #4, a long par-3
... Next UP ....
Off to London and France