Tuesday, June 20, 2017

2017 Quest Update

The first half of 2017 has been a little quiet on the course-visiting front but on the course-planning front it has been full speed ahead! Here is what is going on for the second half of 2017:

Up First- Hidden Creek:

The only C&C course in New Jersey, I hopefully will be visiting this course as part of a trip back East to see family. The course is in Egg Harbor Township which is really close to the Atlantic Ocean but yet tucked in the Jersey pines which should give it a unique feel. Cross your fingers for me that the invite comes through! 

Then- A ThreeFer:

One thing about C&C courses is that they are spread out in out of the way places. As I don't have an unlimited amount of money, if I find myself in a certain part of the country I am going to make the rounds while I am there. In more or less proximity you have:

Sand Valley (Wisconsin)
Warren (Indiana)
Colorado Golf Club (Colorado)

I plan on hitting all three in a whirlwind trip and also see a few other courses in those areas. I am going to spend the most time at Sand Valley and it will be my first Mike Keiser golf resort and I am looking forward to all that entails. Is Wisconsin the next Oregon for golf? Time will tell! 

Warren typically isn't on people's radar but it should be! I hear it is a super solid course, certainly enough so that it is hosting the 2019 US Senior Open! Very excited to play that track! 

Finally I am capping it all off by a trip to the Colorado Golf Club. This course hosted the Solheim Cup and from what I hear it both a beast and beautiful! 

Finally- Clear Creek Tahoe:

I have never been to Tahoe but I hear it is beautiful and while C&C typically design their courses out in vast tracks of space, I am eager to play a course amongst the pines. 

So there we are, I am going after 5 courses in 5 months. Hopefully it all lines up and you will be reading trip reports a plenty over the next few months! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Trinity Forest Golf Club

At the end of 2016 when I played Trinity Forest, it was as new as you could get, having only opened in October of that year, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a fantastic inland links course that marries the best of Sand Hills and Ballyneal and birthed a challenging and super fun course.

*Apologies in advance for only a few photos appearing of the course, both of my cameras went to the great beyond during this round so you may have to use your imagination for some of this.*

The Front 9:

The front 9 (which may become the back 9 for tournament play) is a rock n rolling start to the course. Undulations abound on the fairways and on the greens. Often, I felt the greens were really oceans on a windy day. The tee boxes of TF are VERY similar to the style employed by Doak in Ballyneal, namely, the tee box is one continuous grassed area where tees can be easily set in interesting configurations each day.

Hole 1 featuring plenty of fairway but with bunkers camouflaging the best route turning it into a blind tee shot that you can still see. This is emblematic of the course in general, C&C seem to have gone to town on Alister MacKenzie's philosophy of putting danger out in front of you but upon arriving at the danger, you realize it wasn't so dangerous.

A classic example of this is Hole 2, a par 5, which has a bunker that appears next to the green and for certain will gobble up your second shot but instead is some 80 yards from the green and does not put your shot into too much trouble. Hole 2 also features a double green and while the best play is straightforward, another way to attack the hole is to hook it left then pitch it across the green.

Perhaps my favorite hole on the course came early on in the round, the par 5 Fifth Hole.

You have a wide fairway but it is uphill and with the crest of the hill and a bunker blocking your view, you aren't quite sure how your shot will end up. After the tee shot, it is ANOTHER blind shot, this time downhill, to a green that you can just see the flagstick. The green has a tendency to run from front to back so if you hit it midgreen or to the right, you might be rolling off. This hold might sound like a nightmare but it is a heck of a lot of fun and not so challenging that you feel like you are hitting and praying.

The greens on this course were very hard. Everyone and their mother recommended hitting it 5 yards short (where appropriate) and having it bound up the green. It also seems that there was 25% of the green that had a sever slope that took you off the green. For example, Hole 3 is straightforward par 3 over a creek and if you hit it on the middle left portion of the green, it is going to funnel off into a bunker. It will be fascinating to see how the pros handle this course in 2018 at the Byron Nelson.

The most controversial green on the course is Hole 8.

It is a longish par 3 that encourages the player to hit a high fade. There is a HUGE hill in the middle (if you can make that out from the picture above) and if you are one side the hill, it might take you two shots to get over to the other side. I hit a great shot, it rolled onto the green and almost off but many of the greens have a slight clamshell bank to them so it rolled back on but it still took me 3 putts from 50 feet for a bogey.

While the tee boxes and the green playability reminded me of Ballyneal, the bunkers were pure Sand Hills. Huge, gaping maws of earth threatening to gobble up any balls. Plus the sand is deep and lush so if you go into a bunker, your ball might be 3-4 inches below the sand line.

The picture above is of Hole 14, one of the most fun holes on the course. A par 4, playing 265 from the white tees but the bunker takes up all your psychological space. Driving the green, as I did, is no picnic either as the slopes are severe all around the green so if you miss the green, there is no guarantee of an up and down for a birdie.

The Back 9:

The back 9 is slightly flatter and more shelf-y than the front side. You aren't necessarily in jail if you miss the fairway shelves but they clearly shape how to play the holes. For the most part though, you are going over flat terrain although eventually you do join up to the double green thus introducing you to the guys going off the front side.

Perhaps the best back-to-back holes on the back are 15, a long par 4, and 16, a short par 5, each requiring the same type of drives (a slight draw) and then wildly different approach shots and green complexes.

I played from the whites and while a reasonable distance for most, it seemed like I was using a lot of long irons into greens based on the wind and the slope of the fairways. Yet with the par 5s, I felt I had a chance to get on in two on most of those holes.

As you can probably guess from the pictures, the course is really linksy. Trees almost never come into play unless you are WAY off line. The really challenge lies in the rough and the almost desert-like scrub brush on either side of the fairways. If you go offline, you still have a chance to advance the ball forward.

Additionally, I was a huge fan of the grasses the course used. Their use of zoysia grass was a brilliant choice and considering how good the conditions were with dormant grass in the winter, I can't wait to see the course when it greens up in the summer. The course is like a tank, built to last.

C&C even built something I haven't seen before, an homage to the postage stamped green at Troon.

This hole was only 110 yards and a whole lot of fun. I mean, look at that, two separate bowls with a ridge running through the middle and clamshells on the outer edges of the bowl. This was the only birdie of the day for me and I loved every moment of it.

Playing up 18, a long par 4 (most of the par 4s on the back are long in contrast to the shorter par 5s and shorter par 3s), it was clear to me that the nines could be switched to great effect and there is some talk in the air of doing just that, especially given the placement of the under-construction clubhouse.

As I finished up my round, I got a very Erin Hills vibe to the landscape and with TF's expressed intent to bring championships to the Dallas-area, I suspect this might be the course to do it. Add to that the IMPRESSIVE practice facilities, short course

First Tee association and a host of other practice apparatuses being built, either a championship will be hosted here or the next great golf champion will train here, for that I have no doubt.

Overall, this course greatly exceeded my expectations and is firmly in the top 10 of courses I have played. It is tough but scoreable, challenging yet fun. All it needs is to be next to the sea and it would be perfect for me but alas I will have to keep coming to Texas to play it (not a bad thing!).

For more information on Trinity Forest, check out this link! https://trinityforestgc.com/

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

99 Holes In The Heartland- Sand Hills Golf Club

I recently went on a trip deep into the ranch-land of America playing courses in Nebraska and Colorado. This is the last in a series of blog posts about the 99 holes I played at these amazing courses. 

Sand Hills Golf Club is one of those courses that golfers have heard whispers of but don't really know much about it. They have heard tales that it is the best links course in America, but yet it resides in Nebraska. They have heard it is one of the most naturally sculpted golf courses ever with the construction of the greens only costing $300 a hole. It constantly appears in world rankings as a top 20 course but it doesn't appear on TV for any tournaments nor really shows up anywhere other than certain publications.

Sand Hills is a mystery that I greatly wanted to see for myself and I was fortunate enough to gain an invitation to play and you better believe I rearranged my schedule to see what all the whispers were about.

The course is in the middle of rolling sand hills that look much like the picture above and after driving through many miles of unbroken skyline and hills you have to wonder where the heck is a golf course out here? But here it be nonetheless although you wonder if it is all an elaborate rouse as you have to drive an extra three miles from the main country road just to reach the course.

What all this remoteness makes clear is that SHGC is all about the golf. When you pull up to the lodge you are greeted by a VERY friendly staff who help get your clubs to the bag room, to help you check in, to help you with your tee times (shout out to Mike, the awesome starter) and to help you get set up in the cabins they have for overnight guests.

Some people online seemed a little disappointed in the cabins. Given this is a top 20 course with elite clientele, I think they were expecting something more out of the accommodations. First off, the cabins are fine and offer you everything you need for your stay and secondly, who stays in their cabin at Sand Hills? Its like staying in your hotel room in Hawaii, seems like a waste.

Me and my father-in-law were eager to get out and see the course and so we trundled through another mile of hills just to reach Ben's Porch and the course. From Ben's Porch (kinda a halfway house on steroids that is the starting and ending point for every round) the whole course opens up before you and you get the immediate sense that the golf is in the middle of nowhere and there is nowhere else you want to be.

We didn't play the first day we were there and instead retired to the lodge to put a dent in our credit cards loading up on gear and then settling down for some steaks and mixed drinks. Nebraska is a state known for its ranches and most of the burgers and steaks you eat there come from animals raised within oh say 20 miles or so of the restaurant. If you are a meat eater, definitely try one of the steaks there at SHGC and also get yourself a Sand Hills Mule (a variation on a Moscow Mule).

After a good night's rest by the Dismal River and on the lookout for wild turkeys (apparently they like to bed down under the cabins and efforts to stop them from doing so have been "moderately" successful), it was time for 36 holes!

The first hole is illustrative of both Coore and Crenshaw's design philosophy and the natural routing found at Sand Hills.

Its a par 5 with a forced carry over the prairie with massive bunkers also providing a test if you go in them. The fairway then narrows as you go further up the hill requiring a VERY accurate second shot (I found prairie the first time through, the second time I backed off and used a 5 wood). The third shot is to an elevated green that is insanely fast while offering your amazing views of what you just traversed.

That is the course in a nutshell, rolling fairways with multiple elevation changes, bunkers and prairie that will blow your mind (eventually I started calling my 7 iron my "prairie wedge") and then greens with a lot of challenge and quickness in them). It all sounds tough when I lay it out there like this but actually its a lot of fun!

Now for some random observations:

1) While this course mostly lays it all out in front of you, Coore and Crenshaw make the approach shots to the green tough in two ways. First, several of the flags/greens are hidden by the terrain making you hit at tuffs of grass rather than flagsticks on several of the holes.

(the pin is there somewhere behind the middle of the bunker)

2) The bunkers are just as outrageous as you may have heard. Seriously, sand areas on this course are amazing. Whole fairways are bordered by huge traps:

Bunkers spring up out of the ground looking like they are going to capsize greens like a rouge wave.

The variety of bunkers was impressive from rough hewn ones to smoother, more resort style bunkers, you have bunkers for all seasons here:

To help you put these bunkers in perspective, I think this should do the trick!

3) Almost all of the par 3's are uphill. This was an interesting design feature for sure. Perhaps stemming from the fact that some of the par 4's play a bit shorter (wind dependent)? The one-shot holes though all play long and uphill often requiring a hybrid or wood to gain the green.

4) The course is very fair. You might think from reading the above that this was a grueling test of golf and we came back with sand pouring out from everywhere with a dazed look on our eyes but in reality the course is gettable (especially on the front side) and more importantly enjoyable. There are bailout areas on the right side of fairways

the C+C forced carry isn't for that much on most holes (usually 150 yards or less)

and the greens, while quick, are friendly.

By the way, quick shout out to Kyle Hegland who keeps the course in tip top shape. Kyle, you did a great job despite the warm conditions and everything rolled true (fairway or green).

5) It is a true links course, sans the ocean. I learned to put away my SW and pick up my 7 iron which served me much better on my second 18. Also, our forecaddie got us around the first 18 in great style and was an eagle eye for balls in the prairie grass. You definitely develop your fescue and bump and run games here at Sand Hills which would serve you well on any links course.

What is there not to like about Sand Hills? Even though the course was busy (relatively with 81 golfers) the day we played, each 18 we felt like we had the course to ourselves. Chalk that up to the routing where holes are separate from each other and to the tee time management of Mike and to one of the real benefits of playing private golf, less crowds.

That being said, I wish everyone had a chance to play this course. It was built for the benefit of its members no question but if you ever get a chance to play you should definitely hop on a plane to Denver or Omaha, rent a car and drive through hundreds of miles of prairie and then figure out a way down the dirt roads till you arrive here.

Overall, the course was in amazing shape had a great routing for almost all of the holes (there are a few par 4's on the front that some people consider "weak" but I consider fun), the greens were in amazing shape and all the staff was super friendly and helpful. I would love to play this course again in the cooler Fall or on a windier day because I bet with a crispness in the air, this course is unbeatable. During the Summer with almost no trees, it can get hot but a cool drink on Ben's Porch will cool you off.

Sand Hills GC has no website but here are some other great write-ups of the course:


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We-Ko-Pa Saguaro

"Sting" is putting it mildly Ben. Set in the rolling Fountain Hills just outside of Scottsdale, We Ko Pa's Saguaro course has a LOT of bite to it and will test any amateur golfer.

Almost every hole necessitates a carry over desert scrub brush and/or gullies. The only way to truly attack this course is to drive it long and straight, otherwise you will be picking cactus needles out of your ball all day.

Since the course is set amongst rolling hills, you are often hitting to the tops of hills and if not, you are looking at blind second and third shots.

Unlike its sister course "Cholla", the hole and all of its danger is clearly in front of you. It is one of the ultimate target/execution desert courses you could play in Arizona. There are zero houses surrounding the course (a rarity from what I learned from my Arizona playing companions) and you really are out in the middle of nowhere playing golf.

Just like Talking Stick, my favorite Coore Crenshaw hole at Saguaro was the split fairway par 5, always an interesting challenge especially in a harsh desert landscape.

You will notice the course is very green which is a function of the course being on Indian land and thus having different water rights than other local courses. If you playing golf during the Summer in Arizona, definitely look at places like We Ko Pa who will have top notch conditioning. 

The grass on the greens was kept long to keep it from dying in 115 degree heat but the greens were very consistent so once you nailed the pace you could do pretty well on the greens.

My driver really wasn't working on the day I played the course so it was a pretty frustrating experience playing a course that requires long and straight drives but once I got to 150 yards and in, I could score pretty well. It all comes down to the boom stick here but my incompetence aside, I could see why Saguaro is constantly ranked in the top 5 golf courses in Arizona (considering the amount of courses in Arizona, this is no small feat). 

The staff were all super friendly and the routing kept things interesting throughout. This course is truly a class above in Arizona.

For more info on We Ko Pa, check it out here: https://wekopa.com/

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Talking Stick North

When you think desert you think sand. One of the biggest things about playing Talking Stick North is trying to avoid the sand at all costs, which isn't easy as the duo has sculpted the course so you find your way into bunkers very easily. 

Bunkers, bunkers everywhere and where is my rake? (its a famous poem for sure).

Arizona has a problem; it has a ton of amazing golf courses but very few of them are not in housing developments. So when you can play a course that just sits in the desert and is surrounded by the mountain beauty of Arizona it is a true joy and C+C make a really nice desert course that sits in this landscape and let's you enjoy nature.

This design philosophy is no more apparent than on the Roadrunner hole

which actually has a roadrunner hanging out on it.

I got such a kick out of this and if you play TSN definitely be on the lookout for all manner of wildlife as prairie dogs, birds of all feathers and even a random coyote are present for your round.

The common complaint about Talking Stick is that it is very flat and there isn't a lot of variety in the holes but for the North course I will have to disagree. While there are similar design features on multiple holes (the most notable are forced carries across the desert scrub on tee shots):

those design features are actually interesting and add variety to a flatish terrain. Plus, I would argue that not every course has to have rolling hills and valleys to keep a golfer interested. I quite liked TSN and my favorite definitely has a lot of character to it:

I am a huge fan of split fairways, probably due to growing up and watching the split 8th hole at Riviera. Here at TSN it is a fantastic hole with a real risk/reward depending on which way you play it.

I gambled, went left and barely cleared it (maybe with a generous desert hop or two). The split continues almost all the way up to the green and makes for a really fun hole.

The green conditions were good and as I played this course on the leading edge of Summer, the grass was longer to stave off death so the putts rolled slower but true.

One of my other favorite things about TSN was the pace of play. I was allowed to go out as a single and I got around the course in about 2.5 hours. Even 3somes/ 4somes I saw got around in under 4 which is great. The staff is really friendly as well and I had an enjoyable time at Talking Stick.

Overall I say the course is well worth your time if you are in the Scottsdale area and I look forward to my next visit!

For more info on Talking Stick check it out here: https://talkingstickgolfclub.com/