Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Colorado Golf Club Review

Colorado Golf Club is an intriguing Coore/Crenshaw nestled in the undeveloped hills outside Parker Colorado. The course uses the topography in very interesting ways with several of the holes either descending or climbing the hillside and then leading to rather flat-ish holes in a valley before climbing the hill again.

The views are impressive and the fescue is fierce but keep your eyes on the fairways and you will be fine. There are a lot of forced carries here at CGC which reminded me a lot of the C&C course at We Ko Pa.

If the driver in your hand is working then you will score well at this course, otherwise you will be rooting through the fescue for your ball.

One of the best aspects of the course are the short par 4s that Ben and Bill designed. There are two, one uphill and one downhill and each make you think about club selection, placement and pin position rather than just bombing and gouging it. Really fantastic stuff!

The greens were in great shape (especially for late summer) and had both severe false fronts and undulations to challenge any golfer. Thankfully, the pins were set in flat valleys making the putting a little easier. Not to be biased but I made a 50 footer that curled downhill on my last hole which means I LOVE the greens!

The superstar hole at CGC is definitely the 16th. A par 5 with fairways split by a stream and then becoming sort of a Cape Hole as it bends around the stream to the green, this hole has it all!

Overall, I really liked CGC. There are 5 holes on this course that you can put up against 5 anywhere else in the world. While some of the holes are repetitious and the valley holes aren't the strongest, together the 18 holes exceed the sum of their parts and is worth a play if you can get on.

For more information about CGC, click the link here: http://www.coloradogolfclub.com/

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Warren Golf Review

I never think of Indiana as the home of great golf courses but I won't think that again after playing the fantastic Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Indiana. The routing takes the golfer over a great mix of land between hills, ponds, streams and heathered rough leading to forests which gives it a very English vibe.

The first hole is emblematic of the course as a hole. C&C frame where you need to go off the tee but thin out the rough and trees in case you miss the intended line.

I played a lot of golf courses during my recent midwest trip but the greens at Warren definitely were the best. Fast but not too quick. Pure rolls off the putter. You could bump and run it or hold the green with wedge shots.

Aside from the greens, you also have the amazing Coore/Crenshaw bunkers jutting out from time to time, keeping you honest as you knock the ball around the course.

I also didn't realize how much water was on the course. From ponds to streams, water factors into a lot of your shots but doesn't seem contrived or tacked on (thus more kudos to C&C for their design).

While South Bend is a bustling Indiana city, the course but yet I felt firmly enmeshed in nature and had a really relaxing round (the deer seemed relaxed as well).

My favorite hole by far had to be the 16th which starts an amazing run of holes leading up to 18. 16 though is a short par 4 with a great creek and heathland features which slowly slopes uphill

Warren really surprised me. I wasn't expecting to be as good as it was but boy is it a fun track. The conditioning is second to none and the staff was fantastic. The course's routing is going to be revamped for the US Senior Open in 2019 and from what I hear the changes will be for the best. While Warren is great, the front side pales in comparison to the back side and hopefully the course will incorporate all the changes made for the USGA for future golfers post-2019. If they do, I will be back in a flash!

For more information about Warren, check out this link: http://warrengolfcourse.com/

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sand Valley Golf Resort Review

Sand Valley resides in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. Miles and miles of trees and corn and farm with nary a sand dune in sight. However, as you enter the resort, the sand seems to bubble out of the ground and golf comes to the forefront of your mind.

The first and tenth holes of the Coore/Crenshaw course are elevated tee shots right below Craig's Porch (clearly modeled after Ben's Porch at Sand Hills) and you launch the balls into the stratosphere and watch them land in the various fairways or sandy blowouts around the course and you are off!

The amount of elevation gain and losses at this course is impressive. There is an uphill par 5 modeled after the first hole at Sand Hills which just keeps going up and up. There are several holes (a very fun short par 4 and this incredible downhill par 3) that almost encourages you to job down the hill given the slope.

The use of the natural sandy soil and Coore and Crenshaws shaggy bunkers is in full effect at Sand Valley and the sand seems to be eating away at the fairways.

The sand is very playable to play out of which is good news because dollars to donuts you will be in the sand several times during the round. One of my few small critiques of the course is in fact that there is too much sand and the fairways are shaved and angled to throw balls into the sand, even well struck shots.

The fairways and greens were in fantastic shape and allow a golfer to hit a variety of shots, either bump and running shots or high-arching approach shots. Once you gain the green, they are some of the hardest, fastest running greens I have ever played.

The stimpmeter must have been reading 14 over the few days I played the course and the putts will run forever on the course. As the course matures, so will the greens so I imagine they will soften up some for the heavy resort play that is sure to come but be confident in your flatstick or you will be in trouble!

The course reminded me a lot of Sand Hills in Nebraska and it was if SH married the Pinehurst region and the baby they had was Sand Valley. The topography is outrageous and C&C do their best to incorporate it into their minimalist routing and also crazy design elements like the 17th hole (which is a par 3 that plays over 200 yards with rolling hills obscuring 2/3rds of the flag stick).

The 18th is one of my favorite holes. A par 5 that goes up a hill which can be easily reached in 3 shots and gives you a great last look at the course while you are climbing the hill. It is like the mirror reverse image of 18 at Sand Hills which plays as a par 4 but I will take the one extra shot here any day.

I would be remiss in mentioning the "resort" aspect of Sand Valley Resort.

There is a hotel, several lodge buildings and a restaurant. All of the facilities are top notch with the rooms really well appointed, the food really well cooked and the staff all brimming with midwestern friendliness. The resort is still very new so the food selections are a little limited but overall you will enjoy your stay not just the golf.

After a great time at Sand Valley, pull up an Adirondack chair at Craig's Porch and take a load off.

Overall, Sand Valley offers a golfer as much challenge as they want to chew on and even if the course and sand beats you up, you are eager to play it again because of the beauty and serenity offered by the course. The resort is top notch and is a cut above almost every hotel I have ever stayed at. As the course matures, it should soften up some and allow for the average high handicapper to have a really fun day in the sand nature of Rome Wisconsin.

Can't wait to go back!

For more information about Sand Valley check out the link: http://www.sandvalleygolfresort.com/sand-valley/

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: