Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lundin Golf Club

IMG_2183
A sign near the 17th hole, named "Station" memorializes the spot where a now defunct train line used to run through the Lundin Links

On all my trips I always like to include a course that flies below the radar. I do this for two reasons. First, I never know when I will discover a hidden gem that will catch my fancy. And second, so I can immerse myself in the history of the game. Lundin Golf Club made the cut for a couple of key reasons: it is only 30 minutes outside St. Andrews; it was designed by Old Tom Morris and since we don't get to play his courses in the United States, I make it a point of playing some during my travels. And, finally, it has a hole that provided inspiration to Charles Blair Macdonald when he designed the National Golf Links of America.

Lundin Links is a private club but they welcome visitors.

  IMG_2149 
Drop your ball in this baby to establish the order of play


  1st tee
The first tee showing the fairway set down in a valley to the right

The course features a relatively difficult first hole, at 420 yards, with an elevated green. The setting is ideal to get the golfer into the mood of links golf with beautiful views and broad vistas.

  beach view from the 1st tee
The view from the first tee on the left features a broad beach set on the half-crescent shaped Shell Bay

Luckily for us, on the day we played the wind turbines visible off shore were still!

2nd fairway
View of the old-school humps and bumps as seen on the 2nd fairway

Lundin Links sits immediately adjacent to another Old Tom Morris links course, Leven Links. When the courses were built in the 19th century (1868) they were one course called Interleven, a classic out and back layout. They were split up in 1909 by James Braid, with half the original links holes going to Leven and the other half remaining at Lundin. The Braid holes play away from the seaside and up a hill and have a different character than the original holes. The original holes are better because they feature more natural movement in the land, the shape of the tousled, crumpled fairways being more pronounced.

  4 back
The 4th looking backward from the green shows the hidden swale that cuts in front, shafting the uninitiated golfer or the shot topper

There are several defining characteristics to Lundin Links, specifically burns invisible to the golfer from the tee and on approach shots; and, ravines cutting across the course. The fourth hole, above is a good example. The other defining characteristic is blind shots, a trait of Old Tom Morris courses in the same way that railroad ties define those of Pete Dye.

  6th tee
Lookout tower on the 6th tee box

The sixth tee has a ladder where the confused golfer can climb to see where they are hitting (and to make sure they don't hit into the group ahead). The next hole, the seventh, also has a ladder and features another blind tee shot over a distant sand dune.

The other moving hazard the course has is hikers. Coastal walking paths traverse the course in a couple of spots so you have to be on the lookout for people wearing boots and backpacks traipsing through and across a couple of holes.

the view from the tower - 6
The view from the ladder on the 6th tee. Hit your tee shot over the striped pole and you'll be pleased


  7
The 7th green is characteristic of many on the course. Round and relatively small. 

Our group didn't find the greens to be particularly difficult, most are relatively flat and round. We did find the course's two par fives to be challenging. At 555 yards and 499 yards both played into the wind.

10-2
A view of the 10th green (sort of) with its baffling approach

My favorite hole on the course was the short tenth, named "Thorn Tree." The hole is only 352 yards long but you really don't see the green until you are essentially on it. The green is set off at an angle to the left of the fairway and is blocked by a mound with a circular bunker. Although I am no arborist, it looked to me that the other hazard blocking the green atop a hillock further up is a gorse bush rather than a thorn tree.

Since I have ADHD and like to repeat things, I'm showing three different views of the 10th so you can get a better feel for how it looks and plays.

  10-4
The tenth as seen from the golfer's second shot. It still offers no clue as to the size or shape of the green
 
10
The tenth as you get close, with the bunkers and bushes blocking the view

Charles Blair Macdonald attended St. Andrews University about twelve miles north of Lundin, on the opposite side of the peninsula. When he designed the National Golf Links in Southampton he took inspiration from various holes that he was impressed with when traveling throughout the British Isles. One of my favorite holes at the National is the 17th, a short par 4 risk-reward hole that plays down hill with bunkers crossing in front, although not immediately next to the green. His inspiration for the hole was the 16th at Lundin Links, named "Trows."

16 from tee
View of the 16th hole at Lundin Links as seen from the tee. The green is set behind the smallish hill to the left.

I found the hole to be more than mildly disappointing. The only real similarity is that it is short, at 311 yards. Other than that it shares no characteristics with the 16th at the National Golf Links. The green here is blind and at the National it is not. The tee shot I suppose offers some risk-reward characteristics here, although not really. There is no change in elevation and no hazard crossing in front of the green. I was confused after playing the hole so went back to consult the bible on Charles Blair Macdonald, George Bahto's The Evangelist of Golf. Bahto describes the prototype hole "Leven" (remember when Macdonald played the course it was Interleven, thus the naming confusion), as having a fairway bunker or waste area that challenges the golfer to make a heroic carry for an open approach to the green. I guess in this context, at Lundin, that means keeping your ball right off the tee to avoid one bunker. He also notes that the green surface is usually a moderately undulating surface with the least accessible cup placement behind a sand hill. Certainly that exits here. But it doesn't on the National's Leven hole. Okay, what did I miss?

16th green
The approach to the 16th green doesn't really cause much stress

  IMG_2186
The fantastic driving range at Lundin Links, quite the view

Almost no golf courses in the British Isles have driving ranges. One of the quirks of playing here is that you just go out and play without any real warm up like we would have in the U.S. Sitting just outside the clubhouse, this green caged beauty is available to hit a couple of shots into before your round. You've got to love it.

I very much enjoyed my day at Lundin. They are welcoming to visitors, the greens fees are reasonable and the members we spoke to after the round in the clubhouse while having pickle and cheese sandwiches are rightly proud of their course and its heritage.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

St. George's Hill Golf Club

Entry to the St. George's Hill Golf Club requires the visitor to pass through a guard gate, something that is rare in the United Kingdom. Once you pass muster with the resolute guard wearing his peaked hat, the barrier rises and you granted entry into this tony club, which is part of a 964 acre private estate located in Weybridge, Surrey, 25 miles from Buckingham Palace. To give some context on how ritzy the neighborhood is, two Beatles have lived there: John Lennon lived at St. George's Hill at the peak of his career and Ringo Starr was a resident in the mid 1960s, buying his first home near John on the exclusive housing estate.

Its 440 homes are set in a fantasy-level country setting dominated by tall pine trees and towering walls of rhododendrons. You and I couldn't afford to live there--unless you have £10m to spare--as the estate is popular among the global elite. In addition to British aristocrats, the locale is popular among Russian oligarchs, movie stars (Kate Winslet being one example), and Asia's super-wealthy looking to buy property overseas as a store of value. After I got home I went and looked at some of the real estate listings for homes in St. George's Hill and these people aren't messing around. The homes feature reception halls, gyms, drawing rooms, walled gardens, indoor pools, staff accommodations, leisure complexes, and six car garages. As Phil Rizzuto used to say, "Holy cow!"

The architect Fred Hawtree says that St. George's Hill was the prototype of English golf and country club estate development, the earliest of its kind. In fact, I believe it was the first joint golf-housing development ever built anywhere. It is tastefully done with the houses mansions set back, and few in number.

  Clubhouse
The fortress style clubhouse seen above a sea of heather on the closing hole

The golf course was designed by H. S. Colt and it is a gem. To establish Colt's credentials, look no further than Pine Valley. When George Crump was looking for assistance designing Pine Valley it was Colt he called on. 

   1st tee
Welcome to St. George's Hill, which demands strong and straight tee shots from the get go. The first hole plays up a broad hill

The course has three sets of nines, although the Colt designed holes are the Red and the Blue, which is the course I played. The first hole sets the tone for the day and is not for the faint of heart. The card shows yardage of 382 yards, but the hill is steep and the green sits at the top. Tom Doak describes it perfectly in his original rendition of The Confidential Guide: "A smash across a valley and the entrance road to a rising fairway, with a saddled green at the top of the opposite ridge."

The defining characteristics of St. George's Hill are: 1) Its visually stunning beauty; 2) Elevated greens with false fronts; 3) More than its fair share of hump backed or undulating greens and 4) Cross-bunkering set at obtuse angles to the line of play. The course was carved from dense forest in the 1910s. The back breaking work was done with horses, hand-operated crosscut saws, and one solitary wood-burning steam engine.

Like the first, the second hole is also a tester, of 458 yards, that plays over the rise of a hill to a fairway that is blind to the golfer. It then follows a hill that rolls down into a valley over a burn to an elevated, difficult green. Colt clearly wasn't a believer in the easy start.

2nd
The testing second hole with its sloping fairway, heather and cross bunkering

3rd
The Redan-style par three third hole, seen with a mansion poking out from behind the trees

 The third is a long Redan style hole (birdie, thank you very much!).

  4th-1
An absolute beauty, this 272 yard par 4 comes early in the round as the 4th hole

The fourth captures the essence of the fun of playing a short par four hole. Colt says in his treatise, Some Essays on Golf Course Architecture, that the best form of a green for such a hole is a plateau, as he did here. He did fail to mention that it would be a heavily trapped plateau that falls off on all sides! What should be an easy hole becomes anything but when you stand over your wedge shot and contemplate hitting such a small target.

  5th cross bunkering
Magnificent cross-bunkering on the par four 5th hole shows that Colt was an artiste 

The fifth shows off all of Colt's usual design characteristics in one hole. A par four of 388 yards, it requires a forced carry over heather and has substantial cross bunkering far short of the green. The design hoodwinks the golfer because it throws off their depth perception as they are hitting from a valley and the bunkering is above them. The green complex features a false front and more than mild undulations on the putting surface. Add to that the fact that it is eye candy and it's no surprise that it is a joy to play. 

Colt describes his philosophy further in his book, "The longish carry, also, played up to the green over a cross-hazard, should on no account be omitted, as there is a neck-or-nothing thrill about it which is scarcely equaled by any other stroke, and which is enjoyed by golfers of any handicap, although playing it from very different ranges."

  5th green false front
The 5th green, like many at St. George's Hill, features a characteristic false front

No doubt you've heard the expression first tee jitters to describe how nerves come into play when you hit your first tee shot of the day, especially if there are people watching or you are playing a special course for the first time. How about eighth tee jitters? As we walked off the 7th green I could hear my three friends start to proclaim superlatives as we walked to the 8th tee. It was one of the few times I was left slack-jawed on a golf course. I had nothing to say. It was mesmerizing.

  8-2
The 179-yard par three eighth hole, unequivocally one of the great one shot holes in the world

Colt describes how he chooses green sites when laying out a new golf course, "The architect will next proceed to walk over the ground, taking with him a map on which he will note the position of any natural features. In the course of this examination he will record all those sites which Providence has intended mortals to putt on." It seems clear to me that divine inspiration hit him when he found the eighth hole at St. George's Hill. It is far and away one of the best par threes I have ever seen or played. You play from an elevated tee across a valley to a demanding green. As you can see, shots hit short are cause for serious worry. Tom Doak was impressed as well; from his Confidential Guide, " . . . the yawning bunker in front of the green was one of the most memorable hazards I've encountered in the game." 

Robert Hunter, who knew a thing or two about golf architecture, having designed the Valley Club of Montecito and assisted Alister MacKenzie in the design of Cypress Point, features the 8th hole in his seminal work on how to design a golf course, The Links, in 1926. In his chapter on how to lay out hazards Hunter gave a special shout out to Colt's work here, describing it as a "bold hazard, well designed." The image from his book, below, shows that the hole was even more fierce in the early days with the gargantuan bunker sizes having been shrunk down over the years, no doubt to avoid complete debacles among member play. After all, these nice chaps have come out for a friendly game, and didn't sign up for lifetime imprisonment if in a hazard.

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The 8th hole as seen in the 1920s with bunkers even more severe than todays

It was at this point during the round I began to scratch my head and wonder why St. George's Hill doesn't get more notoriety or exposure. It was one of the best golf courses I have ever played and I hadn't even seen ten of its holes yet. Bernard Darwin said about St. George’s Hill, “The prettiest courses are also the best and certainly one of the prettiest and best is St. George’s Hill.”

  9 from tee
The closing hole of the front nine, a 389 yard par 4 playing up the hill. This doesn't suck

  10th cross bunker
The deceptively placed cross bunker on the difficult par 4 tenth throws off the golfer's depth perception

The 434-yard par four tenth continues the theme of difficult starting holes should the golfer begin their round playing the Blue nine. Although the tee shot is very satisfying because you again play from the high hill near the clubhouse into a valley, the trouble begins on the second shot. Colt again employs his signature cross-bunkering, this time with half of it cut into a heather-covered hill.

Doak on the tenth hole: "The par 4 tenth is one of the best "Alps" type blind par 4 holes I've ever seen, with a diagonal ridge running across the fairway from left to right, so that the drive down the right-hand edge may get a glimpse of the green and a favorable kick off the slope to the left of the green, while the drive to the left makes the second shot inclined to kick into a bunker short right of the green." I can personally attest to the latter.

The large clubhouse was used as a military hospital during the First World War, and during the Second World War the roof of the clubhouse was used as an observation post for the home guard. A German bomb fell to the left of the cross bunker on the tenth during the war. The crater it left is still there.

  par 3 11
H. S. Colt, the master of the one shot hole. This is the 119-yard 11th

16th tee 
The par 4 sixteenth from the tee, with its fairway canted from right to left. The back nine is just as good as the front

St. George's Hill is a Colt classic that should also be a cult classic. There are other golf courses that have cult followings, namely, Sand Hills, National Golf Links of America, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Cruden Bay, and St. Enodoc. Sometimes you are so impressed by a golf course you don't just play and enjoy it, you join a cult; you've taken a vow to evangelize about it and defend it against heretics. I am now a St. George's Hill cult member. What a place. The visual beauty combined with such a classic, strategic golf course make this one of the finest places in the game to play.

And to show that I am serious about my new mission and I'm not just overly excited by my visit to the club, I am having some new custom made clothing made up. My usual attire when flying is a sharp looking crimson colored athletic-style track suit with matching jacket and trousers adorned with white stripes down the side. I'm having a custom set made up with an outsized version of the club's logo--which is a knight on a horse slaying a dragon--emblazoned on both the front and the rear. So if you ever notice me strutting through a busy airport shamelessly making my own personal fashion statement please feel free to stop me and allow me to tell you all about my St. George's Hill fetish in person. No selfies of the encounter, please.

I'm also still scratching my head on how the course has flown below the radar for so long and eluded my notice. Maybe I haven't been paying attention. Perhaps I focus too much on Golf Magazine's top 100 list. After all, Tom Doak did select it as one of his 31 favorite courses in the Gourmet's Choice section of his first Confidential Guide. The website Top100golf courses lists it as the 7th best in England and Darius Oliver in his Planet Golf book ranks it number one among English courses, although I would personally rank it second, behind only Sunningdale's Old Course. It's a travesty that this doesn't make the cut on Golf Magazine's list. It is better than at least three dozen courses currently ranked. By all measures St. George's Hill is a top shelf golf course.

  IMG_2079-001
The sign on the first tee shows the match formats on busy days. Something to be emulated, as it promotes fast play. Notice that 4 balls are in the minority

Over a lunch of tea sandwiches, filled rolls, and smoked haddock soup in the clubhouse after the round I had a chance to reflect back on how lucky I am to be able to play a course like this, to enjoy the camaraderie of good friends, and to appreciate all that life has given me. Every day is a gift and should be treasured.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Swinley Forest Golf Club

The patrician Swinley Forest Golf Club has long been a course I wanted to play, but there is so much good golf around London that I was never able to fit it into an itinerary.

clubhouse coming back in
The picture perfect view of the clubhouse perched on a hill looking up the 18th fairway at Swinley Forest

Harry Shapland Colt describes his philosophy of situating the clubhouse on a golf course: "In selecting a site for the club house . . . it is highly desirable that the aspect from its windows should be attractive, so that the player may get a favourable impression when he first arrives, and may also get the greatest possible enjoyment out of intervals of rest. To achieve this result at its best, if possible, to create an atmosphere of large and unrestricted space, which is the most delightful contrast to the cramped and restricted streets and offices of a large town." On any scale or metric you use Colt was wildly successful achieving his goal at Swinley Forest, as this player, for one, was very impressed. The course was designed by Colt in 1909 and he famously referred to as his "least bad course."


  1st tee
The first hole from the elevated tee

The first hole is my favorite kind. It plays from an elevated tee down into a valley, with a wide fairway, and when we played it was down wind. It's good for the ego to start your round feeling like a stud.

  2nd from tee
The second hole from the tee

In addition to the hilly terrain, the second hole shows off another of the course's defining characteristics, which, like many courses in Surrey and Berkshire, is that it is covered in a sea of heather. The course is routed over land from the Crown Estate and carves its way through a thick pine forest. These heathland courses, with their large swaths of heather, add another dimension to the game's enjoyment. Golf courses are things of beauty to begin with, with various shades of green grass set off against blue skies and white clouds. Adding purple into the mix takes it to another level.

  3rd tee heather
Like his routing at Pine Valley, the third hole at Swinley features a Colt signature, a forced carry off the tee

  4th green
The uphill par three Redan-style fourth hole plays 198 yards tee to green. It's a difficult hole, but the image of it is so beautiful, it is borderline golf porn

Colt never used the term golf porn because that would be beneath a Cambridge educated gentleman, but he did design his courses to intentionally provide the golfer with a pleasing environment. From his book, Some Essays on Golf Course Architecture: "It is by no means so widely recognized that the "landscape" aspect of actual construction plays an important part in securing the popularity of a golf course. The appreciation of pleasant surroundings is often subconscious, and many golfers are no doubt under the impression that while they are playing they are entirely engrossed in the game. When the golfer has left a grimy city for a few hours' relaxation he wishes to find rest and pleasure in the scenery of the country."

  5th from elevated tee
The par five 5th hole plays from an elevated tee and not only features a forced carry, but also the strategic use of another of Colt's hallmarks, the dreaded cross-bunker


The golfer whose senses have been aroused by the stimulating environment that Swinley provides should not confuse beautiful with easy. The fairways tend to kick balls into the seductive purple plant, never to be seen again. Our foursome lost a significant number of balls in the lush plant.

  7th cross bunkers
The 7th hole also features cross bunkers set on a hill that sweeps from left to right. Your shot to the green is either blind or semi-blind and hit from an uneven lie

One of my favorite golf books, Legendary Golf Books of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland profiled Swinley Forest and described it as "a gentle course for gentleman," and that's spot on. Part of the mystique of the club is its membership. Its aristocratic roots run deep, although we should all be thankful that, unlike in America, the tradition of these great clubs, although limited, is to allow visitor play. The book outlines how the club membership includes Dukes, Marquises, Viscounts, Earls and Lords, and the members tend to have been educated at either Eton or Harrow and Oxford or Cambridge. 

  9th from tee
The 464-yard par four 9th from the tee


There is a cute, tiny half-way house before you start the back nine. They have a home-made sausage roll there that is delightful, and the perfect cure for jet lag.

  12th from tee
The dog-leg left 12th, par 4 hole is one of the best on the course

Colt explains why he likes to use forced carries off the tee, "For testing the long driver, and also for putting a premium upon accuracy, it is highly desirable to include a considerable number of long optional carries in the round, and also to provide opportunities for the bold and straight driver to play close past the edge of a hazard which he cannot carry.  In all such cases it will be arranged that the player who has brought off the drive successfully should gain a substantial advantage over his more timid or less skillful opponent."


  12th green closeup
Not only is the 12th demanding from tee to green, the putting surface is more than challenging 

The 12th green demands respect because of all the movement on the surface. The putt I left myself  had so much borrow in it that it exceeded my credit limit and I hit it on too low a line, leaving it woefully distant from the cup. The greens at Swinley Forest were pure, and the rest of the course was in top condition as well. The club's policy is that you can take preferred lies at all times. Is that wrong, especially if you are a golf purist? Maybe if you're Jack Nicklaus competing in a PGA tour event. For the rest of us, it shouldn't be a bother. As the expression goes, when in Rome do as the Romans do. It is, in fact, the club's rule, so honoring their tradition provides an enjoyable day's golf.

Rhododendrons thrive in this part of England, due to the fertile mixture of soil that they call Bagshot sand. It contains flint, grey sand, clay, and black soil and it is rhodo heaven, allowing the plants to grow to enormous proportions, sometimes as large as a house. The examples seen behind the 12th green are some of the smaller ones in and around the course. 

  15th green 2
The 15th green, with its multiple tiers, shows that Colt doesn't give the golfer any respite when they are using the flat stick

  IMG_2008 
Happy is the golfer that is greeted with this sign for a day's golf 

The club's 2008 history, The Swinley Special, describes the club as follows, "Swinley has always been an extension of the country house party, the City boardroom and the regimental mess. There are no handicaps and no medal competitions, just golf with friends." Dogs are also encouraged at Swinley Forest. The club is an anachronism and still operates as if they were in the Edwardian period, and that is a big part of its charm.

I liked Swinley a lot and with each additional Colt course I play I appreciate his genius design abilities even more. Putting aside the mystique of the club and the idyllic setting, the golf course taken on its own is one of the best. If you can't relax and enjoy the game at Swinley Forest, you should be playing tennis and not golf. Colt was right. Swinley is his "least bad" indeed!

Post Script

I splurged in the pro shop and bought a nice navy blue fleece zip-up vest with the Swinley logo on it. I plan on wearing it when I'm visiting the city so I can channel my inner Goldman Sachs or J. P. Morgan investment banker look.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

My Purity of Essence Returns!

There is a scene in the movie, The Bucket List, where Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson are lying next to each other in their beds in the oncology ward reviewing what's on their respective bucket lists. I dreamed about doing many things during "the Troubles," and now that I am able, have decided to pursue my own bucket list, which includes many non-golf related items, and some additional golf pursuits. The odds of my cancer staying in remission are high if it doesn’t come back within the next year, so my timing is perfect. God willing, I will live a long and productive life. In not, there are no do overs, so my thought is that it's the perfect time to pursue my list with zeal. In the best case scenario I'll live to a ripe old age and my kids will have to work harder because I’ll blow through their inheritance!

P1000383

Back in January I started to plan a trip to the British Isles in anticipation of getting better, with some new bucket list courses on the itinerary. At the time, it was a stretch and both “the wife” and my oncologist would roll their eyes when I told them what I wanted to do. Even as late as July it was touch and go, I was still having blood transfusions three times a month and the fatigue wasn’t flagging. I had faith and determination that I would go on my trip. Low and behold because of the wonder drug I took in August--Rituxan--my blood counts returned to normal, (specifically, my hemoglobin, which went above 14!!!), and with them my energy levels. I know, what other blog is so exciting that you can learn about medicine and your precious bodily fluids while reading about golf, but such is my plight. Stanley Kubrick and Sterling Hayden would be proud.

So it was that I was able to fly across the Atlantic on September 2nd, wearing my respirator mask and wiping every surface in sight down with disinfectant wipes. I must say that my routine was very effective at keeping people away from me in the airport, and the poor woman in the seat next to me on the plane was so frightened that I got all the elbow room between us on the seat divider.

As you know if you have been following my travails, I have had world-class care and my medical team has patched me up and brought me to a good place. The body is healing and I continue to make great progress every day. It was in Scotland that my spirit was restored as well. Even though I am of Italian-Irish heritage, my spiritual homeland is Scotland. I find every minute on Scottish soil invigorating and just love everything about the country, especially the people, the scenery and the language and accents. We just don’t have teahouses, filled rolls, Sunday roasts, brambles, and rolling hills punctuated with old stone walls in New Jersey. It was in the Kingdom of Fife that my soul was renourished and my mindset shifted from that of a patient to that of a hopeful survivor.

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My home base in Scotland, the former home of the Duke of Fife, built in 1596

I also love to drive on the opposite side of the road and through roundabouts. It was on a beautiful morning when I was driving from our base in St. Andrews to our round at Kingsbarns that the pall of my troubles lifted. Mozart was playing gently on the car radio, I was with my good friends and we are rolling through striking countryside dotted with bales of hay glistening in the humidity-free, crisp air. It was magic and I could feel the weight of a year and a half of stress lifting. It was good to be home. 

back road

Our round at Kingsbarns, one of my favorite courses, was rejuvenating. I had an Italian caddie, Romano, and he and I were simpatico. My soul mate and I were in synch on everything, and this Renaissance man was born to read putts. As a result, I had the best round of golf I played in at least 10 years as we shared stories of our favorites foods, regions of Italy, and golf courses. Since being sick I have set my intention every morning when I wake up to embrace life to the fullest, living large and appreciating everything I have been blessed with. La dolce vita!

 1st green
The opening hole at Kingsbarns

I will be posting a half dozen or so new posts over the coming months highlighting new courses, including two English beauties that are among the best I have ever played.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Double Eagle Golf Club

IMG_1845-001

Double Eagle’s fierce looking logo

I’m back to posting about new golf courses, having just completed one of my most satisfying rounds ever. The combination of being healthy enough to play, teeing it up at a captivating club, and doing so with friends, is a winning combination.

I still can’t fly, so “the wife” and I happily made the eight hour drive from New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio, for my first post-apocalypse outing to meet up with some fellow golf fanatics.

Two years ago those of us who completed playing the top 100 golf courses in the world decided it would be a good idea to get together occasionally to play, so we formed a club: the aristocratically named Global Golf Centurions Club. A handful of members were getting together and I was invited to join. My destination was the Double Eagle Golf Club. Double Eagle was not on the top 100 course list that I played, although for eight years it was ranked in the world top 100, with a peak ranking of 74 (note: statistics provided by the inimitable genius and MIT graduate Paul Rudovsky).

I timed the trip perfectly, juggling infusions so that I had peak energy for the round. The weather also cooperated, it was in the high seventies with some light cloud cover, enough to allow the UV index to dip low enough so that someone who takes 22 pills a day to ward off bad things can go into the sun, albeit with long pants, long sleeves, two gloves, a big straw hat and SPF 50 (which has the viscosity of thick glue and dries looking like white paint) on the face. Visualize a ghost who is dressed like he’s going to appear on Green Acres and that’s me when I play these days, but at this point in my journey I don’t need to worry about getting style points.

The Golf Course

Double Eagle is one of the most unique places I have played with its combination of optimum course conditioning, a noteworthy routing and exclusivity. There are not many members, and the course flies the below the radar. Our caddie told me that they usually have less than ten groups playing per day; if there were twenty total golfers on the course when we played it was a lot. The 340 acre property is also enchanting and feels like a wildlife sanctuary with broad expanses of wild flowers throughout.

The course plays 7,300 yards (6,500 from the members tees) and is eminently playable. The key design characteristics that stand out at Double Eagle are: 1) No two holes in the same direction; 2) The fact that approach shots to greens often have to carry over a ravine or swale or plantings/flowers; 3) The greens are usually elevated and have closely shaved areas around them, and; 4) The design forces you to have to think backward from the green to decide what kind of shot you have to hit. A lot of courses are said to be shot makers courses, but I found this to be a dominating factor to take into account while playing here. It did not seem to be a bomb and gouge layout because of the trouble in front of the greens. On more than a handful of holes you have to lay back and not hit with maximum power so that you position yourself with the correct club to the green, or so that you are not out of position on a dog-leg and block yourself out of the best approach.

  1st hole approach best

The approach shot on the opening hole at Double Eagle

The first hole is indicative of the playing style at Double Eagle. It is a par 4 of 390 yards with an approach over a particularly deep swale.

  Flowers Near 1

Flowers near the 2nd tee shows off the pleasing setting of Double Eagle

The course setting is idyllic and it achieves a degree of isolation that only a handful of courses achieve, i.e., Pine Valley, Yeamans Hall, Morfontaine, and the nearby The Golf Club are notable examples. This type of real isolation is rarer than you think. Many great courses are not isolated, for example, San Francisco Golf Club, East Lake, and Los Angeles Country Club are within cities (or in the case of Pinehurst or North Berwick, within villages or towns) and the nearby urban environment is omnipresent when you play. Others have houses around them, like Wentworth and Winged Foot. Even some of the top of the heap tracks have roads running through them, like Merion, Maidstone, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, even Cypress Point.

2nd green elevation best

The approach to the par five second shows the elevated green with closely mown areas in front

The 475 par five, dog-leg second doesn’t have a low point or hollow on the approach to the green but it is elevated with shaved areas. Its challenge is a stream running through the midpoint of the hole, forcing the golfer to have to think through how far to hit both their first and second shots to make sure they don’t end up in the middle of the flora that surrounds it. There are also alternative fairways to choose off the tee, split by massive bunkers, adding to the strategic nature of the challenge.
  3rd hole

View of the approach shot to the 3rd green at Double Eagle

The par four 3rd hole returns to the theme of a green protected by a ravine. I’ve probably played 200 or so courses that have ever been ranked among the top in the world. As I go about my travels I keep track of certain characteristics so I can compare them. One category I track is the best greens. To date I have only listed five on my website and in my book as having the best greens: Augusta, Winged Foot, Carnoustie, Peachtree and Camargo. The reality is that almost none of these top courses have bad greens, but these five stood out to me as being exceptional. Double Eagle’s greens, like the rest of the course, are impeccable, and I am adding them as the sixth course on my list. It was difficult to find grain on the greens and they rolled very true, although I found they almost always broke less than they looked like they would.

  6th back
The 505-yard par five 6th hole looking back from the green, with a little stream guarding the approach against loose shots

The course was designed and built in 1992 by Ohio native Tom Weiskopf and his partner Jay Moorish. I am too young to have followed Weiskopf’s career but he sounds like a fierce competitor with a fiery temper, who played at the game’s highest level. He was a winner of 16 PGA tour events including the 1973 Open Championship at Troon. A steely combatant, three of his PGA tour wins were achieved by beating Jack Nicklaus by one stroke. Moorish apprenticed under Robert Trent Jones for four years and worked for Nicklaus Golf Design for ten. This dynamic duo had their peak year in 1992, designing Loch Lomond in Scotland (another course I love) the same year they designed Double Eagle. Their other noteworthy works are in Arizona: Troon North, TPC Scottsdale and Forest Highlands.

  7th approach best

The tight approach to the 360 yard seventh hole, my favorite on the course, requires a precision shot, as does the drive to the small fairway

Tom Doak mentions in his Confidential Guide that the bunkering style here is similar to San Francisco Golf Club and Riviera, although I didn’t notice that at all.

8th par 3 best


The 8th hole, a par 3 of 180 yards, shows the forced carry/ravine theme and the blissful setting

I found the course to have three distinct feels to it. The first eight holes are the most distinctive holes on the property and the ones I liked the most. This part of the property also has the most elevation change. Holes 9-14 play over a flatter part of the property, although they are still quite interesting. The final four holes bring water into play and represent a challenging finish. I personally liked the front nine more than the back.

Like at Loch Lomond, Weiskopf and Moorish maintain the design philosophy of continually changing direction. The course plays along every point on the compass and no two holes go in the same direction, an underrated principal in golf course design. One of the courses that Weiskopf admires and that influences his design is Muirfield, which, similarly, has great variation in hole directions.

  15th hole 2

The green on the challenging 15th hole shows the generally flatter nature of this part of the property

The 15th is a Cape-style par four of 440 yards, with a fairway that sweeps to the left, and the golfer has to decide on the tee how much of the lake to cut the corner on. Water also comes into play on the par three 16th as you shoot at a perched green, and greenside on 17 and 18.

Tom Weiskopf is credited with the introduction of the modern drivable par four into course design, and it is his signature. I do remember the split fairway 14th hole at Loch Lomond is a gem of a drivable par four. At first blush the 17th at Double Eagle doesn't seem drivable at 340 yards, but once you look at the nuances of the hole it becomes apparent that for a stud it's possible to land a ball on or near the green off the tee. The hole's defining obstacle is plain to see off the tee: three large trees splitting the fairway, with the more generous portion being on the left and a narrow sliver of fairway on the right. You have to decide if you want to go left or right of the trees from the tee, and if you go to the right, it’s only about 300 yards to the large green, although that choice brings into play the water that juts into the fairway near the green. The 17th gets several accolades from George Peper in his book the World’s 500 Greatest Golf Holes, notching up rankings in the categories of ‘best short par four’ and ‘holes most nearly impossible to get on.’

  17th

Three mature specimen trees on the 17th provide quite a defense on a short par four

  17th backward

The 17th as seen from the green looking back, showing the split fairway, although there is water on the left short of the green isn’t visible in the picture

The challenging 18th, a par five finisher of 525 yards, is another example of how the course rewards precision over length, where just bombing a couple of shots is not the optimal way to play the hole.

  18

The third shot to the 18th green needs to be played with exactness or you’ll be watching water splash as your ball sinks to the bottom

The Club

Our round was leisurely and idyllic, the only sounds were leaves rustling gently in the wind and birdsong. The combination of having a pristine golf course to ourselves during the height of the summer, with perfect temperatures and a light breeze is tough to beat. With respect to Mark Twain, this was not a good walk spoiled. It was a round to remember. As there was no one else remotely near us, we played a fivesome at a comfortable pace. In addition to the world-class golf course, the club also has one of the best vibes of any I have visited. It is a peaceful enclave from the outside world and a club you’d want to be a member of in a minute. There is no pomp and circumstance and it has a laid back feel. Getting the right ambiance (exclusivity without pretension, and a focus on golf and service) is a tricky thing that doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, you know it. I rank Double Eagle among a very select group of clubs that have the whole package and that make you truly feel like you are at home away from home. [San Francisco Golf Club, Maidstone, Somerset Hills, Myopia Hunt Club and Los Angeles Country Club being the others in the U.S.]

I was also fortunate to do an overnight stay in the lodge and it brought back fond memories of staying at dormie houses and club housing at other great clubs. There is nothing like it in my book because you don’t have to rush off anywhere and can immerse yourself in the experience. It is a joy to lose track of time and to stay up late into the night talking golf with likeminded nuts.

The fact that Double Eagle is not currently on Golf Magazine’s top 100 world list is a travesty, this course screams to be back in its appropriate place among the best; it is better than at least 20 courses I’ve played that are on the list. Serious golf fanatics should put Double Eagle on their bucket list of courses to play.

We all have our own thing that helps define us. My thing is traveling to play golf and enjoying not only great courses, but also the camaraderie and joy of a stag trip. Thank you to Mark, Paul, Mel, Tom and Keith for making my return to the golf world so special. It’s hard to articulate how good it was to get back into my routine and to re-enter the bubble! I can’t wait to do it again. Next up: a return to Myopia Hunt Club and the Country Club. Hopefully I can peak at the right time again and hope that the pros at both clubs aren’t scared off by the frightening look of my thick white sun-screened face and will let me play.

I would note that my opinion has evolved and that Ohio is a serious contender for the best golf state in the country. I have previously boasted about how great New Jersey is, anchored by the #1 course in the world. It’s also hard to make a case against California, and Long Island carries New York into final contention in any conversation. Collectively, though, the courses of Ohio are as good as any. Consider just those in the Columbus area: Muirfield Village, Double Eagle, The Golf Club and Scioto. Add on Camargo, Inverness, Canterbury, Kirtland, Moraine, NCR and Firestone, and if I were betting at poker I’d go All-in with that strong a hand.

The club has such an enjoyable culture because it was established in the benevolent dictator model followed at other unique courses. It was the brainchild of local boy John McConnell. If you thought steel magnates went away in the 19th century with the likes of Andrew Carnegie, think again. McConnell was a legitimate steel magnate, founding Columbus based Worthington Industries. A real-life Horatio Alger story, McConnell started out by borrowing $600 worth of steel using his 1952 Oldsmobile as collateral and built the business into a NYSE traded company, making himself wealthy along the way. God Bless America, the land of opportunity! His passions included golf, and he founded the club with the right attributes to be a special place to enjoy the game and the great outdoors.

McConnell has since passed away, but in my mind, he left a lasting legacy here on how to do things right. Like when Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts set up the Masters, no detail was small enough to be overlooked. There is not one thing at Double Eagle that I can find fault with. That doesn’t happen often. McConnell set up a near perfect club that amplifies nature in a setting where golf is a true joy to play.

It’s good to be back!