Friday, April 30, 2010

New South Wales Golf Club

In the log book of H.M.S. Endeavour, commanded by Captain Cook, the entry for April 29 1770 reads "Anchored at 3 p.m. in a place which I called Sting Ray Harbour." The ‘place’ is the current location of the New South Wales Golf Club (ranked #43 in the world) located in La Perouse, just south of Sydney. The bay was subsequently renamed Botany Bay, and it was here that the current history of Australia began. As I am always cautious to be politically correct, obviously, the indigenous aboriginal people were already on the continent. It’s interesting to think that Australia hadn't even been settled by westerners yet, while some thirty years before, in 1744, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers was established in Scotland.

You can see the white New South Wales clubhouse perched on top of the hill to the right, in the middle distance, when you land at Sydney Airport. Planes headed towards its parallel runways are visible throughout your round.

Alister MacKenzie produced the initial routing map for New South Wales, but real credit for the design is largely given to Eric Apperly, who completed the work. Apperly also made changes to several holes over time, including designing the most famous hole on the course, the par three sixth. From 1942-1946 the land and clubhouse were surrendered to the armed services, and the course was rebuilt after the war under his supervision.

New South Wales is a links-style course that has a great routing, plays fast and firm and has a fair number of blind shots. The course has two distinct personalities to it. Holes three through six are characterized by great use of the hilly terrain and dramatic views. The stunning water holes like the fifth and sixth have a feel similar to the Monterey Peninsula and are inspiring. The inland holes on the back nine, particularly the severe doglegs, have a completely different feel and play inland, away from the headlands. My favorite stretch of the course was not the renowned water holes, but the inland stretch from thirteen through sixteen. The interesting combination of heavy vegetation, dunes and blind shots was at times reminiscent of Royal County Down to me.

Bunkering on the first hole

The New South Wales Golf Club is set on a very hilly piece of terrain. Walking the course proved a very good workout. Play begins nears a traditional English-style clubhouse at the top of a hill at the highest point on the property. The routing then goes through the dunes out to the headlands. Beginning on the seventh hole, the course plays back uphill and inland and then returns to the water again for holes thirteen and fourteen before returning inland and uphill once again. This variety of uphill, downhill and back and forth to the water makes the routing very nice.

The narrow driving area on the 3rd hole

You get the feel that New South Wales is going to be a very interesting course when you reach the third tee. This is the narrowest driving area I have ever seen. Standing on the tee you have no indication of where the fairway and green are. Looking at the chute to hit through, you would assume the hole is straight or perhaps a dog-leg right. In fact, the green is 100 degrees to your left. A good tee shot is one hit over the scrub and trees well to the left. The hole plays 380 meters from the back (add 10 percent for yards), but actually plays quite a bit less because you can cut off the dogleg. The second shot is to a difficult to hit, elevated green that offers a big penalty if missed.

The tricky dogleg left third hole

The 468 meter par five fifth offers another blind tee shot where you hit into a humpbacked ridge.

The blind fifth hole tee shot at New South Wales

The carry to the top of the ridge is about 240 meters, but if you can pull it off, you’ll have only 100 meters to go to the green. The cliffside green is situated at the bottom of the dramatic hill with the water behind it. If you don’t carry the ridge, you’ll have another blind shot over the top, down the hill. Walking over the ridge and seeing the breathtaking view of the bay below is one of the great vistas in the game of golf.

The 5th green near the water

The sixth hole is the famous cross-ocean hole similar to Cypress Point’s sixteenth hole, although I don’t think any hole in the world truly compares to Cypress’s sixteenth. The 500 Toughest Golf Holes in the World ranks the sixth among its holes and I concur. It is 185 meters and uphill from the back tee and all carry. I hit a driver from the far back tee and made a par on the hole, the highlight of my day.

The 500 Toughest Holes book’s characterization of these back-to-back holes is right on: “In the same way that Pebble Beach’s par five sixth offers a worthy prelude to the par three seventh, the fifth hole is a prologue to the beloved par three sixth.”

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The iconic par three 6th at New South Wales

The fourteenth hole is one that I enjoyed very much. Beware of short par fours. This 323 meter gem is not an easy hole. Tom Doak describes the fairway as “roller-coaster” and it is indeed. Like many of the world’s greatest, it is a classic risk-reward hole. You have to hit over a huge scrub-filled chasm to a dogleg left fairway that largely slopes back toward you, right to left. The best play is further right, leaving you a greater distance from the flag, however, at least your ball stays where you hit it. Trying to cut off too much of the dogleg and playing toward the flag to the left is not a smart play, primarily because the slope of the fairway will shoot your ball way left down the imposing hill. Normally, the safer route allows the less skilled player a fair shot of hitting the fairway. The fourteenth is especially tricky in this regard. Although it is a shorter carry off the tee, if you carry too far right it runs through the fairway and your ball is lost. It is like hitting a putt, where you need precision in both line and distance, but on your tee shot! Planet Golf calls the second shot at fourteen one of the best pitch shots in the world to its exposed skyline green.

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The difficult to hit 14th fairway over chasm

The seventh and fourteenth holes have a similar feel of playing at Kawana in Japan with holes routed through lush vegetation along dramatic high headlands. In particular, the fourteenth hole at New South Wales reminded me of the classic fifteenth at Kawana, requiring a demanding tee shot over a chasm to a difficult to hit, harshly sloping fairway.

New South Wales is at its best on its many severe dogleg holes. The most testing of these are the fifteenth and sixteenth. Fifteen is a 372 meter sharp dogleg right that demands an exacting drive up a hill into a narrow landing area. With the prevailing wind, it is quite unlikely that you can hit it far enough to see around the corner of the dogleg to the difficult green. This hole has the highest average in relation to par on the Australasian tour. The narrow, uphill, tight, difficult to hit 15th fairway, from the tee:

It is one of the hardest holes I have ever played, first, because the landing area off the tee is so small and, second, because you have to hit a LONG blind second shot to a tough green.

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The 15th fairway looking back from the green

Sixteen is a difficult 403 meter sharp dogleg to the left that requires a precise shot off the tee to have a chance at hitting the well-bunkered green. Note the nice sod faced difficult bunkers on sixteen. Adam Scott ranks this hole as one of the top three holes in Australia, along with the third hole here.

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The 16th green

The course is difficult to pin down into one style and to compare to other courses. While playing some of the inland holes on the back nine, which are surrounded by bottle-brush (similar to gorse), the course reminded me a bit of Durban in South Africa and had a real feel of playing through the bush.

The club doesn’t own the land the course is on; instead, it leases it from the government, since it is set within a national park, making it a nicely isolated piece of property.

There are not many courses in the world that can be compared to such a diverse group of courses such as Cypress Point, Durban, Royal County Down and Kawana. The eclectic feel of the various parts of the course really makes New South Wales a microcosm of many of the greatest courses in the world. It was also the most difficult of all the courses we played in Australia.

Many thanks to my gracious host Michael Taylor, a golf-crazed student of the game. I didn’t experience the full impact of New South Wales while visiting, as the greens were punched and the wind wasn’t blowing. Thus, I hope to return someday to play the course and experience the greens in top form. Also, I would like to prove to him that my game isn’t really as bad as it looked the day we played. In what was clearly an appropriate gesture, the black and white Magpies and their distinctive ‘laugh,’ had a riotously funny day mocking me.

Magpie at New South Wales

Sydney, Australia

I visited Sydney once before, about fifteen years ago, and was very much impressed with it. The iconic Opera House is quite a spectacle, and Sydney Harbour is one of the natural wonders of the world. The water is so clear you can just about see to the bottom of it.

It was nice to be back in this great city. One of the things I like to do when traveling is to get up early in the morning and go for a walk while the world is still asleep. One of my best memories on this quest is waking very early and going for a walk around Campbeltown, Scotland as the sun rose on the day I played Macrahanish. Aided by jet leg and an adrenaline rush, I awoke at 4:00 am in Sydney and went for a walk in the old part of town.

The collection of buildings around Hyde Park are pretty cool. The old Sydney Hospital, the Mint building, the New South Wales Supreme Court, the Hyde Park Barracks and St. Mary's Cathedral are an impressive bunch. The old bank buildings in the financial district remind me of similar buildings in San Francisco, built during each's gold rush; they were built to last and to convey strength.

Sydney combines the best of the world's greatest cities into an experience that doesn't overwhelm. It takes the best of what many world-class cities have and improves on them just a bit. Aside from a feel of San Francisco in its gold rush years, it has New York's buzz and traffic (but is cleaner), and L.A.'s weather (but no earthquakes). Like many European cities it is easily walkable, has good museums and proper coffee. Of course it also has a major British touch: they drive on the wrong side of the road, talk funny and there are statues of Queen Victoria all over.

Most Americans' image of an Australian has unfortunately been set by advertising for Outback Steakhouse and Paul Hogan's image of Crocodile Dundee. There didn't appear to me to be many people "who throw another shrimp on the barbie," and we didn't see one person drinking Foster's the entire time in the country.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Top 100 Course Trivia Quiz Answers

As you probably will notice from the answers to the trivia quiz, I like the unusual, eclectic and esoteric. It's no wonder that most people walk away from me when I talk to them at cocktail parties. And I always thought it was my breath.

Congratulations to Pete Blaisdell from New Hampshire who answered all but one question correctly (Royal Adelaide), but received extra credit on two questions. He wins a copy of The Life and Work of Dr. Alister Mackenzie, who had his hand in the design of more courses in the top 100 than any other architect.

1. What course was Winston Churchill a member of?

Walton Heath (#82), Churchill was a member from 1910-1965. Notice how upright Churchill's stance is. He also uttered one of the greatest lines about the game, "...a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose."

2. What course is also its own self contained township?

Pine Valley (#1). Pine Valley is incorporated as a township in New Jersey and has its own self contained miniature town hall and police force.

3. What course has held Olympic events on its property?

Riviera (#36) played host to equestrian events as the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

4. On what course will you find wicker baskets?

The flag pins at Merion (#13) are made of red wicker. Half credit if you answered Sea Island (Seaside) as it also has wicker baskets, however, it is not ranked in the world top 100.

5. What is the closest you will get to the Playboy Mansion while playing the top 100?

Off the 13th green at Los Angeles Country Club, North Course (#59), although don't expect to see much cleavage during your round as there is a big hedge between the course and the mansion.

6. What course do you have to drive through Sherwood Forest to get to?

Woodhall Spa (#36) in Linconshire England. When you drive east from Manchester to Woodhall Spa you drive through Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire.

7. What course do you travel past a nuclear submarine base to get to?

Fishers Island (#29), New York. To access Fishers Island you take a boat or ferry from New London, CT, down the Thames River where General Dynamics has a naval ship yard for nuclear submarines.

8. At what course will you enjoy the lobster lunch?

The National Golf Links of America (#20) in Southampton, New York is famous for its lobster lunch which includes shepard's pie, fish cakes, macaroni and cheese and steak and kidney pie. Below is a picture of the dining room where the lobster lunch is served.

9. What course will not let women anywhere on the property?

Garden City (#55). Although Augusta National, Pine Valley and The Golf Club allow no women members, women are allowed on the property.

10. What is the most copied hole in the world? Where did it originate? For extra credit, how many of them are there in the top 100?

The Redan hole, which is the 15th hole at North Berwick. A redan hole is a par three that has a large bunker in front of the green and a deep bunker beyond the short side of the green. The green generally slopes from front-right to back-left. It is a hole that is approached diagonally. There are at least 16 Redan holes in the top 100 courses including Los Angeles's #11 which is a reverse-redan hole: Bethpage Black #3, Cabo del Sol #6, Camargo #15, Chicago #7, Country Club #12, Fishers Island #2, Los Angeles #11, Merion #3, Muirfield Village?, National #4, Ocean Course at Kiawah #8, Pacific Dunes #17, Shinnecock #7, Shoreacres #14, Somerset Hills #2, Southern Hills #8, Yeamans Hall #6.

11. What course features a cemetery as a hazard on the first hole?

Ballybunion (#13), County Kerry, Ireland

12. What course has no pro shop?

The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield (#3) in Scotland because they have no golfing professional. I also didn't see a pro shop at Morfontaine on my memorable visit there, so extra credit was given.

13. What course features a Squirrel as its symbol?

The Country Club at Brookline (#33), although if you guessed Medinah, we'll give you half credit given their problem with squirrels burying nuts in the greens. Oakmont also features a squirrel.

14. What course served as a training ground for spies during the Second World War?

Congressional (#96), outside Washington D.C. The OSS, the forerunner of the C.I.A. used it as a training ground.

15. What course's 13th hole is named 'Loch Lomond'?

The 13th hole, a par 3, at Hirono (#35) in Kobe Japan, built in 1932. Loch Lomond, located in Scotland was built in 1994, and while the holes do have names, none are named Loch Lomond. The sixth hole is named Long Loch Lomond.

16. What is the northern-most located course on the top 100 and the southern-most?

Royal Dornoch (#16) in Scotland, which is located 4 degrees south of the Arctic circle and Paraparaumu Beach (#99) in New Zealand which is located 2,000 miles above Antarctica. For those going off the current Top 100 list, the answer would have been Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand.

17. Which course has cops guarding several holes?

Royal Liverpool #72 (Hoylake). 'Cops' are earth walls that mark internal out of bounds, as seen on the first hole, below.

18. What course did Dwight Eisenhower suffer a heart attack on while he was President?

Cherry Hills (#90). Ike used to spend extended periods of time in Denver where he would locate his 'summer White House' and played Cherry Hills often, as he was a member.

19. What course features a full-size hangman's noose on its 16th hole?

The Golf Club, New Albany, Ohio (#48)

20. What course do you begin the day by hitting a (basically) blind shot over a hedge row?

Cypress Point (#2) has a large hedge you hit your tee shot over on the first hole. The hedge is there to protect cars riding through the 17-mile drive, which bissects the hole.

21. What course has a train running through the middle of it? Extra credit for a list of courses with trains running along side the course.

Royal Adelaide, Australia (#50). The grey line running through the map below indicates an active train line. Courses with trains running along side: Carnoustie (near 18), Prestwick (along the 1st hole), Pine Valley (near 13 and 14), Royal Troon, Hoylake and Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

22. Which course formerly had a race course running through the land?

Somerset Hills (#69), in New Jersey. Prior to the golf course being built the land was used as an estate and included a private race course for horses. Royal Liverpool (#72) was also built on the site of a former track - the Liverpool Hunt Club.

23. What architect designed the most courses in the top 100?

Alister Mackenzie was involved in the design or redesign of nine courses in the top 100: Augusta National, Cypress Point, Crystal Downs, Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath (redesign), Royal Adelaide (redesign), The Valley Club of Montecito, Lahinch (modifications), New South Wales. Pete Dye has the second most on the list with seven: Harbour Town, Casa de Campo, The Golf Club, The Honors Course, TPC Sawgrass, Kiawah Ocean Course and Whistling Straits.

24. Where are Miss Grainger's bosoms located?

On the 15th hole at The Old Course at St. Andrews (#6). The 15th hole, named Cartgate (In) features Miss Grainger's bosoms which are two prominent humps on the right side of the fairway. Your drive off the tee should be placed at the church steeple between the two prominent humps: Miss Grainger's bosoms.

25. Where is the 'End Hole' bunker?

On the 9th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews. The End Hole bunker is a very small, penal bunker located 39 yards from the green.