Thursday, April 14, 2022

Chechessee Creek Golf Club

The Chechessee Creek Club logo features a feather with a golf pin and flag inset

It has been a long time since I posted anything and it is nice to be back. The pandemic years have been trying for all of us and especially for me. With a very bad immune system I have to be overly cautious. She who must be obeyed (my doctor) gave me a very simple instruction, and I have followed it to the letter: don't get Covid. Hopefully this pandemic era is over and we can return to normal life. On the health front, I am doing well and am in remission, the ultimate blessing. The bargain you make when you have a bone marrow transplant following leukemia is to trade death for a series of chronic illnesses, something I have gladly done. My day is always focused around treating my afflictions and managing the pain. Gabapentin, a non addictive medicine to manage nerve pain for my feet and eyes, is a godsend. I have to do four inhaled medicines via a nebulizer daily for my lungs, and I take about twenty pills a day for various things. My biggest problem remains severe acute dry eye, which means I have to put in eye drops at least every hour, wear sunglasses at all times, and avoid high winds. Not ideal for a golfer, but damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

Despite all my ailments I have been playing golf at least twice a week and am excited this year to start traveling again. On the agenda are Friars Head, Maidstone and Westhampton, as well as (god willing) a trip to Scotland in September, finally, after postponing it three times.

Today's post is about Chechessee Creek, located in the South Carolina Lowcountry, in the town of Okatie, which is roughly thirty minutes north of Savannah and thirty minutes west of Hilton Head. I am worn down living in New Jersey during the winter so we are building a house less than ten minutes from Chechessee, which I have joined. It is a dream come true. The Lowcountry is a geographic area along coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia characterized by flat lands, often below sea level, filled with salt water tidal marshes thick with cord grass, and loads of coastal waterways. The Lowcountry has a unique culture with distinct architecture, traditions, and food. This area of South Carolina historically had an economy that relied on agriculture for hundreds of years. The main crops grown on antebellum plantations were rice, cotton, and indigo. 81% of the population in the county Chechessee Creek is located in were slaves in the 1860s, among the highest in the South. The articles of secession in the Civil War were drafted 15 miles away in Beaufort. This is the Deep South.

Chechessee Clubhouse 
The clubhouse at Chechessee exudes Lowcountry charm 

Chechessee Creek was built in 2000 and the club has a distinctive feel to it. The club occupies a sprawling 300 acres among tall pine trees and centuries old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. The secluded and semi-remote location gives the course a great understated vibe, with a nostalgic feel.

The designers of the course, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, said the following about the club, and they achieved their stated goal, "Our goal at Chechessee Creek Club was to create a golf course of traditional character that would reward thoughtful, imaginative and precise play; while utilizing and showcasing the magnificent oaks and pines of the Carolina Lowcountry." Chechessee was the brainchild of two Jims: Jim Chaffin and Jim Light, who were involved in the development of the original Sea Pines resort on Hilton Head Island.  

Chaffin, who played collegiate golf at the University of Virginia, also achieved the goal he set out for the club, "We built Chechessee to remind us of golf’s Golden Era. We wanted it to be about the contextual relationship with nature, about being in the elements. The love of the game was the overriding principle in every decision we made. It was always about the golf.” As he and his partner were designing the course, Ben Crenshaw visited other great South Carolina courses (Yeamans Hall in Charleston and Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, specifically) for inspiration in his Chechessee design.

The course is beautifully routed through the tall pines, specimen oaks, and Palmetto palms, and over marshland. The first half dozen holes play inland and the seventh and eighth holes play along Chechessee Creek. The course then goes back through the trees to the clubhouse and then emerges again along the Creek at the thirteenth and fourteenth holes before routing back again through the trees. You can debate who the best modern architects are among Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, and Coore/Crenshaw, but I think that Coore/Crenshaw for sure win the prize for best routings. 

As they typically do, the architects give you a gentle opener (tee to green at least), a par four of 372 yards. The first hole might have the the smallest green on the course, raised off the ground a good distance for a course built on flat ground. To top off the challenging green, it also has a false front. It sets the tone for the day: wide fairways and elevated, pushed up greens with severe slopes left, right, and back. Coore and Crenshaw's courses always give generous landing areas off the tee. Driving the ball usually doesn't create too many problems, even if you are off line a little. The key is playing well around the greens to a much larger degree than courses designed by other architects. The number one rule when playing Chechessee is that if you are going to miss, miss short of the greens. They are all narrow and slope from back to front.

bags on range
Bags and caddies on the range, awaiting a full day of golf. As a course with a large national membership, the caddies line up the bags in the morning for golfers eager to soak up the Lowcountry vibe

Although the fairways are generous at Chechessee, that doesn't mean that simply hitting them will position you to hit the green. Case in point is the fourth hole, a 408 yard par-4 that plays as the #1 handicap hole. Being on the left side of the fairway positions your shot to the green more favorably. The same is true of the ninth hole. The finishing hole requires the opposite, a drive to the right side avoids the overhanging trees that come into play on the left. Such is the chess match that you will have all day trying to work your way around the course. 

I don't really like the term signature hole because it slights other very good holes, but if there were a signature hole at Chechessee it would be the par three seventh, playing 178 from the tips. The three jagged bunkers in front of the green create an optical illusion and doubt, although unless you top your tee shot they don't come into play.

  7th green wide view 2 
The 7th green from the tee with a panoramic view of Chechessee Creek along the left

Darius Oliver, author of the Planet Golf series of golf books is a big fan of the par threes at Chechessee, "As strong as the longer holes are, it’s the par threes at Chechessee that elevate the golf to a higher level. As a set there are few better anywhere on flat land. The 7th is a glamorous hole played from beside the marsh and across a bunkered mound that partly obscures a clever false front green."

As seen below, the seventh is a typical green at Chechessee with its back to front slope, and as Darius notes, a false front. As I said, short is always the best option for a miss.

  7th green closeup 
7th green bunker on the right

A closeup view of the 7th green showing the slant of the green and a jagged bunker you don't want to mess with.

  7th green left side 
7th green bunker, left side

The left side of the green is no easier, with two bunkers. 

Jim Chaffin's mandate to Coore and Crenshaw was to build a course that, "Felt like Raynor, Ross, Tillinghast, and McDonald might have come back in a time warp and have collaborated on." That's quite a mandate. While the course doesn't have any of the prototype holes that MacDonald/Raynor are famous for, nor none of the sparkling bunkers Tillinghast is known for, it somehow does have a throwback feel to it. This is probably due to the success of the routing, the ease which which you go about your round, the visual appeal of the course, and, most importantly, that intangible quality that is tough to put your finger on that makes Coore/Crenshaw courses so magical.

Of all the designers mentioned in the brief the owners gave the designers, in my view the architect the course most closely resembles is Donald Ross because of the closely mown areas and fall offs on almost all of the greens, although the bunker styling is distinctively Coore/Crenshaw. 

   8th green left 
8th green, left side
The eighth hole is a par four of 440 yards and plays in the opposite direction of the seventh. It is a stern test of a golfer's ability to accurately hit a long iron shot to a demanding green. The picture above shows the penalty for missing left. The tricky part of getting up and down is that the green is narrow and designed to be approached from the front and not the side, thus, an accurate high sand shot that lands softly is required. Anything coming out of the sand that runs will likely leave you . . .

  8th green right 
8th green, right side

. . . either in the bunker seen above, or in the shaved area seen in front of the bunker. Whenever I play at Chechessee I always spend some time on the practice area hitting long lag putts from off the green because undoubtedly I have several during your round. 

The course plays 6,641 from the tips to a par of 70. Since the course is on flat ground and the next tee is always near the prior green, the course is a nice walk, even when it is hot and humid. You should always hope for a little breeze as protection against the bugs coming out of the marsh. The course, and especially the greens, are always in top notch condition. As an isolated course away from any hustle and bustle, playing is always a serene affair (unless there are morons playing music from their bag or cart, which I will never understand). When I go out first thing in the morning with a caddie, we are comfortably finished in 2 1/2 hours, the ultimate way to experience this great game.

    11 green closeup 
Par 3 11th green, left side

The par three 11th (212 yards from the tips) is a challenging hole, once again, because landing on either side of the green leaves you a testing shot to a sloping green. The 11th is the start of the best four hole stretch on the course with two demanding yet varied par threes interspersed with two very different par fours, each presenting their own challenges. None of the holes are remotely similar and all four play to different points on the compass.

  12th from tee 
Par 4 12th hole from the tee.  One of the few forced carries on the course

The 336-yard 12th requires the golfer to traverse the marsh between tee and fairway. Darius Oliver describes it better than I can, "It may be short, but the hole demands a nervy drive—a 165-yard carry over an inlet from all but the forward tees." 

Chechessee was blessed to have former Pine Valley president Ernie Ransome as the chairman of the club's advisory board in the early days. Jim Chaffin says that Ransome gets credit for the diabolical little bunker that pinches into the front of the 12th green, which slopes off steeply around it, “I’ve seen people putt into it from above the hole.”

After the fun and challenging 12th, the course routes seamlessly back into the heavy forest. The flow is just so natural. Be on the lookout for fox squirrels, with their distinctive large ears; they are throughout the course, as are eagles soaring above.

The 13th green at dawn

The view above is from the 13th tee, a 164 yard shot. Long is again the worst option; best to always play a little short if you have any doubt. This image also shows to good effect the push-up style greens Coore/Crenshaw designed on the flat property. Darius Oliver on the hole, "As with so many of the greens at Chechessee, the 13th seems simple from the tee and it’s only after walking off with yet another soft bogey that you appreciate just how well you have to hit the ball here in order to score well."

  14th green right side
14th green, right side

The 14th hole, a 404 yard par four, has the most severe green on the property, and is another with a false front. There are no greenside bunkers, which is always a red flag that the green is going to be difficult because the architects are going to compensate for the lack of a sand penalty with a tough green. Once again, going long on the green leaves you a very difficult shot to get up and down, particular if the pin is in the back because the green slopes from back to front.

  14th green left side 
14th green, left side

The shot above shows the left side of the green and the slope of the putting surface. It is no easier than being right or long. A precise flop shot with soft hands is required if you miss the green left, particularly with the pin location seen here.

The 17th hole is short, but demanding. It is only 334 yards but is a classic risk-reward hole. Playing left is a safer bet since there is a sliver of fairway in the landing area. The right side of the hole has a marshy area jutting out into it that seems to attract tee shots. Big hitters can try to drive the marsh completely by playing down the right side, and if they make a good shot they will be rewarded by being near the green.
  18th bunker other side of green 
Bunker, right side of 18th green

The finishing hole is a 442 yard par four and the golfer should once again follow the cardinal rule at Chechessee and not be long into the green. Even a scratch golf would have to use all their skill to get the ball close to the hole from over the green. Each side of the green has a jagged bunker like the one pictured above. The green is one of the longest and skinniest on the course, so good luck keeping the ball on the green when you splash out of the sand from either side.

  18th back of the green 
If you have hit over the 18th green, you have made a big mistake and requires a Mickelsoneqsue short game to get up and down. Oops! 

As a club with a large national membership, Chechessee caters to golfers who bring a group to play a few rounds. The lodge and cottages and comfortable, with classic Lowcountry features: screened in porches that are cigar friendly. a front porch to soak up the environment, and outside fire pits.

The test of any Lowcountry club is their shrimp and grits, and the version here is excellent, as is the chowder. They also serve a proper Southern breakfast which includes biscuits and gravy. If you are on a guy trip, a great option for lunch or dinner if you want to be loud or watch golf while you eat is the men's locker room which is outfitted with nice tables, leather chairs, and flat screen TVs.The club also has a large and excellent caddie program, which in my opinion, always enhances the round of golf.

In Tom Doak's Confidential Guide to Golf  he ranks Chechessee Creek among the "Most Understated," along with Cypress Point and Yeamans Hall. Again, Darius Oliver hits the nail on the head describing the course, "Although holes like the 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th are undoubtedly first-class, Chechessee Creek is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to its lay-of-the-land design, stunning cottage-style clubhouse and pure golf-only focus." 

The last word goes to the two time Masters winner Ben Crenshaw: “It’s Lowcountry, but it’s low key. It’s a very quiet place to play golf. It’s really that simple." 

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Mid Ocean Club

Looking back over great courses that I've played but never written about, The Mid Ocean Club tops the list. This post corrects the oversight and hopefully will add some winter cheer.

In his, um, not so modest autobiography, Scotland's Gift, Charles Blair Macdonald gushed about the Mid Ocean Club, "I can assure my golfing friends, a more fascinating, more picturesque course than the Mid-Ocean when completed, will not be found in a pilgrimage around the world. There is nothing commonplace about it."

3rd green
The view from the third green at Mid Ocean Club, a testing par three along the Ocean. A hook for the right hand golfer is in the Atlantic. Mid Ocean is the perfect place to play when there is snow on the greens in Northern climates. 

Macdonald was attracted to Bermuda because of Prohibition; a number of his friends went there so they could consume liquor, providing an excuse for him to visit. The strong willed golf pioneer picked an idyllic spot on the isolated island, an area called Tuckerstown, which contains, "delightful valleys winding through coral hills." Macdonald brought in his whole team to aid in the club's design and construction including Seth Raynor, Charles Banks, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Completed in 1924, ironically, after Prohibition was repealed, the course was built on dramatic land set on a headland with sweeping views of the startlingly clear blue waters of the Atlantic all around. The challenge for the architects was that the soil is less than ideal for golf: solid coral rock being as difficult a surface as there is to build on.

Like its designer, the Mid Ocean Club is big and bold, built on a scale that most golf courses never achieve, the only two remotely close being Yale and Bethpage Black. Partially, I suppose this is because the course was built before the era of mechanized earth moving equipment, thus, Macdonald used the naturally hilly terrain to great advantage. 

The course contains many Macdonald-Raynor prototype holes, including an Eden (the 3rd), a Short (the 7th), a Biarritz (the 13th), a Leven (the 14th), a Punchbowl (the 15th) and a Redan (the 17th). It meanders through various valleys and depressions, playing quite steeply at times. A good example is the 4th hole, below, named "Mangrove," the double-tiered green playing at a high elevation from the rolling fairway, making the approach shot blind.

The par four 4th hole

The short (330-yard) par four 4th plays from an elevated tee with the Atlantic at your back and doglegs to the left. Although short, the hole is not easy.  Pat Ward-Thomas describes it in The World Atlas of Golf as "A plunge-and-rise affair, narrow between the trees and not altogether appealing."

8th green
The short par 4 eighth hole highlights the theme of using elevation in the terrain throughout the design, with a green elevated far above the fairway

The 8th hole plays to an elevated green and from the white tees is only 316 yards, making it driveable if downwind for long and accurate hitters. The course is also quite lush, which should be no surprise as it sits in a tropical location. As Macdonald noted, " . . . it is well wooded with cedars, oleanders, bougainvilleas and hibiscus, lending the most fascinating color scheme on the whole."

10th fairway1
The tenth hole, "Mercer Hill", has unforgiving terrain requiring skill hitting off Bermuda grass on an uneven fairway over a steep hill!

Part of the challenge at Mid Ocean, aside from navigating the hilly terrain, uneven lies, and testing greens, is the wind. Situated in the middle of the Atlantic and subject to the trade winds, most of the year the prevailing breezes average 10 miles per hour and spike up to about 13 miles per hour during the winter. Doesn't sound so bad, although, as we know, averages can be deceiving, and as an unprotected island there are times when the wind howls and the test of golf is stern.

11th fairway
The par five 11th is routed through a small, isolated valley and reminded me a bit of playing through the bush at Durban Country Club in South Africa

At 451 yards the 11th isn't too demanding a hole on paper, provided you keep the ball in the slim fairway and play the dog-leg left smartly, not being too greedy by trying to find a shortcut to the green around the curving valley. The green is elevated and tricky, falling away on all sides. The 11th is a good example of how Mid Ocean was designed, routing through several small valleys and around rolling hills and plateaus.

The 238-yard Biarritz hole, the 13th, is a testing specimen of this hole type, with the requisite hollow in the middle of the large green

16th depression after shear wall tee shot
The par four 16th hole, after you hit over the sheer wall, then into a gully on the right side of the hole

I found the 16th to be a very difficult hole, and disorienting. The tee shot is blind, then, if you land in what is pictured above on the right side, you've pretty much thrown away a chance of par. The green slopes back to front and the green is ringed by bunkers all the way around. It's a great example of a hole that probably would be softened if built today with our ability to shape terrain at will, which Macdonald and Raynor didn't have the luxury of doing. Macdonald was cognizant of the fact that it would be difficult to route the course so that there wouldn't be too much "mountain climbing." He felt that he largely achieved it, with the notable exception being the sixteenth, which he called a "real climb." I'm with him on that. The 376 yard hole left me feeling like I do when taking a red-eye. In theory, it should be an opportunity for some respite on the way in, but I got so anxious that I didn't take advantage of it and walked off disappointed, a bit worn out and needing a nap.

from 18th tee 
The view of the turquoise waters from the elevated 18th tee box, with the aquamarine waters of the ocean rolling nearby as you play at the edge of a cliff

The 5th at Mid Ocean, the infamous "Cape" Hole

The most memorable hole on the course is the vaunted 5th, the “Cape" hole which plays from a high tee, over water, to a demanding green. A Macdonald invention that has been widely imitated in golf design ever since, the Cape hole here is the best rendition in the world. What makes it so is that it plays from such an elevated tee, and the fairway that you have to hit slants downhill towards the hole from top to bottom the entire way. Most copies of the hole replicate the risk-reward options over water to an angled fairway, but most play on flat terrain. It is the size and scale of the commanding hill that the tee sits upon at Mid Ocean that sets this Cape hole apart.

The trick, obviously, is to choose how much of Mangrove Lake you want to take on. Aiming left is a bold line and if you can carry your tee shot over the lake you have a much shorter shot to the green. The more timid player aims right and finds land instead of water, but has a very challenging second (and possibly third) shot on the 433-yard hole. It is classic. A prolific gambler and long ball hitter, Babe Ruth bet he could drive the green from the tee. After eleven balls (his entire stash) landed in the lake he walked off the course in a huff. The hole lives up to all its hype and is very good. Macdonald built his home in Bermuda overlooking the Cape Hole.

cape from tee2
The "Cape" hole from the tee

cape look back
The Cape hole looking backward up the hill from the fairway

cape fairway
The approach shot to the elevated green on the Cape hole

cape green2 
The hole doesn't get any easier when the golfer reaches the Cape green

I played the Mid Ocean Club more than a dozen years ago, when I was skinnier, had black hair and many bad habits, although I did try to blend in with the natives wearing my pink Bermuda shorts

For those that can't get on the super-exclusive National Golf Links of America or Chicago Golf Club, playing Mid Ocean is a worthy substitute, since the great man's genius shows through strongly at Mid Ocean. Macdonald himself compared his Southampton baby to his work in Bermuda, "I am confident the course will stand in golfing circles as an achievement in a semi-tropical climate as great as the National Golf Links of America has been in the temperate zone." Unaccompanied guests can play Mid Ocean if their round is arranged through select hotels on the island, but play is limited. A member may introduce a guest to play golf unaccompanied on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, by reservation only.

Bermuda is a relaxing island to visit, it has a romantic charm to it and pink sand. Not surprisingly, although far from the homeland, the club itself  has a British feel to it. If you go to Bermuda it is also worth playing the course at Tucker's Point.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club - The Sacred Nine

Is it worth going out of your way to play a nine holer not located near other clubs that are destination golf courses? For example, it is easy to play all the great courses in Surrey (Sunningdale, Wentworth, St. George's Hill, Walton Heath) because you can stay in London and get to the courses with little stress. Same for the courses around Liverpool (Lytham and St. Annes, Royal Liverpool and Birkdale). What about a course located 30 minutes outside Cambridge, in Suffolk?

For me the answer was yes because I always wanted to see Cambridge and visiting the Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club (also known as Mildenhall) gave me the excuse to do so. I have visited Oxford before and loved it, so visiting the other great university of the world was a no brainer. Like Oxford, Cambridge was also love at first sight, one of the prettiest cities I have visited, although most of its splendor is hidden in the courtyards under the arches, behind the building facades and through the loggia.

University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

One reason I haven't visited earlier is that I wanted to have the full experience at Royal Worlington, which is to say, playing alternate shot, the club's preferred format. With my usual traveling companions, we are a threesome, so with a trip planned for four golfers, Royal Worlington at long last made the cut.

The rules of the game at Royal Worlington, where fast paced play is a priority

I am an avid reader of golf books and it's amazing how many of the best writers--including the three greatest ever to write about the game--went to Cambridge, and played at Royal Worlington, only adding to my desire to tee it up at the historic course. When Bernard Darwin, Herbert Warren Wind, and Henry Longhurst sing the praises of a course, golfers should take note. Specifically, all three masters of their trade wrote eloquently about the fifth hole, one that is world renowned for its difficulty. It was with much anticipation that we set out to play, anticipating how each of us would tackle the testing par three. After all, how hard can a 154 yard hole without bunkers be?

Modesty is the order of the day at Royal Worlington and Newmarket, a club that received its Royal patronage from Queen Victoria two years after its founding, in 1895

The foursome ready to begin their high stakes match

American golfers rarely play anything but their own ball. Playing Royal Worlington gave us the chance to play a foursome match (alternate shot), and it is a tradition worth keeping alive, and it fact reviving, so that it is done more. Aside from being a lot of fun, the other beauty of it is that you can play nine holes easily in 90 minutes, or three hours for a full eighteen.

A club employee with good cheer magically appears at the cubbyhole in the clubhouse when you pay your greens fee, need some toasted sandwiches, or a drink

  1 approach
The first hole shows unremarkable land

Most new courses built today are described by the architect or the owner as something along the lines of "the greatest piece of property we have ever seen," or "this land was destined to be a golf course." Whether it is just pre-marketing hype or the truth we each have to decide when we play the course. No such claim was ever made about Royal Worlington. The course is built on very flat land, although, as the affable Secretary explained to us, it is sandy soil and thus is ideally suited for playing all year 'round. The first hole, pictured above, shows the flat nature of the terrain. Tee to green the course is reasonably easy, the real challenge begins near and on the greens. Many of the greens have swales in front and contain false fronts. The putting surfaces are anything but flat, allowing the course to fight back against low scoring.

The third green, the perfect example of golf at Worlington. Doesn't look like much, but it is, with the swale in front and an exasperating putting surface

[Cambridge is the name of the University. It is made up of 31 separate 'colleges' which provide students their residence and administer their education. I have indicated which college each of the graduates attended.]

Herb Wind (Jesus College, '39) describes the third hole as having, ". . . a bowler-hat green, it rises from the fairway at a gentle angle and sweeps up on all sides to a flattish crown, on which the pin is almost always positioned."

The course has many idiosyncrasies, being squeezed into just 40 acres. One of them is tee boxes that play over the green you just completed. For example, the third tee shot plays over the second green several feet away. The sixth tee also plays over the fifth green. The fifth tee shot is the quirkiest of them all. To reach the green with a mid-iron you have to hit over not only the fourth fairway, but also the sixth.

Our match proceeded apace and we got into the gentle flow of the course, with many shots being thrown away around the greens, another joy of match play, because when it looks like you are seemingly out of the hole off the tee, unexpected shots happen that bring you back in.

 The fifth green as seen from the left side

Finally, our match proceeded to the 5th, a gem with a long narrow green that falls off both to the left and to the right. The fall off to the left goes into a large hollow with a steep incline back up to the putting surface. The right side features its own plunge, but this time instead of a hollow, there is a small stream that you don't see off the tee. Precision is the order of the day.

A closer look at the left side of the 5th green with its ominous fall off

Luckily, my playing partner, whose handicap is 10 digits lower than mine, hit the tee shot and landed on the front of the green. Although as we all learned, being on the putting surface means nothing in relation to what you are likely to take as your final score. Our opponents (single digit handicaps) were not so lucky and hit to the right of the green.

The fifth green as seen from the right side with the small burn at the bottom of the slope

We won the hole with a four as our opponents chipped back and forth over the green! They would have their revenge during our second round in the afternoon when I actually putted off the green. I hit what I thought was a good firm putt up the hill, but it caught a ridge at the wrong angle and rolled down off the top of the green to the right. A couple of wedge shots later, with balls returning to our feet, and we lost the hole going down in flames. Golf writer and architect Donald Steel (Christ's College, '60) describes the fifth using a gymnastics analogy, which is never a good thing. His summary of the putting surface as being shaped like a vaulting horse is spot on. It is devilish. 

The putting surface of the green promotes balls rolling off either side of the ridges if not perfectly struck

Wind described the fifth as "exceedingly lean and falls away abruptly on both sides - on the right, to a stream, and, on the left, to a basin of thatchy rough, twenty feet below the green, called Mug's hole." 

Henry Longhurst (Clare College, '31) wrote about the card wrecker in a disconcerting manner, "A diabolically narrow green sloping sharply away on both sides and the green itself like the dome of glass in a fairy tale. The flag sits on a little elevated 'postage stamp' section of the green, guarded within a few yards at the back by a row of firs. On the right the ground falls away to the rough, and, for a good high slice, a side stream. On the left it falls straight away to a deep grassy pit, and many is the man who, alternatively fluffing his pitch and watching the ball roll ignominiously back, and then, determined to be up, hitting it over the green and down the other side, has passed to and fro half a dozen times."

Bernard Darwin (Trinity College, '97): "To reach the green is one distinct feat; to hole out in two putts, when one has got there, is another."

The sloping right of the green

Another Cambridge Blue, the poet Patric Dickinson (St. Catharine's College, '35), describes the fifth in his book, A Round of Golf Courses, in a pithy and poetic style that conjures up the appropriately fearsome image in the golfer's mind: "If you go right, or left, we will leave you ping-ponging away for a 6; for we have to hit the perfect tee shot . . . It is like pitching on a policeman's helmet."

The fifth green as seen from the left side

The Cambridge golf team uses Royal Worlington and Newmarket as their home course. H. S. Colt, easily one of the three best architects ever to design courses, went to Cambridge (Clare College, '90) and served as the first captain of the Cambridge golf team in 1889.


Darwin dubbed Royal Worlington "The Sacred Nine" after the nine muses of Greek mythology and called it the finest nine-hole course in the country. For me, the course will always have a special place in my heart because after 22 months of fatigue it was the first time I was able to walk eighteen holes as I recovered from my health problems. Although I had taken carts (buggies as the Brits call them) during the first two courses visited on this trip, I was finally feeling good enough to walk the course unaided. Apparently, it was in God's plan for me to hit my stride at Worlington. The Sacred Nine indeed.

The clubhouse is the best kind: intimate and cozy

The club Secretary told us before we went out (tongue in cheek I think, but maybe not), that the second nine was the harder of the two. I think he meant that ignorance is bliss and that when you don't know where the hazards are you can swing more freely. We did find it harder going around again because we tried to avoid (largely unsuccessfully) what we knew were penal places on the course. Dickinson sums up the course with elegant prose, "Mildenhall's nine diamonds need playing; need all the cutter's art to become brilliants--make no mistake, they have as many facets, highlights and angles as any diamond, and they are quite as hard."

I'm putting my neck on the line recommending Royal Worlington because not everyone will appreciate its charms or the historical context that the course has. The conditioning is not great, the land is flat, and there are no beautiful vistas. Nevertheless, those that appreciate the finer nuances of the game will appreciate Royal Worlington. It was worth going out of the way to play.

The British are rightly proud of their quirks and traditions. Royal Worlington is a keeper of those traditions. Longhurst said, "The charm of Mildenhall, both the course and the club, was the continuity. Day after day one went out from Cambridge and found it the same. Year after year one returned later, and it was the same." As the song says, "There'll Always Be an England." Royal Worlington is one of the standard-bearers for the cause and we should all be grateful for that.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lundin Golf Club

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.

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

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.

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.

The tenth as seen from the golfer's second shot. It still offers no clue as to the size or shape of the green
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

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.