Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kawartha Golf & CC

Kawartha G&CC
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Architect: Stanley Thompson (1931), Restoration by Ian Andrew (2006)

Yardage: 6,458, Par 71

Slope/Rating: 71.6/125

My Quick Review: Certainly one of Canada's 50 best -- too bad course rating panelists won't get in the car!

My Thoughts

Kawartha was a course that came highly recommended to me by people that had seen many great courses.  It required convincing to make the two-hour drive to Peterborough, but now I am certainly a believer.  Kawartha easily belongs among the 50 best courses in Canada, and could be higher, yet it's nowhere to be found in the magazine rankings.

The Routing is exceptional.  Thompson moves you around this wonderfully rolling piece of land with ease.  Elevation changes are substantial but gradual and walking Kawartha is a joy.  Perhaps there are a couple of kinks, such as the walks to 8 tee and 14 tee, but fortunately these are scenic walks through the woods, which do not detract from the experience.  Somehow, even crossing the entrance road to play the 17th and 18th holes, has an intimate experience.

No doubt the highlight of the golf course is the set of par-3s.  Traditionally we see the short par-3 play uphill and the long ones downhill, making all of the holes play similar yardages -- not so at Kawartha!  The par-3 6th is an absolute devil of a hole, playing 223 yards straight uphill.  A very strong hole.  Though the course finishes with a par-3, those looking for a 'memorable finish' will not be disappointed.

If in the Toronto Area, Kawartha is absolutely a must-play.  And the best part? It's semi-private and reasonably priced.  Don't bother having your pro try to call to get you on one of the courses in the GTA, just get in your car and drive -- you will not be disappointed.

Holes to Note
Hole 2: Par 4, 355 Yards
The second is all about the green.  The hole moves to the left, begging the golfer to challenge the left side, but a tee shot to short on that line will be blocked out by trees.  The smart golfer will play down the right side, using the natural fairway contours to bring his ball into the centre of the fairway and closer to the green.
2nd Tee
Once in the fairway, the golfer is challenged to find a green that is guarded by bunkers short-left and long-right.  The green flows naturally from the fairway and once again, using the ground contours, balls can land short and right of the green and can feed all the way to the difficult to access back-left portion of the green.
Approach to the 2nd
The green and surrounds are nothing less than exceptional.  I have seen over 20 Thompson designed golf courses, and I believe this to be the boldest and best green on any them.  The bunkering demands that the player get both line and distance correct.  Shots long enough to reach the back portion of the green must be exceptionally precise, as a push into the right bunker leaves a very difficult recovery.

2nd Green from Right
The green is two-tiered with a significant ridge bisecting it.  Putting from one section to the other is extremely difficult.
2nd Green

2nd Green from Behind

Hole 4: Par 5, 456 Yards
This is really a par 4.5, but it's a very good hole -- a down then up par 5 that moves to the left and climaxes with a great green.
The tee shot is played downhill to a wide fairway that is pinched by a grouping of fairway bunkers about 250 yards off the tee.  Players can try to skirt the left side of the fairway for a shorter approach into the green, but shots that flirt with the fairway bunkers have the preferred angle.
4 Tee
One thing found at Kawartha, but almost never found at modern courses, is micro-contouring in the fairway.  The ground is gently rumpled, keeping the golfer always on his toes with an awkward stance.
The Gently Contoured 4th Fairway
The Approach from 250 Yards
To have any chance of reaching the green, the player must have 220 yards or less into the green.  From there, the green starts to come into view.
The Approach from 210 Yards
The 4th green is fantastic.  The whole green slopes toward a small bowl in the middle-left portion of the green.  A pin location in the bowl is easy, every other possible pin position is tough!
4th Green
4 From Behind

Hole 6: Par 3, 223 Yards
This is a phenomenal par-3 that breaks the mould of traditional architecture.  Not only is this par-3 over 220 yards, but it plays uphill, to a diagonal green, with the deepest greenside bunkering on the golf course.  Though there is some room to run the ball onto the green, the steep grade of the slope short of the green, means that most shots landing short will not bounce forward -- instead, these shots will veer left, toward the deep greenside bunkers.
6 Tee
The ground short of the 6th green slopes hard from right to left
Shots that miss left find the deepest bunker on the golf course

Hole 8: Par 3, 151 Yards
It is a bit of a trek to get from the 7th green to the 8th tee, but at least the 8th is a stunner!  Oh, and on the walk you get a glimpse at the left greenside bunker, which is among the most unique I have ever seen.
8 Tee
The eighth plays downhill to a very narrow green with a larger back portion.  Deep bunkers on both sides of the green place a premium on accuracy.  The left greenside bunker has a one-of-a-kind mound in its centre that can make for some very interesting lies.
The unique greenside bunker on 8

Hole 11: Par 5, 494 Yards
The downhill par-5 11th begins inconspicuously -- a tee shot to a fairly wide fairway guarded only by trees on the left, giving the player the feeling that the left is probably the ideal line (and it is).
11 Tee
As the player crests the hill, he is hit by one of those "oh wow" moments.  The second shot continues down the hill, all the way to green, which is guarded by a crossing stream and a deep fronting bunker.
11 Approach
In 2006, as part of Ian Andrew's restoration, a pond short of the 11th green was converted into a stream.  Whereas, in the past, weaker players were forced to carry a 100 yard wide pond, they now must only carry a 10 yard wide stream.  An excellent change.
A stream protects the 11th green...
As does a deep fronting bunker

Hole 13: Par 4, 391 Yards
On a course full of strong holes, this one may be the best.  A short walk from the 12th green to the 13th tee passes by the back of the 18th green, and one cannot help but think, "wow, when do I get to play that!?"  Fortunately, in seeing the 13th, most player's minds should return to the task at hand.
13 Tee
 The 13th gives the feeling of a downhill hole, but it plays substantially uphill.  Teeing off over the aforementioned ravine to a fairway the flows naturally with the land, sloping significantly from left-to-right.  Thompson no doubt is successful in luring many players to try to cut-off more than they are capable of, leaving them in horrible position in the right rough.  The intelligent play is to the left side of the fairway, where the fairway contours are steepest and will kick the ball toward the centre of the fairway.
Approach to 13 from right side of fairway
The approach to the 13th green is extremely difficult.  Not only does it play significantly uphill, but the green is guarded by extremely deep fronting bunkers, and even deeper valley to the right of the green.
A deep valley right of the green...don't miss here
Very deep fronting bunkers... don't miss here either!
Fortunately, the green at 13 is quite large and among the flattest on the course.
13 Green

Hole 18: Par 3, 198 Yards
A stunning and difficult finishing hole, the 18th plays nearly 200 yards to an extremely well-bunkered, two-tiered green.  Shots can miss short, but not anywhere else.
18 Tee
As the player moves up in tees, the angle into the 18th green becomes easier.  From the back tee (pictured above), there is a forced carry over the right greenside bunkers, but from the middle and forward sets, the player is free to run the ball onto the green.
Right Greenside Bunkers
Left Greenside Bunkers
18 from Behind - Note the Two-Tiered Green

Monday, December 26, 2011

Biltmore Resort

The Biltmore Hotel and Clubhouse
Biltmore Resort Golf Course
Coral Gables, Florida

Architect: Donald Ross (1925), Brian Silva (2007)

Yardage: 6,742

Slope/Rating: 72.1/126

My quick review: Not all of Florida golf is a Doak 0.

My Thoughts

A very nice change from the typical Florida golf course.  Water is not the dominant feature at Biltmore, and though the routing is not one of Ross' strongest, it is easily walkable and manages to make good use of the limited elevation changes on property.

The par-71 golf course offers tremendous variety.  As is typical of Ross, the par-3s play to different yardages and will require a very different club on each (PW, 8i, 5i, hybrid for me).  The par-4 holes are also quite varied... though perhaps there are a few too many in the mid-lenghth 375-420 yard range and too few in the drive and pitch or driveable range (the shortest par-4 is 354 yards).  The three par-5s are able reachable in two for the bombers out there, but each requires a decision off the tee.  A bold line will leave a chance to get the green in two.

The greens are not the highlight of the golf course, and given the quality of Ross greens on many of his layouts, they are frankly disappointing.  The 17th green provides some of the wild contouring that I am used to seeing out of Ross, but most of the course features straightforward back-to-front sloping greens.  That being said, the shape of the greens is very well done, and generally adds to the strategic interest in the holes.  The par-3 greens at holes 2 and 8 offer greens with a small front portion and large back portion.  The par-4 4th offers a uniquely shaped 'kidney' green, garnering a significant advantage to the player bold enough to challenge the bunkering off the tee.  And several greens have very scary false-fronts, most notably on the 5th where a ball landing anywhere in the first third of the green will run off the green and several yards into the fairway.

Fairway bunkers are used exceptionally at The Biltmore.  On almost every hole, staggered bunkering creates strategic options for all levels of players -- challenge the bunkers for the ideal angle and shorter approach, or bail-out to the wide portion of the fairway?  However, the mowing lines on a few holes are confusing.  Generally, challenging a bunker rewards the golfer, but in a couple of spots (holes 16 and 18), challenging the bunker leaves the player in the rough.

Lastly, differing the angle of the tee shot for different tee boxes is done exceptionally well at Biltmore -- probably better than any course I've ever seen.  Though the course is short on the scorecard, as one moves back to the back two sets of tees, some of the doglegs become quite severe and challenging the fairway bunkers requires not only a long tee ball, but also the ability to work the tee shot in both directions. Players unable to shape their shots will be forced to lay-up with less than driver off the tee, leaving long approaches into the green.

A Tranquil Location for the 1st Tee

Holes to Note

Hole 1: Par 5, 501 Yards

Despite the cluttered feeling of the 1st tee, which contrasts sharply with the openness of the rest of the course, the 1st hole is a fantastic microcosm for the course as a whole -- differing tee angles, staggered bunkering, and an interestingly shaped green with a back-to-front slope.

Note the difference in angle of the first tee shot from the back tees to the middle tees.  

1st Tee from Back Tees

From the back tees, challenging the bunkers on the right requires a very exacting tee shot that flirts with the trees.

!st Tee from Middle Tees

From the middle tees, the trees are no longer in play.  The carry over the bunkers is now only a question of distance, rather than both distance and accuracy.

The Approach to the 1st

Hole 4: Par 4, 355 Yards

The 3rd Green blends perfectly into the 4th Tee

After a flawless transition for the 3rd green to the 4th tee, the golfer is presented with the best short par-4 on the course.

Back Tee

Middle Tee

Once again, there is a dramatic difference in angle between the back two tees and the middle and forward sets.  The bunkers on the left side of the fairway, which must be challenged for the ideal line into the green, must be carried from the back sets of tees.  There is plenty of room to bail-out right, but the approach to the green is very difficult from there.  From the middle tee, the ideal angle into the green can be found by skirting the bunker instead of carrying it.

The approach to the 4th is played to a kidney-shaped green.  Front pins are accessible from all angles, but to get to a back-right pin, only tee shots played up the left side of the fairway have any chance.

Approach to the 4th

Hole 5: Par 4, 381 Yards

The par-4 5th is the last hole that moves significantly from left-to-right.  Several fairway bunkers give the landing area a very intimidating look and add significantly to the strategic interest of the hole -- don't just rip driver here!

The player is given the option of laying up the bunkers, leaving about 150 yards into the green, or challenging the trees and bunker complex on the right (a 240 yard carry from the back set of tees), leaving just a 100 yard pitch into the green.

5th Tee
The approach is played to a narrow green with a significant false-front.  Challenging the bunkers off the tee and having SW into this green is a big help when approaching this green (just don't spin it too much!)
Approach to 5 from short of bunkers
Approach to 5 from over bunkers
The False Front

Hole 8: Par 3, 229 Yards

A par-3 that any fan of Donald Ross has seen before.  A very demanding hole with a small front-portion of the green and a cross-bunker 25 yards short of the putting surface that adds both visual confusion and the potential for a very difficult recovery for a mis-hit tee shot.

Hole 10: Par 4, 372 Yards
The tenth is another example of differing angles from the tee.  From the back sets, most players will choose to lay-up to the fairway bunker through the fairway, though the aggressive player can try to hook one around the corner.
Back Tee View
Middle Tee View
The approach is to one of the most interestingly shaped greens on the course.  The green is set at a diagonal to the fairway with a deep run-off short-right of the green that leaves a very difficult recovery.
10 Approach
10 Green

Hole 13: Par 4, 448 Yards
A very strong and difficult par-4.  This hole doglegs left around a pair of fairway bunkers that must be challenged for a shorter approach and preferred angle into the green.  Bailing out right there is lots of fairway, but finding the green from there is no easy task.
13 Tee
The approach to the very well-bunkered 13th is straightforward from the left, but very difficult from the right.
Approach to 13

Hole 14: Par 3, 136 Yards
A short par-3 that demands precision -- a perfect match of line and distance, or a bunker will be found.  There is little internal contouring on this green, rewarding the player that finds the green.
14 Tee

14 Short of Green

Hole 17: Par 4, 450 Yards
This is likely the 'signature' hole on the course, and one of only a handful where water really comes into play.  From the tee, the player is forced to decide if he should challenge the water on the left side of the fairway.  There is no bailout here -- shots pushed right will be blocked-out by trees to the right.
17 Tee
The approach is played over water to a green protected short and left by bunkering.
17 Approach
Interestingly, not only is this the most demanding hole tee-to-green, but it is also the wildest and most difficult green on the course.  There is significant back-to-front tilt as well as two large humps and hollows separating the green into sections.
17 from Behind