Thursday, February 2, 2012

Essex Golf and Country Club Review

Essex Golf and Country Club 
LaSalle, Ontario, Canada

Architect: Donald Ross (1929)

6,703 Yards, Par 71

Rating/Slope: 72.6/132

My Quick Review: Too often dismissed because of its flat land -- Essex has one of the best bunkering schemes and one of the strongest sets of greens in the country.

My Thoughts

Essex has undergone many changes since the late 1920s, but in general the Club has remained committed to maintaining the orignal Ross design.  In the 1970s/80s, Arthur Hills added bunkering (which sticks out), as well as an additional irrigation pond that is in play on the 11th and 13th holes (the only other water in play, a pond on the 8th, is original).  Around the turn of the century, the Club hired Renaissance Golf Design to restore the greens and bunkering.  A lot of credit is due to Mr. Chris Andejicka, the Club's Superintendent, who has trimmed the trees that threatened to choke the fairway corridors.

I hope you enjoy the photos, but in truth, Essex is a golf course that looks much better in person.  The subtle ground movements and great green contouring does not come through in pictures.  Nevertheless, Essex is flat-land golf course architecture at its best and is one of my favorite courses in the country.

Holes to Note

Hole 1: Par 4, 381 yards
A gentle opener, with a fairly scary bunker down the right side of the fairway.  The player has the option of laying up short of the bunker off the tee, leaving 160ish yards, or playing to the more narrow part of the fairway and taking on the fairway bunker.
1st Tee
Approach to a green with a small false front.  Bunkers left and right are a good 15 yards short of the green making the approach appear more difficult than it plays (this feature felt very common at Essex).
1st Approach - Note the Rumpled Fairway

Hole 3: Par 5, 523 yards
Hole 3 is a medium length, subtle dogleg right par 5.  OB threatens the whole way down the right side, though most shots likely will be caught in the trees rather than end up OB.  Fairway bunkers flank the fairway on the tee shot.  Any player hoping to get home in two must challenge the right hand bunker.
3rd Tee
The lay up leaves the player with options.  A fairway bunker on the right juts out into the fairway at approximately 150 yards from the green and a second fairway bunker narrows the fairway from the left at 100 yards out.  One must choose both their line and their lay up yardage carefully.
3rd Second Shot
Intimidating approach over a deep bunker, to a slightly elevated green where shots long or right will kick further away from the green.
3rd Approach
The green is very interesting and is bisected by a ridge through the middle of the green (that cannot be seen from the fairway).  The ridge is flattened by the photo, but if you are on the wrong side you are in trouble.
3rd Green

3rd from Behind
Hole 4: Par 4, 461 yards
Hole 4 is the beginning of a difficult three hole stretch.  Another dogleg right, although this is one is slightly more severe.  Once again, one must challenge the bunkers on the inside of the dogleg for a shorter approach to the green.  A pulled tee shot into the left rough will have a problem with overhanging limbs.  This hole was originally designed as a par-5 (yep back-to-back par-5s!).
4th Tee
The green allows a player to run a long approach shot on to the green, but one must beware of the false front.
4th Short of Green
Run offs to the right and back right of the green.
4th Green from Right

Hole 6: Par 4, 454 yards
Hole 6 is long, straight and difficult.  One of the few holes where fairway bunkers are not in play on the tee shot.
6th Tee
Although it is not clear in the picture, the hole has, I believe, three swales running across the fairway making for more interesting lies.
6th Fairway
Fairway bunkers flank the fairway 50 yards out, making for an interesting lay-up for those players that are unable to reach this long par 4 in two.
6th Short of Green

Hole 7: Par 3, 157 yards
One of my favorite holes on the golf course.  A beautiful short par 3, surrounded by 5 bunkers.  The green (sorry, no picture) has a very well-defined spine coming off the back of the green that splits the back portion of the green into two.  The hole, at first glance, reminded me quite a bit of #5 at Aronimink GC.

Hole 9: Par 4, 437 yards
A very strong par 4 with an intimidating tee shot.  From the tee, one is forced to choose either to attempt to carry the left fairway bunker or attempt to thread the needle.  The view from the tee makes it appear as though there is almost no room between the bunkers, but the fairway is probably 40 yards wide.  A clever visual trick.
9th Tee
A tee shot of ~200 yards would leave this impossible approach (green is around the corner, behind the trees on the left).
Approach from Left
Approach after an ideal tee shot.  Once again, bunkers well short of the green give the appearance of a more difficult approach.  I also like the location of the right hand bunkers, penalizing the player that was cautious off the tee and hit a tee shot that did not challenge the left side.
Approach from Centre
9th Green and Clubhouse

Hole 10: Par 5, 501 yards
A straight away par 5 with OB well right.  Bunkers on the left are approximately 270 yards off the tee and from looking at old pictures, they appear to be a fairly new addition.  The hole was likely at the mercy of longer hitters and these bunkers pinch the landing area for a long hitter while having minimal impact on the shorter hitters.  A great addition, in my opinion.
10th Tee
Second Shot from Short of Fairway Bunkers
Second Shot from Right of Fairway Bunkers
Very interesting lay-up shot with four bunkers defining the landing area.  Depending on the placement of the tee shot, the player must make a definitive decision on both line and distance on the lay up.
10th Approach
Picture taken from right of green.  Notice the small area at the bottom of the picture.  A phenomenal place for a Sunday pin position, tucked just over the greenside bunker.
10th Green

Hole 14: Par 4, 422 yards
Another difficult par 4.  The tee shot is flanked with bunkers on both sides of the fairway to catch an errant tee shot, but there is plenty of fairway width that the bunkers do not give the fairway a cramped feel.
14th Fairway
Approach once again features bunkers well short of the green.
14th Approach Right
14th Short of Green
I wish cameras could adequately capture the slope in the green.  There are several 'rolls' in the green that make this one of the most interesting and difficult greens I have ever seen.
14th Green

Hole 15: Par 4, 364 yards

15 and 16 are two excellent short par 4s that offer a chance for birdie before a very tough finish.  A set of bunkers cut into the fairway on the right around 240 yards from the tee.  One must choose whether or not to challenge them.  The decision is made more difficult by a very deep and intimidating front-right greenside bunker that is much more in play on a laid-up tee shot.
15th Tee
Approach from 150

It is clear that the further left one goes, the better the angle to the green, but some trees (not pictured) left of the fairway will serve to block out a tee shot that is hit too far left.
Approach from Left

Hole 16: Par 4, 388 yards
One of my favorite holes on the course.  Another mid-length par 4 that plays straightaway and forces the player to choose whether to challenge the right side fairway bunkers.
16th Tee
Approach from Lay-Up Tee Shot
Approach from Left of Fairway Bunkers

A large bunker crosses the fairway 25 yards short of the green.  From the fairway it is very difficult to tell that there is any room between the bunker and the green.  While it may seem like it should not be in play, don't tell that to my playing partners.
Cross-Bunker Short of Green
Lots of Room Between Cross-Bunker and Green

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