Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Couchiching Golf Club Course Review

Couchiching Golf Club
Orillia, Ontario, Canada

Architects: George Cumming (1915), Stanley Thompson (1923)

2,790 Yards, Par-34

Rating/Slope: 65.5/115

My Quick Review: Fun to imagine what this could be.

For a little 9-hole course in Orillia, Ontario, Canada (about an hour north of Toronto), Couchiching Golf Club has an impressive architectural pedigree. According to the Club's website (http://www.couchichinggolf.com/history.html), in 1915 George Cumming (one-time head professional at Toronto Golf Club and had a hand in designing courses like Mississaugua, The Summit, Scarboro and Brantford) laid out 9-holes on the site of the current golf course and in the mid-1920s Stanley Thompson was brought in to update and lengthen the golf course.

I know little of the course's history but would be very interested to learn more if others have any information.

The golf course as it sits today is quite short, and the greens are lacking in character, but it is a very fun way to spend a few hours, especially if one is able to use their imagination.

Reaching the first tee is no easy task, as the golfer must walk some 300 yards from the site of the current clubhouse (the old clubhouse was razed in 2001), across the 9th fairway, to reach the 1st tee. A curious routing decision should this be original, though I suspect it was not.

Right from the first tee it is clear that many of the course's original features have been lost. This curious built-up feature sits less than 100 yards from the tee and could have been an intimidating top-shot bunker when constructed (though this is not a feature I have seen often from Thompson).

As is common in Thompson's work (not sure of Cumming's) the fairways have extreme micro-contouring. Those familiar with Thompson's work have probably seen this feature at Kawartha and Allandale, among others.

The first is quite a strong hole, playing over 400 yards and to a fairway that tilts left while the hole moves right. This series of mounds guard the green from those golfers who chose to play to the inside of the dogleg:

The second hole has become a very driveable par-4, playing under 300 yards and well downhill from the tee. Nonetheless, the hole's defense, out-of-bounds just steps right of the fairway, remains in full effect. Out-of-bounds also winds just behind the green, though I can't help but wonder what the orignal green and surrounds looked like.

The third hole is the only par-5 on the course, and though the green is set nicely into a corner of the property, the hole is forgettable. The 170 yard par-3 4th will challenge the golfer as it plays uphill to a small, raised green, but it too is of little interest.

What I suspect is a new tee has been added to the fifth hole, and combined with trees on the right impeding on the lines of play, the interest in a reverse-cambre hole has been lost.

The sixth is a fun, short par-3 playing at only 130 yards. The fall-off to the right is intimidating and the skyline green (imagination required) makes judging distance that much more difficult. As expected, the green is tiny and the most contoured on the course.

The seventh is a strong par-4 that requires an accurate tee shot played short of a gully 270 yards from the tee. As this uphill hole plays into the predominant wind, reaching the gully is not a consideration for many, but the 150+ yard shot that must be played over it, is. Trees have constricted the line of play, but if they were removed, the fall-off short and right of the green would make this one of Thompson's best par-4s.

The 200 yard par-3 8th is of no interest played over flat land to a flat green that is predictably bunkered.

The 9th is another awkward hole as trees have eliminated options from the tee. Golfers have little choice but to play an iron from the tee to leave a short-iron into this interesting sunken/punchbowl green.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sanctuary Golf Course Review

Sanctuary Golf Course 
Sedalia, Colorado, United States

Architect: Jim Engh (1997)

7,033 Yards, Par-72

Rating/Slope: 73.4/152

My Quick Review: Fascinating to Engh's style of design, but Sanctuary is routed over too severe a property.

Hole 1: Par 5, 607 Yards

Playing 245 feet downhill just in front of the clubhouse, this is one scary tee shot.  The fairway runs out at 310 yards and that is easily reachable.  The clever play is to lay-up short of the fairway narrowing area to leave a simple lay-up second shot.  Truthfully, most (including myself) are aiming to have the ball just end up somewhere between the left trees and the right trees.

Hole 2 - Par 4, 458 Yards

A narrow, very intimidating tee shot that plays easier than it looks.  The fairway only gets really narrow 280+ yards from the tee.  Most tee shots will land in the wider portion of the fairway and the contours of the fairway will funnel shots missed a little left or right to the middle.  

Hole 3: Par 4, 432 Yards

Another intimidating, semi-blind tee shot.  Playing into the wind, the fairway bunkers are a very long way away and the landing area is blind from the tee.  From the shape of the hole, it appears that the best angle is from the right, but it is not until you actually get down to the fairway that one sees how important not being left is.  There is a large group of trees short of the green that make any approach from the left rough all but impossible.

Hole 4: Par 5, 581 Yards

Another tee shot where one can see almost nothing.  Get out your yardage book.  Bunker is 320 yards from the tee.  OK, let's aim at that.  

The view from one set of tees forward is very, very different.

What is clear after playing the hole only once, is that despite the narrowness, one must be sure to place the tee shot accurately on the left side of the fairway.  Not pictured is a large tree that stymies any tee shot hit too short or too far to the right.

This photo is taken from about 250 yards out and would be an absolutely perfect drive down the left side of the fairway and about 5 yards short of the bunker.  From this side of the fairway, the player has three options: 1) Go for it; 2) lay-up short of the first bunker on the right, leaving a clear shot between the trees; 3; get it past the little mound on the right, just short of the end of the fairway.  From the right side of the fairway there is but one choice: hope you don't hit the tree that's in your way!

Hole 5: Par 3, 188 Yards

The first of back-to-back par 3s.  Most will be happy to hit the green on this nerve-wracking par 3, but the green is cleverly split in three sections.  A ball on the green but in a different section than the pin is almost a guaranteed three putt (my putt from the back of the green almost went off the front edge). 

Hole 6: Par 3, 202 Yards

No pictures from the tee, but from the tips the view of the green is very obscured.  There are two general teeing areas: from the left, where one plays a semi-blind but flat tee shot to the green; and from the right where the hole plays shorter, but uphill, over the series of bunkers on the right and at a difficult angle given the shape of the green.

The pin on the day I played it was in a very cool little bowl at the back of the green that could be reached either by running a shot up the middle of the green or using the embankment long of the pin to bring it back.

Hole 7: Par 4, 400 Yards

Another hole where the view from the tips gives only a glimpse of fairway, but the view from the one ups is very clear.  Being on the left side of the fairway is very important for a right or back-right pin, but for the pin I played, anything in the fairway works fine.

The green (as always, not done justice by pictures) is one of the coolest I have seen.  There are so many undulations and they are so severe that one could spend hours putting on that green and not get bored.

Hole 8: Par 4, 380 Yards

Along with number 18 at Sanctuary, one of the most dramatically uphill holes I have ever played.  At about 230 yards from the tee, there is an outcropping of rock/fescue that impact play.  It is 250 yards over the outcropping and given the uphill nature of the hole, few players will be able to make  this carry (though it should be noted that the one up tees are about 60 yards shorter on this hole making the carry doable for many players).

The fun isn't over once  you find the fairway, this is one unbelievable green!  Relatively flat up top, but with a severe slope at the front (I don't know what to call it - maybe a false front?).  I think you could actually get a pin at the front there, which would be a lot of fun.

Hole 9: Par 4, 329 Yards

Hole 10: Par 3, 200 Yards

Hole 12: Par 4, 400 Yards

Another tee shot that is basically blind.  Get out the Skycaddie and check the yardage to those visible slices of fairway.  This hole is probably easier on repeated plays as there is actually plenty of room in the fairway and only a slight advantage to challenging the carry on the right.

The approach is unusual, over a series of small (and a couple not so small) trees.  You are kind of at the mercy of the golfing gods as to whether or not a tree will block your view of the pin/green.

Hole 13: Par 4, 393 Yards

Another visually intimidating tee shot, that is much less intimidating from one tee up.  From the tee all that can be seen is a bit of fairway and a bunker.  There is actually a lot of room to miss to the right.  The pin location really dictates how aggressive one need be with the shot as a back right pin really must be attacked from the left with a short iron.  A left pin can be challenged from anywhere.

Despite its length, this hole at Denver elevation and with the large drop from the tee, could likely be reached in one by some.  Longer hitters must take care not to hit their tee shots through the fairway into the water.

Hole 14: Par 3, 173 Yards

Unlike many holes with waterfalls, this one is actually a very good golf hole.  While most will just try to avoid the water, this uniquely shaped green has many severe internal contours.  Merely hitting the green in regulation in no way guarantees a par.  I especially liked that the back right pin (pictured), while a long way from the water, is arguably the second most difficult pin location on the green (left pin is probably the hardest).  The pin sits on a very small plateau that can only be reached with a perfectly struck shot.  Any shot to the middle of the green leaves a difficult two-putt.

Hole 15: Par 5, 613 Yards

Much like the other par 5s at Sanctuary a dramatic downhill tee shot on this par 5.  It's about 330 yards to the bunkers straightaway, but if possible, one really wants to get it out there over 300 yards to get a clear view for the second shot.  Otherwise, one is left with an awkward semi-blind lay-up shot that cuts over the edge of a hill.

Again, pin location dictates the ideal lay-up location.  A right pin is difficult to attack as it is difficult to lay-up in the right side of the fairway.

Another very fun green, those ridges are very substantial!

Hole 16: Par 4, 317 Yards

This hole may be driveable for some (though I doubt it) as it plays substantially uphill.  The back two sets of tees are basically the same length, but the first two pictures give an idea of the difference in view from the two sets of tees.

Challenging the left side off the tee rewards the player with the clearest view of the pin and an approach that does not need to carry the army of bunkers short right of the green.

Curiously, this is one of the simplest and flattest greens on the course.  Given that the player will be coming in with nothing more than wedge, I am not sure why this green was designed in this manner.

Hole 17: Par 4, 366 Yards

Despite the narrow appearance, there is lots of room off the tee, though only a tee shot down the left will yield an easy approach.

The hole is largely defined by two trees: one 100 or so yards from the green off the right side of the fairway (the one surrounded by rocks) and the one about one yard of the green.  A tee shot down the right will have an obscured view of the green and will have to be hit over the first tree.  If the pin is anywhere on the right half of the green, then a tee shot down the right not only will have to deal with the first tree, but also will be largely blocked out by the second tree.

Although the picture makes it look as though the tree by the green is right of the green, I can assure you that much of the right side of the green is blocked by the tree, unless a tee shot is placed perfectly down the left side of the fairway.

Hole 18: Par 4, 438 Yards

Even at elevation, this dramatically uphill finisher is a beast of a hole.  The tee shot is narrow, though somewhat pedestrian compared to many of the other tee shots at Sanctuary.  There is, however, a lot of pressure on this final tee shot because a poorly hit tee ball will leave an all but impossible long, uphill approach to the green.

The green is not at all visible from the DZ and pins on the left are largely obscured by a mound in front of the green.  18 can never play easy, but there are a couple of really difficult pin positions.  Anything on the left (as pictured) and a pin back right.  

Palouse Ridge Golf Course Review

Palouse Ridge Golf Course 
Pullman, Washington, United States

Architect: John Harbottle (2008)

7,308 Yards, Par-72

Rating/Slope: 75.9/140

My Quick Review: Worth playing but not worth travelling for.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to play John Harbottle's Palouse Ridge GC at the Washington State University in Pullman, WA.  My expectations were moderate and they were easily matched and exceeded.  The course is very worth playing if you are in the area, though not necessarily worth travelling to see.  

General observations:

1) Lots of elevation changes make for a very difficult walk (it's doable, but it wouldn't be much fun).  If you don't mind hopping in a cart, the elevation changes are lots of fun.

2) Course plays firm and fast

3) Fairway and undulation is noticeable and interesting

4) Greens have very little internal contouring

5) Very good bunker placement - always  seem to be right where you want to hit it!

6) 16-17 are the only really weak holes in my opinion

7) Parallel par 5s 9 and 18 are almost the exact same hole (though for some reason I liked 18 much better than 9)

All yardages are from the 6,723 yard blue tees (72.9/134)

Hole 1: Par 4, 407 Yards

You know how sometimes you know you're playing a course you're going to like just from the first hole?  Thus was my feeling after playing number 1 at Palouse Ridge.  The tee shot plays blind over a hill without much in the name of visual clues to suggest a preferred line off the tee --- in the shop the pro told me to favor the left, but I couldn't remember if he said left or right... I thought it was right... I was wrong.

Hole 2: Par 4, 369 Yards

Playing parallel and above hole 1, the second features another blind tee shot.  One's primary concern is not pulling the tee shot as anything left will bound all the way down to the 1st fairway, some 30 ft below.  

A single white marker gives a line off the tee.  No other visual cues to guide the golfer.

Tee shots that challenge the left side are rewarded with a preferred angle into the green:

Hole 3: Par 4, 440 Yards

Very good hole with a downhill tee shot over a diagonal hazard with an uphill approach to a green with a good kicker short.  My big question here is whether the bunker in the fairway is necessary?

Hole 4: Par 3, 158 Yards

One really scary short par 3.  Playing uphill, into a strong wind and to a back pin, I hit three-wood here.  Shots missing short or left are severely penalized.

A really interestingly placed bunker.  There is a large kicker right of the green that can be used to get the ball on the front half of the green without having to challenge the fall-off left.  BUT, you can't get to a back pin position with it (that darned bunker gets in the way).  Playing to a back pin, one can be conservative and aim for the front half of the green where there is lots of room to miss but would leave a long putt, or they can take enough club to get to the back of the green but they must be precise with the line.

Hole 5: Par 5, 552 Yards
Tee shot has a hazard down the left and severe slope on the right side of the fairway that will kick balls toward the centre of the fairway.  Tee shots down the left leave a shorter though not much easier second shot.

Hole 6: Par 3, 217 Yards

Long, downhill, downwind and deceiving.  I hit a few shots off this tee, trying to use the kicker to the right of the green to run the ball on.  What I didn't realize was how severe the slope is.  Balls do not kick left and forward, they just kick straight left!

Hole 7: Par 4, 426 Yards

A rather forgiving cape hole.  Nothing but trouble awaits the player who cuts off a little too much, but there is lots of room left.  The fairway even has a significant left to right cant that allows bailed-out shots to kick toward the centre.

Hole 8: Par 4, 384 Yards

One of my favorite holes at PR.  The strategy is here is as it should be.  The fairway slopes left to right and the preferred appraoch is from the left.  Challenge the fairway bunker for the preferred angle in or bail out right (where there is lots of room) and face a difficult approach that must carry the bunkers fronting the green.

The approach is uphill to a green with a kicker left of the green that will allow a player that is out of position off the tee to reach the green without challenging the bunkers.

Hole 9: Par 5, 483 Yards

A simple par 5 with one really well-placed bunker.  The tee shot is over a diagonal hazard on the left to a fairway that slopes significantly toward the hazard.  Tee shots that challenge the hazard are rewarded with a shorter approach / easier lay up, though those wanting to go for it in 2 will find an easier 2nd from the right.

There is a single very well placed bunker approximately 100 yards from the green.  Approaches are best played from the right, though one must choose whether to challenge the bunker (carry it) or lay back of it.  

Hole 10: Par 5, 566 Yards

I loved this par 5.  A very dramatic tee shot with trouble all the way down the right and lots of room left.

Not such a ho-hum layup.  There is a steep slope to the right that one must avoid.  There is another really well placed fairway bunker.  Fairway slopes left to right and you can't miss right.  Bunker is right where you want to hit it.  Pick your poison, lay-up to it or carry it or try to find the narrow portion of fairway right of it.  Love the options.

Hole 11: Par 3, 156 Yards

Even at only 150 yards this is a very intimidating and difficult par 3.  The hole is straight uphill and just long enough that most players will be hitting at least a mid-iron into the green.

Hole 12: Par 4, 426 Yards

Another really intimidating tee shot where there is reward for challenging the trouble.  Tee shots missed right can tumble all the way down to the 14th fairway leaving an all but impossible approach, though approaches from the right are preferred.

Hole 13: Par 3, 217 Yards

One of the more penal holes on the golf course.  This par 3 is long and into the wind with little bailout.  Bunkers short-right and long-left will catch most misses from the right-handed golfer.  Short-left and long-right are the places to miss.

Oddly, this is one of the most severely undulating greens at PR. Not quite sure why Harbottle would choose this green to be so undulated given the difficulty of the hole.  Perhaps a recognition that few will be hitting the green in regulation and making for a more difficult up and down?

Hole 14: Par 4, 401 Yards

Lots of room right and penal bunkers left.  Most tee shots will feed off the sloping fairway to one of two fairway collection areas leaving a short iron into the green.

Hole 15: Par 4, 345 Yards

The hole plays sub-300 yards from all but the back two sets, where the angle off the tee is significantly different.

From the white tee (298 yards)

From the blue tee (345 yards).  The green is still within reach for the longest of hitters, but for the shorter hitter (like myself), there is little interest off the tee as the only real choice is to play right of all of the bunkers.  I like this hole better from the forward sets.

I spent a few minutes messing around on this green.  Depending on green speeds, slopes right and long-right of the green can be used to feed balls all the way down to the front-left.

Hole 16: Par 3, 119 Yards

And so begins a rather poor finish to a good golf course.

Hole 16 feels like a bit of filler, needing to get the player from 15 to 17.  A simple, short par 3, with a medium sized flat green and little trouble.  It is a rather exposed area so I suppose if the wind is really blowing it would make the hole more interesting, but nonetheless I think more could (and should) have been done with this hole.

Hole 17: Par 5, 501 Yards

The tee shot on 17 is semi-blind, though there are enough visual clues that player knows that right is better.

For the second shot, the player must choose if he wants to challenge the water and go for the green in two, or lay back and aim for the wide part of the fairway.  Another well-placed bunker just over the water ensures that a player cannot waffle on his decision.  Either lay-up or go for it as something in between will mean trouble.

Hole 18: Par 5, 518 Yards

Hole 18 looks a heck of a lot like 9.  The fairway bunker provides a pretty good aiming point for most players.  Shots that bail right are fine too.