Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pine Tree Golf Club, Delray Beach, Florida, Course Review

Pine Tree Golf Club 
Delray Beach, Florida, United States

Architect: Dick Wilson (1961)

7,315 Yards, Par-71

Rating/Slope: 75.3/137

My Quick Review: The best conditioned course in Florida.

Normal wind direction has holes 3/4 playing straight downwind...

I will post more later but wanted to get started...

First, as I said to Tony Nysse when I met him, "I didn't know greens in Florida could run this fast or putt this true." Though I was told that the greens were running slightly slower than mid-season speed (they were running at 12) and slightly softer that than mid-season firmness, I thought the maintenance meld was darned near ideal. Downhill putts/recoveries were fearsome but usually doable with a perfectly played shot. Well-struck approaches to greens would land and release a few yards, but shots hit a bit thin or fat would trundle over the green. When the greens are at full speed and firmness, combined with the wind, elevated greens, and run-offs at the perimeters of the greens, you better be one hell of a ball-striker to score.

I understand the fairways were all re-grassed in the summer with Celebration Bermuda. They are impeccable. The 6,600 yard tees I played actually played quite short, as unlike most Florida golf, shots hit in the fairway would bounce and roll-out.

The round starts with my favourite type of opener -- a hole where conservative shots should result in par but careless shots will be penalized. The 1st is a short par-4 that bends left around a series of bunkers. Golfers that choose to lay back from the tee will be faced with this obtruded approach to an angled green that falls away on all sides. It is clever, raised bunkering like this that makes the golf course feel anything but flat.

A back pin must be the most difficult pin on the 1st green as the green slopes noticeable away once past its mid-point.

None of Wilson's par-3s are easy, but they do offer variety, playing in 3 directions and ranging from 137 to 190 yards (7i, 4i, 5i, PW for me). The 2nd green may be the most difficult par-3 green to hit, playing with a left-to-right wind and to a shallow green that falls off short, back-right and back-left.

3 and 4 are both mid-length par-4s, but downwind, length is not an issue on either. There is substantial fairway width at the 3rd, but pin position will dictate an ideal side of the fairway. As is regular at Pine Tree, the 3rd green is of a unique shape, narrow in the front half before widening significantly in the back-half -- almost like a 'T'.

The 3rd and 4th holes are interesting in that they are both holes that play straightaway, but because the golfer will aim away from the centreline of fairway, they feel like dogleg holes. At the 4th the Line of Instinct is interrupted by a rather large-scale bunker, but the golfer must fight his temptation to play left and play as far right as he dare for a much preferred angle of approach.

Approaches from the left are played over a series of greenside bunkers, one of which contains these grass islands, a feature seen several times on the golf course.

As seen from back-left, the 4th green lay at a 45-degree angle to the centre of the 4th fairway. Approaches from the right need not carry the greenside bunkering and run less risk of bounding into the swale beyond the green.

Along with the tee shot at the 12th (once also a par-5), the only bunkerless tee shot on the golf course. There is ample width, but the golfer, now having hit 4 shots in a row downwind, must immediately adjust his swing to the headwind. The picture below is taken some 230 yards from the member tee, leaving 330 yards to the green, an intimidating view and zero chance of clearing the fairway bunkers on the right. Cleverly varied fairway widths allow the golfer to play well short of the fairway bunkers, but the golfer wishing to leave 150 yards or less must bravely challenge the narrow portion of the fairway.

Though the 5th is a par-5, I am guessing few golfers will approach the green with less than a mid-iron third shot. The 5th features a fascinating green, whose back portion is split left and right by a spine that sends balls toward the fall-offs on the back corners of the green.

From the tee, the 6th looks strikingly similar to the 2nd. Removal of the fronting bunker, especially given the predominant wind direction, may allow for a greater variety of shots that could be played into this green.

The green is almost 3-pronged, with tongues/fall-offs front-left, back-left and back-right. Another mid-sized green that plays much smaller.

The seventh hole is the most difficult hole on the golf course and includes what must be the course's single most controversial feature -- a pair of trees guarding the ideal line within 50 yards of the tee. The prevailing wind is from right to left, demanding the golfer take their tee shot over the water to find the fairway. A pair of deep bunkers guard the outside of the dogleg -- they could be saving bunkers but their severity converts them to a penal feature.

Playing near the water leaves the much easier approach. Not only does the golfer play their approach on a straighter line into this angled green, but he also plays into its considerable slope.

The 8th is a similar hole to the 1st, playing in the same direction and moving left from the tee. Unlike the 1st, the series of bunkers on the left should not be challenged, and the angled green at 1st is replaced by a wide and shallow green.

The second of three par-5s on the golf course, the 9th is the only one reachable in two. A pair of bunkers intrude into the fairway's centreline and must be carried (about 230 yards from the Member Tee) if the golfer wishes to reach the green in two.

A series of 3 bunkers protect the right side of the fairway, and the closer the 2nd shot is played to the green, the narrower the fairway. Laying up to the widest point of the fairway leaves this imposing 100-yard approach...

While playing to the narrow left-side portion of the fairway leaves a more appealing pitch...

The 10th hole is a long par-4 (alternate tees allow this to be played as a par-5 on the Members Scorecard).  Wilson showed more restraint with his fairway bunkering on the 10th with only a pair of shallow bunkers guarding the inside of the dogleg.  Perfect mowing lines and fairway contouring combine to reward golfers that take the bold line.

Another angled green at the 10th. The shortest approach will always be from the left, but back/left pins are much easier accessed from the right.

Following the longest par-4 on the course, the 11th is the longest par-3 on the course, though this hole should be downwind.  While the pair of par-3s on the front 9 were similar, the two on the back 9 could not be more different.  The 11th features a massive green (the largest on the course?) and imposing bunkers on the right.  Firm collars + the tilt of the green combine to repel shots that are bailed out away from the green.  Misses left face a tricky pitch over a false-front.

The 12th is somewhat forgettable, but it once played as a (short?) par-5 and in that form the water 50 yards short of the green would have been a more interesting feature.  The left-to-right wind makes the approach to the right-to-left angled green that much more challenging.

The 13th starts my favorite three-hole stretch at Pine Tree and Mike Nuzzo would be pleased to see the holes are routed in a triangle (sort of).  Based on yardage alone, 13-15 looks like a great opportunity to score, but precision is demanded and small mistakes can result in bogey or worse.

The 13th is somewhat innocuous when the wind is down, especially when playing to a front-pin.  But, the predominant wind direction plays across this hole from left-to-right and the lofted approach of a short-iron especially subject to its strength.  What is not obvious from the tee is that the angled green stretches from 40 yards and at all distances is a shallow and elusive target.

The 14th is a reverse of the 7th though it plays much shorter.  At both the 7th and 14th anti-strategic bunkering protect the outside of the dogleg and there is a significant reward for challenging the water.

Almost a replica of the 13th green, the 14th green is also long, shallow and angled from front-left to back-right.  Approaches from the right side of the fairway, near the fairway bunkering, are near impossible when the hole plays down wind.

The 15th plays straightaway and straight into the wind.

The 15th green is similar to the 2nd and 6th greens in that it falls off in several places -- front-left, front-right...

Back-left and back:

The 16th begins the final 3-hole triangle, though no matter the wind direction these three holes make for an unrelenting finishing stretch.  The 16th stretches to a devilish 666 yards and plays from a 100 yard long (?) runway tee.

While the 16th tee shot is demanding, bunkered on both sides of the fairway (and with a hidden stream waiting to catch those golfers that cut the left side too closely).

The second shot is a simple one, though perhaps this is fitting as few golfers will choose to hit less than 3-wood.  The green is very large and gently contoured, falling off front-left and split down its centre by a subtle spine.  Approaches from the right will be played over this Oakmontian bunker.

The 17th is straightaway and normally plays into the wind making it a real challenge.  Even without the wind, a fascinating green will keep golfers interested.

Finally a hole where the predominant wind should assist with the playing of the hole.  As at the 16th, the Line of Instinct is broken by a penal bunker, which should not be challenged.  A tee shot aimed at the bunkering along the left side of the hole should be blown back to the centre of the fairway by the wind.

One final angled green -- one of the least contoured greens on the course -- awaits the golfer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Honors Course, Ooltewah, Tennessee Course Review

The Honors Course 
Ooltewah, Tennessee, United States

Architect: Pete Dye (1983)

7,400 Yards, Par-72

Rating/Slope: 76.8/152

My Quick Review: The Honors marks Dye's transition from minimalist to maximalist and it is one of his very best.



A few thoughts:

1) I don't know (other than the moving of 10 green) how changed the course is from when it opened, but assuming it is as originally designed, it feels like a course that lies in the heart of Dye's transition from minimalist/naturalist to engineered design. Like The Golf Club, many of the holes feel naturally draped over the land, using the ground's macro contours to add interest to the design. But, unlike The Golf Club, there is a more manufactured feel to the areas (in particular the shape/style of the bunkers) around the greens. The unique/bizarre volcano bunkers I'm sure some have seen at French Lick even make an appearance (behind 6 green).

2) There is a very interesting interplay between the bold features and subtle design. In many cases, Dye places his boldest/most intimidating/most penal features on the Line of Instinct. The golfer's eye is drawn to these features and his mind faced with the difficult task of playing to the Line of Charm, leaving the longer shot over/around the bold feature. In a couple of places, Dye hides the Line of Charm from the golfer's view, further challenging him to use his head and fight his instincts.

3) The contouring around the greens make for some very interesting potential recoveries. The combination of firm fairways/greens and sticky zoysia make for some difficult recoveries. Many of the greens are surrounded by large and contoured run-offs into deep swales and deeper bunkers. Unfortunately, the slowness of zoysia makes finding these features unlikely.

4) I have read some criticisms about the par-5s at The Honors individually and as a set. Respectfully, I disagree. One of the world's great set of par-5s. These par-5s have everything from angles, to blindness, to tiny greens, to fearsome bunkers, to tiny bunkers, to blind bunkers, to snaking fairways, to rolling to terrain, and very importantly, cleverly protected 100-yard markers.

5) I had read about the quality of the short par-4s at The Honors. Honestly, I was disappointed that there wasn't one that played under 300 yards. The mid-length 12th is very well-done, as is the 9th, and the 1st is an exceptional opener.

6) For those interested in ratings, I think that The Honors is a clear step behind The Golf Club, but I would return to it ahead of any other Dye design I have played (including The Ocean Course, Whisting Straits and Teeth of the Dog). I think Golfweek has it about right.
The review of The Honors in the Courses by Country section begins with the 5th hole; maybe this was in the name of brevity, but some seriously good golf is ignored in the first 4 holes. The first hole is a near ideal opener, with a first tee set steps from the small, welcoming golf shop. Interestingly, the tee shot is mostly blind, with the deep (DEEP) bunker down the left ready to catch those with first tee jitters. But, the first fairway is extremely wide, the widest on the course, and begins to narrow 250 yards from the tee.

At The Honors Course, Dye often asks the golfer to pick his poison. Simple strategic design requires that the bold line reward the golfer in terms of both line and distance, but this is rarely the case at The Honors. For example, at the 1st a tee shot on the bold line down the left leaves a shorter approach and a better view of the green, but leaves a more difficult angle of approach to a green that will more readily accept an approach from the right.

The second is a great mid-length par-5 on a course with one of the great set of par-5s I've seen. From the tee the golfer must ignore his instinct to cut-the-corner over a series of bunkers. As seen from 250 yards out, the second shot is confounding. Bold greenside bunkering tempts the golfer to lay-up as near the green as possible, but lay-ups down the right leave a near impossible pitch to this very shallow green.

The 180 yard par-3 3rd is unassuming from the tee. While the land appears to feed shots from the left toward the long and undulating putting surface...

Upon reaching the green one sees that the land tilts severely away from the green into this feeder bunker from which recovery is impossible.

The 4th is an utterly flat par-4 that plays to a raised green. Golfers that play boldly near a large and shallow fairway bunker on the right will leave a much preferred angle of approach into a green that, despite a fronting hazard, demands an aerial approach.

The 5th plays parallel to the previous hole and thanks to an added back tee can play as a monster par-4 near 500 yards. Only the front-left portion of the green can be seen from the fairway. A green side bunker will have many golfers bailing left, but this slope / false-front will reject bailed-out approaches.

At the 6th Dye tempts the golfer to play over, or even right of, the fairway bunker. But, the line must be chosen carefully as fairway lay past the bunker and rough/fescue will catch any shot played right of it.

As we will see again at the 11th, Dye chose to use a landform to hide the width of the fairway. Again, the 100 yard marker is well-protected.

One of many bizarre bunkers on the golf course, this one a miniature of the volcano bunkers at French Lick:

The 7th hole brings us to the first of four holes that use a man-made lake as its focal point. Anyone that has played TPC Sawgrass will quickly be reminded of its 18th.

Tee shots played near the water will leave an approach that is all carry over water but is played to the width of the green. Unlike 18 at Sawgrass there is a bailout area in the form of a deep swale to the right of the green, but the term bailout is used loosely.

The 8th is often cited as a very strong par-3, perhaps the best on the course, but I see it is as a typical hole with water on the left and a swale on the right.

The 9th once again showcases Dye's genius in designing short par-4s. Golfers will want to play as near the fairway bunkers as possible to leave a clear view of the green and approach that is played into the green's tilt.

As seen from the left side of the fairway, the green widens as the carry over the water lengthens. Missing right is not an option as a severe right to left tilt means chips from that side may run into the water.

The 10th tee sits steps from the driving range and putting green, and sees quite a bit of action as an opener. From what I understand it is the most changed hole on the course, with the fairway having been shifted some 20 yards to the right and the green (once a great one) blown up and moved some 40 yards back and left. It is something of a curious decision to make the hole more difficult as split-tee starts give a clear advantage to those golfers teeing off on the first.

The 11th is another excellent par-5, played from a high point down to a valley and rising again to the green. The hole is fascinating as it continually tempts the golfer to the wrong line. With the pin in view from the tee, the golfer will want to play farther left than is advisable as only a handful of golfers can carry the hollow on the left.

Once in the fairway, most will be laying up. Like at the 7th, the width of the fairway is obscured by a landform. The bold greenside bunkering, like at the 2nd, will have the golfer foolishly laying up to minimize yardage when he should be playing the shot well to the right for the preferred angle.

A tiny green whose putting surface is entirely blind from the fairway, the 11th green is protected by fairway cut run-offs to the right and a deep false-front and bunker on the left.

The 12th is a great mid-length par-4 where most golfers will choose to hit less than driver. Once again, the golfer is tempted to play to the right near the fairway bunkering, but a single well-placed tree and a right-tilting fairway mean that the golfer must fight his temptation.

Though the green is guarded by five bunkers, it is the short-right bunker that will catch most golfers' attentions. Those that choose to play away from the bunker and miss long/left will be met with an impossible recovery down the slope of the green.

Completing the temptation trio, the view from the tee has the golfer challenging the left side, but a leftward tilts means anything left of centre may be blocked out by trees.

Tee shots that are played up the right-centre and will funnel to the left side of the fairway will leave the ideal angle into the green. The green has the most internal contour on the course and is surrounded by a series of deep cut-outs. My playing partner helps to give a sense of scale...

The 14th is a short par-3 and it is a very interesting one. Minimalist or not, it is difficult to see that there is a golf hole to be played amongst the brush...

But there is one, a larger than expected green surrounded by a series of bunkers and hollows...

The 15th returns us to the lake and is another hole that can stretch to an impossible length. Curiously, the golfer that challenges the water may have the slightly shorter yardage but will clearly be playing from a more difficult angle.

Like at the 9th, the shallow portion of the green requires the shorter water carry. I was told that downwind, right pins are near impossible as balls are likely to bound into this danger over the green...

The 16th is an unforgiving short par-3. Water protects the green short and a deep swale and bunkers protect the back of the green.

The long bunkers are set well back from the green and the slowness of the zoysia keeps them mostly out of play.

The 17th is another very good par-5, and playing to well under 500 yards it is reachable in two for many. Golfers with the restraint to play the hole as a three-shotter are provided with ample width.

Only a very poorly struck wedge approach would find this cavernous greenside bunker (nicknamed 'Bertha'), but by bringing the green in reach in 2, more golfers will find this bunker than if the hole were longer.

The 18th tee is set steps from an old cemetery. The carry to reach the built-up fairway is imposing visually, but is only some 175 yards.