Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper, Alberta, Canada - Golf Course Review and Photos

Jasper Park Lodge

Jasper, Albera, Canada

Architect: Stanley Thompson (1925)

6,663 Yards, Par-71

Rating/Slope: 71.1/124

My Quick Review: On the Short-List for Canada's Best

Much like Stanley Thompson's Highlands Links, Jasper Park Lodge is a golf course that one is unlikely to just find himself near. Sure, the national parks in both areas attract many visitors, but I'm not sure many intent on carrying a backpack will make room for their golf clubs on the same trip. No, Jasper Park Lodge takes some effort to get to -- a four hour drive from Edmonton, or a 5 hour drive from Calgary -- but as a contender for Canada's best, it is well worth the effort.

Those that make the effort to see Jasper will likely play Thompson's Banff Springs on the same trip. A mere three-and-a-half hours down the Icefields Parkway, on one of the most beautiful stretches of highway anywhere, even a the most die-hard of golfers would be foolish not to leave ample time to get out of the car and enjoy the turquoise water and Colombia Icefield.

The opener at Jasper is a dull start to the round, an uphill mid-length par-4 with little driving interest and a large, gently undulating green. Perhaps already wondering what all the fuss about, the all-world par-5 second will put any doubts to rest. Much like his 15th at Highlands Links and his 4th at St George's, Thompson was able to make excellent use of severe fairway contour to add interest and strategy to his par-5s. With the 'Old Man' formation in the background (the tops of the mountains look like a sleeping Chief), the tee shot is played to a generous fairway with a large drop in elevation on its right. Golfers planning to play the hole as a three-shorter will try to play left to leave a clear view on the second, while golfers hoping to reach the par-5 in two will likely choose to play right, leaving a semi-blind shot but a more open green front.

The third is a difficult hole to gauge for the first-timer as the dogleg par-4 requires a blind tee shot over a corner -- much to my surprise the ideal line is a long way from the fairway cut, over the trees on the right. Arguably the best green site on the golf course awaits over the hill, benched perfectly into the hillside and falling sharply with the lay of the land.

Jasper Park is sometimes called 'easy' - I wonder how many other golf courses with two 230+ yard par-3s on one nine are called easy? Not that many will take the option, but like Tillinghast's Reef par-3s, there is an option for the golfer who chooses to play this par 3.5 as a lay-up and pitch hole. Taking on the narrow green brings larger numbers into play, particularly if the golfer finds the bunker 30 yards short of the putting surface.

Perhaps it's holes like the 5th, a downhill 480-yard par-5 that lead some to call the course easy. I suppose the problem is easily remedied if we change the par on the scorecard to 4. The centreline bunker is a tremendously placed hazard, leaving sufficient width on either side to tempt most to challenge it.

There is little boldness in the contouring in the greens at Jasper, though the green at the 5th is a standout. Not only does it tilt generally away from the mountains, but it confounds with two front shoulders, a ridge across its centre and a collecting rear portion.

The 6th is an awkward mid-length par-4 that bends to the right around trees. Only the foolish will try to play around the corner as the direct line is blocked by trees and the fairway narrowed by fairway bunkering on the left.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Black Creek Club, Chattanooga, Tennessee - Golf Course Review and Photos

Black Creek Club

Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States

Architect: Brian Silva

7,204 Yards, Par-72

Rating/Slope: 74.3/137

My Quick Review: Chattanooga's Best!

I have to admit that when I decided to take a short trip through Alabama and Tennessee, Black Creek Club just outside of Chattanooga was not at the top of my priority list of courses to see.  I knew I wanted to see Shoal Creek, I knew I had to get to the roller coaster that is Lookout Mountain and even moreso hoped to visit Holston Hills with a fellow GCAer, but after that I was somewhat indifferent between the likes of Country Club of Birmingham, Chattanooga G&CC and Black Creek Club.  Truthfully, I arranged my games at the other two first given my general bias for classic over modern, but with respect to the bigger names in Chattanooga and Birmingham (The Honors included), Black Creek is the best course in either city.  From start to finish the golfer is confronted with cleverly placed and very deep fairway bunkers that mean most every tee shot requires consideration and reward is given to the golfer willing to challenge a hazard.  Even on holes where the land offers little, like the first or fourth, the golfer is always forced to consider his route to the hole.  Rarely is the golfer forced to take on the trouble, but he is always better off having done so.

I haven't mentioned it yet, and I'm sure most already know, but this Brian Silva creation is designed as a modern-day interpretation of the MacDonald/Raynor/Banks template golf course.  Inevitably the comparison is going to be made between Silva's work and the template courses across the United States and while Black Creek may not fair well against the likes of The National or Fishers Island, it would fit well into the venerable trio's portfolio.

Critics will undoubtedly point to the fact that Black Creek is a residential development and, at times, the corridors feel constrained by homes on both sides.  They'll further argue that the routing, with the occasional long transition and road crossing, holds the course back as it loses the sense of intimacy so often found on great golf courses.  I find it hard to argue either point but, for mine, these negatives are more than outweighed by the consistent quality of the holes -- I'll take a little burning in my legs for the excitement of playing Black Creek!

Holes to Note

Hole 1: Par 4, 421 Yards - Double Plateau
An excellent introduction to the golf course as deep, staggered fairway bunkers jut well into the fairway giving the golfer a second thought before immediately reaching for his driver.  The angle of approach and scoring average will vary depending on the pin's location on this faithfully built Double Plateau green.

Hole 2: Par 4, 445 Yards - Obar Spring
Despite the hole's name, those familiar with template holes will immediately recognize the second at Black Creek as the Road template.  A fair amount of width is given from the tee but the challenge of finding the narrow and angled green over the Road bunker is tremendous.

Hole 3: Par 3, 165 Yards - Short
The downhill par-3 3rd is what I would call a watered-down version of the Short.  Yes, the hole is surrounded by bunkers and it has the trademark 'thumbprint' green, but neither is sufficiently severe to give the sense of fear required for missing in the wrong place.

Hole 4: Par 5, 586 Yards - Lookout
Some par-5s, like the 11th at The Honors, are made great by their green complexes.  Such is the case with the 4th at Black Creek, whose tee shot is generally uninteresting but the decision of where to lay-up on the second and the resulting approach to the green make the hole.  Does the golfer play his second using a long club to a narrow portion of the fairway, or does he take the shorter route to the hole leaving a frightening angle of approach over a deep, 10,000 sq ft surface area bunker.

Hole 6: Par 5, 559 Yards - Punchbowl
After the fantastic Maiden green at the 5th, the golfer is both confused and awestruck by the site of a 30 foot high mound crossing the width of the fairway.  While the hole can't compete with the views of the Alps/Punchbowl 4th hole at Fishers Island, it is equally thrilling having your approach shot clear the mound and scampering to the other side to see where it finished on the almost 14,000 square foot punchbowl green.

Hole 7: Par 3, 239 Yards - Reverse Redan
One of two Redan holes at Black Creek, the 7th reverses the template, calling for a fade that lands short and left of the green.  The template functions remarkably well, in part because most golfers will be playing a wood from the tee and helped by the sharp kicker short left and the steep tilt of the green away from the tee.

Hole 10: Par 4, 360 Yards - Double Cross
The tenth tee is crossed on the walk to the first tee, and the anticipation of playing the hole will stay with the golfer through the front nine.  The tenth is an exceptional half-par hole where a short yardage and well-used angles mean the way the golfer chooses to play the hole will vary from day-to-day based on situation and feel.  In all cases the golfer is best served challenging the fairway bunker to the right, but a push or slight mis-hit will quickly turn a birdie hole into a struggle for bogey, but it is the greenside bunker, the deepest on the course, that drives the hole's strategy.  Short-left of the green, a 30 ft deep bunker waits to punish a pulled driver or chunked wedge, and the recovery to a shallow green borders on impossible.

Hole 11: Par 3, 195 Yards - Redan
A rare downhill version of the Redan, the severity of the kicker allows the hole to function reasonably well.  Nevertheless, the sharp drop-off beyond the kicker, combined with the relative ease of sticking an approach on the green, mean that most will choose to take the aerial option.

Hole 13: Par 4, 485 Yards - Long
At the 12th we leave the homes behind, and by the 13th we head into nature with a difficult, tree-lined par-4 whose green sits nicely against a stream that runs along the hole's left side.  A single well-placed fairway bunker protects the hole's ideal line.  After a tee shot set up to favour a fade, the second half of the hole bends left, asking for a drawed, running approach.

Hole 16: Par 4, 446 Yards - Spine
At the 16th we once again find hole-ruining bunkers that intrude on the line of play.  Thought must be given as to the best route to avoid trouble, all the while remembering that a spine runs down the green's centre and approaching from the wrong angle for the day's pin can easily add a stroke to one's score.

Hole 17: Par 3, 243 Yards - Biarritz
"As fun to play as any hole built in the past fifty years."  I think this quote from Ran Morrissett's review of Black Creek Club says it all.  The Biarritz is exceptional, from the deep trough in the green's centre to the truly fear-invoking bunkers lining the left and right edges of the green, to the yardage that allows the Biarritz green to function as intended - the Biarritz at Black Creek may be the best hole of its kind.  Anywhere.

Hollywood Golf Club, Deal, New Jersey - Course Review and Photos

Hollywood Golf Club

Deal, New Jersey, United States

Architects: Isaac Mackie (1913), Walter Travis (1916), Dick Wilson (1956), Rees Jones (1998), Renaissance Golf (2014)

7,040 Yards, Par-71

Rating/Slope: 75.0/139

My Quick Review: Belonging in the 'Hidden Gem' category, Hollywood Golf Club is a great Travis design overshadowed by the bigger names in the MET.

In advance of hosting it's second National Championship this fall, Hollywood Golf Club hired Renaissance Golf Design to complete a bunker restoration.  While the course is credited to Walter Travis, several architects have had their hand in shaping the golf course as it sits today.  The routing belongs to Isaac Mackie who laid out the course prior to Travis' involvement.  Travis is responsible for the green contouring and bunker scheme, as well as the creation of the devilish par-4 13th, which came to being when he combined two shorter holes and found a spot for a new 17th hole.  Further renovations were completed by Dick Wilson in the 1950s and Rees Jones in 1998, which included the alteration of Travis' 17th green, the only green that is not a Travis original.

The opener at Hollywood Golf Club is a stout down and up par-4.  An un-needed fairway bunker down the left side has been sensibly removed to create a wide first fairway thus allowing those golfers that drive down the left to take on the challenge of reaching the green -- in so doing they must avoid the cavernous left bunker, which is set back from the green.  Surely there are more double bogeys made now that the golfer can foolishly play for the green from a poor position.

A brief reprieve in an otherwise difficult opening stretch of holes, the second is a short par-4 of 351 yards.  A foozle bunker has been restored on the left and the fairway bunker on the right pushed 30 yards down the fairway to return it to relevance.  The hole's primary defence is at the green where a false-front and small back tier demand precision.

The 3rd, a par-4 of 460 yards, once demanded a blind tee shot over a rise, but in the name of safety and fairness Rees Jones built-up the tee box to give the golfer a glimpse of the fairway and green beyond.  The drive is to a rare bunkerless fairway that will leave a long approach from a downhill lie.  The steeply back-to-front sloped green will help to stop a ball on the putting surface and, a rarity for Travis, bunkers sit beyond the green's midpoint.

Forgive me for using the term, but the 4th at Hollywood is undoubtedly the club's signature hole.  The uphill 160 yard par-3 is like nothing else in the world of golf with dramatic mounding and volcano bunkering flanking the entrance to the green and creating a mostly blind putting surface.  A bunker fronting the centre of the green has been restored.

As seen from the left, the small green tilts from back-to-front.  Given the slope of the green and sharp false-front, precise distance control is placed at a premium.

While the tee shot at the 400 yard 5th, a dogleg with bunkers guarding the outside of the bend and trees protecting the short line, is not my favourite, yet another unique approach and green make the hole.  What to make of the berm crossing the fairway?  Is it the top line of a bunker? Or just a mound?  How far short of the green does it sit, how much room lay beyond and what is the nature of the land beyond?  Much like the approach to the 10th at The Golf Club, the visual trick is created by nothing more than a small rough step in the fairway.

The 6th is another strong par-4, playing over 420 yards and with deep bunkering lining the right side of the fairway.  Yet again, though, the hole goes from merely good to really great at the green.  An open green front allows a running approach, though a false front makes it more difficult, and a pair of ridges falling seamlessly from the mounding bordering the putting surface make the green among the wildest at Hollywood.

While it is the 4th that is the most unique hole at Hollywood, it is the 7th that often receives the designation as the 'best' hole on the course, and rightly so. Bunkers sit staggered at the edge of the fairway, right, left, right, left, and ensure that the golfer must give consideration on each shot on the hole.

But it is the angled green, when combined with the last two bunkers, right then left, that makes the hole. The right fairway bunker sits some 90 yards from the putting surface and must be challenged for a reasonable angle into the three-tiered green. Adding effect to the angle of the green is the tilt, falling hard from the back-left, which emphasizes the importance of approaching from the right. Even with a wedge in the golfer's hand, a pitch from the left, over the deep fronting bunker, carries the risk of taking the slope of the green and running to its front edge. Play a pitch from the right and the shot is a simple one.

At the par-4 9th the golfer must deal with a rare carry hazard running across the fairway some 150 yards from the member's tee. Though it shouldn't be in play, the mounding has the effect of hiding the landing zone.

Perhaps the most fascinating green on the course, and reminiscent of the 9th green at Winged Foot East, the front of the 10th green falls from back-to-front before it falls away into a rear trough.

The 10th continues along the property line and is an excellent par-5 start to the back nine. At just over 500 yards, many golfers will stand on the tee hoping to reach the green in two shots, though fairway bunkering in play both left and right from the tee is truly penal and I tee shot into the bunker will make hoping the green in three shots a challenge. Most golfers will have little trouble clearing cross bunkering on their second shot, but it does hide the landing zone.

An awe-inspiring bunker protects the right side of the 11th green and golfers will do anything they can to avoid it. Playing a tee shot near the fairway bunker on the left makes that challenge far easier, though the strategy of the hole is hurt by an overhanging tree limb or three.

Nicknamed 'Heinz 57,' the 12th at Hollywood is a 460 yard par-4 that once featured 57(!) bunkers. I can't say for certain the exact number, but the recent bunker restoration has brought the hole much closer to its original appearance. Longer hitters are forced to play a tee shot down the narrow portion of fairway down the right, though most non-tiger golfers will have the room to play a driver toward the cross-bunkering some 280 yards from the tee.

While the restored width in the right fairway has once again made it a viable option, it would seem to be the poorer choice. Over the cross-bunkering the golfer is given some 50 yards of fairway and open green front to run an approach onto the putting surface, though a fall-off protects the front-right portion of the green and should impact play all the way back to the tee. Any approach from the right must negotiate this drop-off.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Country Club of Birmingham (West), Birmingham, Alabama - Golf Course Review and Photos

Country Club of Birmingham (West)

Birmingham, Alabama, United States

Architects: Donald Ross (1929), Robert Trent Jones (1958), Pete Dye (1986)

7,122 Yards, Par-71

Rating/Slope: 75.2/140

My Quick Review: Unique in the world of golf course architecture - Donald Ross meets Pete Dye - a must see!

A short par-4 opener that quickly identifies the course as a Ross/Dye combo with the carry bunker and mounding near the green.

Back up the hill to near the first tee, the par-4 second features a fierce false-front and an angled and highly contoured green:

Strategic though not particularly aesthetically pleasing bunkering at the third, a mid-length, downhill par-4 played to a long and severe green:

The par-5 4th crosses the same stream on both the tee shot and second shot.  Challenging the hazard on the right will be very helpful to those hoping to reach the green in two as a deep bunker protects this front-right to back-left angled green.

The 5th is a monstrous par-3, stretching close to 240 yards from the championship marker.  From the tee, there appears to be no room to miss, though a small plateau short-left of the green will give the golfer some leeway.

One of several up-and-over par-4s, the 6th is a mid-length par-4 made longer by the fairway sloping back to the tee.  The approach must be all carry as another false-front / deep bunker combo awaits the short miss.

Up-and-over again at the 7th, a 450 yard par-4 whose approach is played severely downhill to another angled green, this one protected by a small stream on the left.

Like the 5th, the 8th is a par-3 that looks more difficult than it plays (though it's still pretty tough!).  

Not quite returning nines, the downhill par-4 9th ends a couple of hundred or so yards from the clubhouse.  Bunkering is staggered from the tee, and many golfers may well choose to lay back from the second set of fairway bunkers 130 yards from the green.

Up and over yet again at the short par-5 10th.  A surprisingly deep green guarded by water short and left:

Some interesting Dye mounding at the 11th and 12th.  Not so easy to see from the tee, but the 11th green sits in a 'tunnel' of mounding.  The 12th is a good short par-4, where the golfer that can play away from the Line of Instinct and near a stream leaves a clear view of a green protected short by mounding.

The stretch from the 13th through the 15th is a difficult one.  The 13th is a mid-length par-3 with a sharply angled green protected short by water.  

The 14th requires a tee shot over an angled stream, though the fear of hitting a tee ball into the employee car park will have most golfers playing well away from the trouble.  And the 15th is a par-5 whose interest is largely created by the rolling land on which it sits.

The 16th plays along the property boundary and the approach drops sharply to unique green with distinct front and back portions.

After semi-blind shots from both the tee and approach on the 17th, the golfer reaches the mid-length par-4 18th where golfers must challenge well-placed fairway bunkering to open up a green set in an amphitheatre and protected by a vast and deep bunker on the right.