< link rel="DCTERMS.isreplacedby" href="http://jayflemma.travelgolf.com" >

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Golf News - Geoff Shackelford and JIm Engh

Lots of great golf architecture news today.

First Geoff Shackelford's new book Lines of Charm is available now. See Geoff's site for details. For those of you tha are curious, the "line of charm" was discussed by Dr. Mackenzie and Max Behr in their writings. Briefly, the "line of charm" is the result of putting hazards in the direct line of flight between the tee and the hole to interject strategy and interest to the hole. "Sex appeal" as Jim Engh puts it. By having hazards in the way, options are created, which is what great golf is all about. See also Alistair Mackenzie's The Spirit of St. Andrews and Shackelford's Grounds for Golf.

Geoff is also building The Prairie Club with Gil Hanse and the Rustic Canyon team. You can follow the evolution of the course on his site. Break a leg, Geoff;)

Next Rob Thompson and Melanie Hauser have poignant pieces about Michelle Wie. Melanie's is over at Golf Observer, Rob's at Going for the green.

Meanwhile, I'll have more on Doak, Engh, Colorado Golf, Michigan Golf and The Good Doctor (Dr. Alistair Mackenzie) coming shortly.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Putter in hand, golf architect Tom Doak walks briskly to his birdie try at the fabled short par-4 7th at Crystal Downs. Posted by Picasa

Interview with golf architect Tom Doak (part 1)

I'm still busy compiling all my notes from the Michigan trip, but after a wonderful round at the charming, refined and eminently natural Crystal Downs (Alistair Mackenzie, 1932) Tom Doak shared some thoughts over chili dogs and root beer at the Frankfort, MI A&W stand.

JF: How did you pick Northern Michigan for a home base?

Doak: While I was in college, I wrote to the PGA Head Professional at Crystal Downs, Fred Muller, about wanting to come and visit the course. I instantly fell in love with the design. I can play here every day and never get bored and learn new things about the course each time I play. Fred and I have been friends ever since.

JF: Was your scholarship from Cornell to study the great courses of the UK the springboard for your career as an architect?

Doak: It certainly was vitally important. So many people wrote really nice letters for me to get that scholarship and each one of them was integral. I remember Ben Crenshaw’s definitely had a great impact. He handwrote four pages on a plane and said some glowing remarks. It was wonderful.

JF: How did you get the Pacific Dunes job?

Doak: I was referred by Bill Shean and others. When I heard about the property and owner Mike Keiser’s plans, I spoke to Mike and asked if I could go out and see the property and took a tour in February of 1994, although Pacific Dunes was "over the fence". I wrote Mike a long letter afterward telling him how important it would be to me to work on a project like that. I was second in line behind David Kidd, so I had the inside track to the second course then.

JF: Tell us a few of the great public courses from the last 15 years that you like.

Doak: I don't travel as much as I used to, so I've only seen a fraction of them, but here are a few: Wild Horse, in Nebraska. Caledonia in Myrtle Beach, and Tobacco Road. World Woods (Pine Barrens). All of the Bandon courses. Kapalua (Plantation). Talking Stick (North). SunRidge Canyon in AZ. Old Works, Montana. Rustic Canyon in CA. Saddle Creek in Copperopolis, CA. Pinon Hills, NM. And I would love to see Black Mesa in NM, but I haven't been there yet.

JF: Where do you play when I travel for vacation and what contemporary courses do find exhilarating.

Doak: I still like going out and seeing new things. I've never been one to go back to the same place year after year. I love going back to Scotland and Ireland, though I haven't done it as often as I would like. I love going back to The National Golf Links. I love going to the sand belt courses in Melbourne, Australia, in the winter when the other best courses in the world are under snow. And naturally I love getting back to Pacific Dunes once or twice a year ... I go once every winter, when the place is less crowded and the weather can be surprisingly nice.

What contemporary courses do I find exhilirating? I loved playing Kingsbarns during the Dunhill. Sand Hills is one of the most exhilirating places in the world, and the Plantation course at Kapalua is right up there too. Bandon Dunes can be great fun, especially when the wind is really howling. Notice, though, how all of those are links-type courses? Those conditions are what I really find exhilirating in golf, and most of my contemporaries haven't been fortunate enough to work with the real stuff ... I'm grateful that I have.

I laughed out loud at the seventh hole at St. Andrews (Old course) during the Dunhill event last month. In two rounds I saw people literally all over that hole. My pro blocked his drive over the eleventh tee and still had a decent approach ... he said he'd played the course 200 times and never been there. I hit a one-iron off the tee to the left of the Cottage bunker, and putted through the neck of the fairway to about ten feet. Man, I wish I had made that putt, so I could tell people I played the hole with a one-iron and two putts!”

JF: What’s the one mistake you made in a design that you’d love to have back?

Doak: Lengthening the tenth hole at Atlantic City CC so that people would want to cut the dogleg by playing down #9 fairway.

JF: What was the zaniest or most hectic thing you’ve had to deal with building a course?

Doak: One was having the start of construction at Riverfront GC halted (for two years) just a week before we were supposed to start, because the company which owned the land was the subject of a hostile takeover on Wall Street! When I first signed up to do that job, my wife was in the car with me and pregnant with our son. I took my son (Michael) for the Grand Opening; he was 8 years old.

JF: What are the three most common complaints and/or misconceptions players make about your designs?

Doak: The majority of the complaints I hear involve someone who thinks he has gotten an unfair bounce on his approach shot. Usually it's the case that he got this bounce because he was on the wrong side of the fairway and attacking the pin from the wrong angle, and that bounce is something I put there deliberately to make it hard from that angle. It may be a much easier approach from somewhere else in the fairway, but the first-time visitor never notices that, he just thinks it's unfair when the hole is hard from where he drove it.

It's the same around the greens. Sometimes someone will complain that they couldn't get up and down from a certain spot to a certain hole location, and on my designs, there are sometimes spots where Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Ben Crenshaw would have a tough time getting up and down. You're just supposed to be careful not to miss in those spots, but if you don't know the course, you might not know that. I don't like to put neon signs out telling people where not to go - I like to suck them into a difficult place sometimes. I really don't see what's the problem with having a spot where it is ALMOST impossible to get up and down. It's never impossible - even if you can't get inside twenty feet, you can always hole the putt. As Bill Coore once said to me, if we put a pond in the same spot, no one would have a problem with that, even though that would cost them more shots.

The most misunderstood concept about my designs: It's been written that I believe in placing fairway bunkers in "random" spots, which is not the case at all. I just try not to fall into a pattern of placing bunkers where the same player is repeatedly punished (such as placing all the bunkers 275 yards from the tee). I'll put them anywhere from 150 yards to 350 yards out, knowing that each of those will be in play for someone ... but I put them where they complement the terrain on each particular hole, not just at random!

JF: Why should someone go all the way to Cape Kidnappers or Barnbougle Dunes?

Doak: Well, New Zealand and Tasmania are two of the most unspoiled, beautiful places in the world ... maybe something like what Dr. MacKenzie saw in California back in the 1920's. It's summer there when it's winter here; the people are genuinely open and friendly, everyone speaks English, it's easy to get around, and even the private clubs in Australia are generally receptive to American visitors. As for those courses, they are certainly two of the best I have ever done, but if they are a catalyst to get more people to visit that part of the world, then I've really done something worthwhile.

JF: Let’s assume Phil, Ernie, Vijay and Tiger all decide they are fed up with talking and speculating and put up $1,000,000.00 of their own money each in a one hole, winner take all shootout that will be televised nationwide. Which one of your public golf holes would you select for them to play?

Doak: I think I would pick the 6th at Pacific Dunes. It's a short enough par 4 (316 yards) that they would have a hard time resisting the temptation to try and drive the green at first, and that would bring all the trouble around the green into play ... the monstrously deep bunkers on the left, the steep bank on the right of the green, even the wide-right bunker that we put there for someone who aims out to the safe side and goes too far. Eventually, they might opt to start laying back and attacking the hole with their second shots, but even then, an off-line approach would wreak havoc. I'm sure they would make a lot of birdies and maybe even a handful of twos, but there would also be some big numbers.

JF: What would you serve for Masters dinner if you won?

Doak: I grew up on lobster in New England, and that's always been my idea of a special meal ... I love going to the Lobster Inn in Southampton after visiting National or Shinnecock, or now Sebonack.

JF: Why does Sawgrass deserve to host a major championship?

Doak: I was there a lot the first three years the course was open ... I was Pete Dye's shadow for a couple of days during those first two tournaments, and that was an amazing experience. The course has changed so much since then! It was rough and rugged to start with, and one of Pete's quotes back in 1982 was that the course was "the dead opposite of Augusta National. On purpose." The two don't look that different to me now, other than the elevation changes, obviously. They both give some opportunities to post birdies and eagles, but they both make the best players in the world grind over every shot, and the margin for error is razor-thin.

JF: Give an example of a situation where you thought you were making a tradeoff in the routing which actually worked out unexpectedly well.

Doak: When I laid out High Pointe, the start of the back nine virtually worked itself out. There was only one way into that 40 acres, up the valley of the tenth fairway to a natural punchbowl green. From there, to maximize the number of holes on the best part of the ground, the routing moves back and forth. The two holes I thought were real "naturals" were the 12th and the 14th, and the 13th was just the one in between. But we created a great green complex at the 13th -- it still might be the most original green I've ever built -- and ever since the course opened, most people pick the 13th as the best hole of the bunch.

Also, at Beechtree, the par-3 13th is on the most ordinary part of the property, but it's the best Eden hole I've built so far.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The approach at the par-5 5th at Arcadia Bluffs in Northern Michigan. Posted by Picasa

Moonset over Arcadia Bluffs. The sun is rising behind me. See why I play golf every full moon in October? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course - the best public golf course in Michigan

Arcadia Bluffs G.C.
14710 Northwood Hwy
Arcadia, MI 49613

Architect: Warren Henderson and Rick Smith
Par - 72 (5 par-3s and 5 par-5s)
Price - $175, $125 at 4PM
Conditioning - Four and 1/2 stars
Design and strategy - Four and 1/2 Stars
Overall - Five Stars
Value - Four stars

More to come - but run here as fast as you can. It's Pacific Dunes East. Best holes are 5 (Biarritz green and gigantic strategic bunker daring you to carry it 225 to the green or lay up far right at 160), 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11. Endless Whistling Stratis like views of lake Michigan and clifftop greens.

Crystal Downs was also delightful. I can see why Mackenzie was a source of inspiration for many Strantz holes like those you'd see at his Virginia courses. The course is completely natural, the little earthmoving done was accomplished by mules.

The best holes are the short but dangerous yet tempting par-4s, most notably 5 and 17, but Tom Doak also thinks his favorite on the course is 15 with its devilish greens and undulating fairway. Many thanks to Tom, his friend Tom and Fred Muller for a perfect day of golf in the best October conditions the members say they ever saw...again, more details coming soon. Also look for parts of my interview with Doak upon my returning "on-island."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Forest Dunes G.C. - More great golf in the Traverse City region

6376 Forest Dunes Drive
Roscommon, MI

Architect - Tom Weiskopf
Par - 72 (75 if you add in the 117 yard par-3 19th hole!)
Price - $125, $100 twilight
Conditioning - Five and 1/2 stars (all ratings out of 7)
Design and strategy Four and 1/2 stars (Front nine Three stars, Back nine six stars)
Natural Setting: Five stars
Overall - Five stars
Value - Four stars. ($125 is too much for daily fee golf period.)

Well conditioned daily fee courses are a dime a dozen nowadays (See Atunyote at Turning Stone Casino for overpriced and under designed), but Tom Weiskopf did his best work since Troon North in Northern Michigan. Trouble is the two nines are schizophrenic.

Most everyone agrees that the back is utterly superlative. Its not merely eye popping although it qualifies on that score. It's almost as wild as a Mike Strantz design with bold lines and excellent use of rugged scrubby waste bunkers. The real hook to connessoirs who play the course repeatedly is the stunning strategic options posed by the waste areas and undulating greens.

Unfortunately people also agree that the front is merely good, but nothing unique; nothing we haven't seen before. The round starts promising at the first with a dog-leg right calling for a fade over a perpendicularly set diagonal waste bunker, a solid start reminiscent of the first at Brian Silva's Red Tail in Boston. But from 2-5 the course cuts through the forest for an ordinary feeling four hole warm up.

Weiskopf ratchets up hopes again at 6, with a short uphill par-4 with a fairway bisected by rough and waste bunker and with the second tier guarded by a tall, broad, leafy specimen tree...again its got many play options and even though short can deal out anything from 3-7.

However 7-9 tacks back the the clubhouse for a predictable and needlessly watery finish which has more beauty than brains.

It's all bets off on 10 tee though. Every hole is strong and memorable, particularly the backbone of the course, the long par-4 14th, the equally long par-5 15th and the great contoured green and chipping areas of the 205 yd par 3 16th. 17 is a driveable par-4, a staple he includes on every one of his courses and a design trick he brought back from the UK. 18 summarizes all that came before, daring the player to risk the same pond guarding 8 and 9, but this time since it's a par-5, options abound and make for an interesting end to the match.

If you are still tied, Weiskopf offers a 19th hole modeled loosely on 6 at Riviera as there is a bunker smack dab in the middle of the green. For those purists out there yelling "gimmick" and you pro posers and narrow mined golfers yelling "too tricked up," Weiskopf knew EXACTLY what he was doing and it works just fine. The green is not only severely canted back to front, but also has subtle shaping which funnels the ball mildy AROUND the bunker. If you snooker yourself (read: You DID IT TO YOURSELF), a smart player can recover and sink a 7 footer for par.

Yeah, that's right. I said I liked a 19th hole...that copied from Riviera. Deal with it. Next I wanna see a short par-4 19th hole that has strategic options that pushes the envelope of acceptable parameters. 19 holes? Hey, look at it as free golf.

In many regards, Forest Dunes is like Mackenzie's Pasatiempo in California...a mundane front nine, but a spectacular back nine. While Big Mack's Pasa back nine is nothing short of legendary and it is hyperbole to hope thatWeiskopf's work here will have the same lasting memory as Pasa, the course is still a "should play" on the "must play-should play-play if your in the area" scale and definitely contains the most interesting continuous nine of Weiskopf's career. Sadly, also like Pasa...it's overpriced. Not because it doesn't deliver the goods (it does), but because the price asked by the course is so large. (Note...it is a good deal by comparison to the Traverse City region resort courses which ask almost 2x as much, but High Pointe offer a great test at a third the price.)

For Midwesterners, this course is light years better than Tom Ws work at Quail Hollow in nearby Ohio, so don't be scared off.

One last note on Weiskopf...get out to Troon North and play the Pinnacle Course next.

Pix soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lakewood Shores Resort - Gailes Course, great Northern Michigan golf


7751 Cedar Lake Rd.
Oscoda, MI

Architect - Kevin Aldridge
Par - 36-36=72
Price - Seasonal Unlimited Golf Packages $68-114 including one night stay,
minimum two nights required
Design: Four stars (all ratings out of seven)
Conditioning - Three and one half stars
Natural Setting - Four stars

Overall - Four stars
Value - Four and 1/2 stars

Its heyday as a premiere destination may be past, but the Gailes Course is still a fun diversion for architecture heads and traditionalists. Michigan natives still come on droves all summer and architecture students will have an excellent field day studying the solid fundementals laid down here by designer Kevin Aldridge.

Built to resemble a UK inland links, the Gailes, the premiere course of the resort's three layouts, may be short, scruffy and out of the way, but with pot bunkers placed where the land dictated, a burn cutting perpendicular across nine holes and undulating greens and fairways, the course offers a pleasant change of pace to the many traditional parkland tests that pepper the golf rich Greater Traverse City/Northern Michigan area.

Despite being outstripped recently by many modern masterpieces, (the course was once a Golf Digest top 10 in 1992-3), Aldridge's solid architecture is the primary reason the course remains firmly in the North Michigan rotation for travellers, even though the much larger resorts and newer designs like Forest Dunes and High Pointe command more attention.

Realizing that 20 mph winds are the norm, Aldridge makes use of the prevail in a north south fashion, playing long holes downwind and short tests upwind - avoiding crosswinds whenever possible as even 60 yd wide fairways are near impossible to hit in a gale. There are 18 flat lies on the whole course - one on each tee box. Greens and fairways will test players' skill at hook lies, fade lies and at all sorts of crazy angles. Not only is there a good variety of hole lengths, but even though the routing is a symmetrical seeming 36-36 with an even split of 4 par-3s and 4s, there are back to back par-5s in different directions at 7 and 8 that are nothing alike - one bisected twice by the burn, the other peppered with random fairway bunkers. The par threes appear quickly at 2 and 4, but then dont come back into the mix until the difficult pedestal green 12th.

If there are drawbacks, the topography of the property is flat and uninteresting. The site is not the most stunning natural plot - after all it's Michigan, not Colorado. Perhaps that is why Aldridge settled on an old school, old style design. Also, sadly, the course plays nowhere near as firm and fast as it should for the sandy soil on which links are meant to be built and the ground game suffers dramatically because of it. Most of the bump and run shots catch and hold in the longer fairway grass and collars. Also, several fairway bunkers need to be dug deeper and reclaimed. Nevertheless, many of the good bunkers that still remain admirably fill the pot bunker requirement of being merely small enough for one angry player, his ball and his wedge.

There are two double greens and double fairways. The back nine has stronger holes, including the terrific 10th with its alternating shot requirements and wonderful punchbowl green, a magnificent 476 yd par-4 13th playing downwind through towering dunes, and the sod bunker protected par-5 14th. The course has a natural and authentic feel and provides a good case study for students of the game.

The Best Western Four Seasons in Traverse City offers Jaccuzi rooms with lofts for an incredible $75 per night off season and proves a great base to play nearby Forest Dunes, High Pointe, Arcadia Bluffs and some of the pricier resort courses.

Pix coming when I return this week. Tomorrow Forest Dunes and a round at High Pointe and Arcadia Bluffs. Stay tuned also for interview snippets with Tom Doak.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Midwest golf tour fall 2005

Michigan is the next stop. Over the next week we'll be reviewing 5 public daily fee or resort courses in the Traverse City area followed by a round at one epic private club. Tune in tomorrow for the beginning of this terrfic week long run of courses.