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Friday, December 30, 2005

Things for golfers to do in Las Vegas besides golf

New Years Eve...on a weekend...in Las Vegas. Total sensory overload. Oh well, could be worse, at least it's mild here. Winter in NYC is great when you're somewhere else that's warm. Golf starts tomorrow, but lets look at some excellent choices for Las Vegas entertainment and lodging.

New Years Rockin Eve:

Talk about giving a starving man a menu, there is a concert to suit every taste here this year (except Phish fans...but that's another story). My choice will surprise you, but this year its MATCHBOX 20 at the Hard Rock. It's not that I love Matchbox 20, but I just checked into the Hard Rock after saying "No Thanks" to the Palace Station and the show is convenient, right below me. Plus I'm friends with Matty the keyboard player (he also plays with my friends Tim Bright and Paris Hampton in Samsara), so at least my crew will have some NYC friends to hang with.

Rockers can also choose between the Goo Goo Dolls at the House of Blues, The Black Eyed Peas at Mandalay Bay or Kid Rock at the Mirage. If you're not psyched to shell out $150 at ticket, for $40 you can go to downtown Vegas for a triple header of Cheap Trick, Spin Dorks (thats NYC speak for "The Spin Doctors) and Gin Blossoms. What, no Blues Traveler?

Jay's choice: The Black Eyed Peas.

If those options are too edgy for you, mellow folks can choose between Celine Dion at Caesar's Palace or Barry Manilow at the Hilton, where both are doing extended stays. Chumps can go see Carrot Top at the Luxor after striking out trying to pickup showgirls.

For those interested in shows there are two great standouts. First if you can't see BLUE MAN GROUP in NYC, go see it at the Venetian, its a thrill a minute. Fantastic music, a psychadelic light show and a totally worth it spectical make it a top option. Also there are several Cirque de Soleil shows in various hotels, but choose carefully as some contain partial nudity. Entertainment expert and woman of the world Nancy Carpenter recommends "O" at the Bellagio and Zumanity at New York, New York, but these are not for the kids. Both feature "artistic" partial nudity that is meant to be more intellectual than erotic, but in my opinion, that's like NBC saying they wanted to show an 80 y/o woman's breast on ER as an "exercise in medical studies." For those of you keeping score at home the FCC told them "yeah, right, try again. You want it so you can point to it as precedent so you can get away with showing T&A on prime time on some California beach show" and banned the episode. O and Zumanity have both been well received, but are strictly for a younger crowd. Other more mainstream Cirque de Soleil options include Ka at the MGM Grand and Mystery at Treasure Island. For those seeking comedy, the excellent "Second City" show is playing nightly at the Flamingo.

Jay's choice: Blue Man Group

For sports fans, the Orleans casino has its own hockey arena which is home to the LV Wranglers. Tonight, they'll be fighting...errr...skating with the Utah Grizzlies.

Finally,what would Vegas be without a good stiff drink. Once again we tap the incomperable Nancy Carpenter who recommends Red Square and Pure (both in Mandalay Bay) and the stand alone bar "Ice." I agree with all three choices and also add the Palms hotel and casino where you can hang with Tara Reid, if she's still standing up when you get there.

Jay's Choice: Red Square. The bar is a huge block of ice with little glass sized holes cut in it to cool your homemade flavored vodka.

Tomorrow, after my round at the Falls G.C., I'll be reporting live from backstage at the Matchbox 20 show and from The Palms Hotel for the after party. Then its early to bed to tackle Wolf Creek on New Year's Day.

Interview with golf architect MIke Strantz (Part 2)

American Airlines misrouted my golf clubs. I'm in Vegas, the clubs arrive later...courtesy of Orlando. They blame TSA at LaGuardia. Right.

Meanwhile, here's more of the Strantz interview. Tune in later for "things to do in Vegas when the airlines screws up your golf clubs.

Jay: Tiger, Phil, Vijay and Ernie are finally fed up and decide they are going to chip in a $1 million dollars of their own money and play one hole of yours over and over again on TV, until someone gets a skin. Which one of your public golf holes are you going to take them to that the world can see it and that these guys can brag about taking 3 million from the other three?

Mike: (smiling and looking thoughtful) That is a tough one. I have a lot of public golf holes.

Heidi: That is a lot to think about, 18 x 6.


Jay: While you are chewing on it, do your daughters play golf?

Heidi: You know Mike has taken them out and they hit it hard and they hit it far but they never got into the other things. My oldest she is dating a guy who plays golf so I think she will get back into it…you know she can really go after the ball. That is kind of what the family activity ended up being. With our youngest, when Mike was at Tom Fazio’s…we would go out at 6 at night when all the golfers were gone and the oldest would pull the youngest in the wagon and Mike would carry a small bag and we would play four or five holes. The girls have been on quite a few golf courses.

Jay: Dana and Andrea right?

Heidi: Dana is the oldest and then Andrea. They both went to USC…the other USC, South Carolina and yes, they know how to construct a golf course!

Mike: (still thinking) I have too many golf holes I’d like to choose!


Mike: Accuracy for accuracy, OK…11at Tobacco Road to a far back right pin placement. It’s very deceiving distance-wise. You have that tough carry, not with regard to distance, but accuracy. To hit the far right pin, that would be a tough one.

Jay: That would be the green that is at the base of an enormous bunker?

Mike: 20 feet deep.

Jay: Boy it sure looked a lot deeper when I was there.

Mike: That’s the front pin!

Heidi: How’d you do on that one?

Jay: I did OK up until I got to 13. That is when I started running around trying to figure out where to go!

Heidi: Did you run out of fun?

Jay: No way. I never ran out of fun. I walked the course in 100 degree heat and still loved it. Everyone else was inside in the A/C. Fifteen and sixteen I had no idea where I was going was the only thing, but it’s so original, there is no way not to have fun there. Even when I chunked my drive in the evil bunker on 18, I never ran out of fun.

Mike: And what happened after the drive?

Jay: Not much that was good…

(more laughter)

Jay: Now tell me about that hole.

Mike: I love the finish at Merion and I wanted the course to have some flavor of that and like you said earlier, some of the flavor of older UK courses like Prestwick and Ballybunion. That hole it’s better to be a little right off the tee so you’re not blocked out on the approach. A fade off of the tee and a draw in to the green will work. There is a lot of airspace to the right to bring in your approach, not so much from the left.

Jay: Yeah, that’s what happened to me after the drive. I got out of the bunker and found myself blocked out!

Mike: And that’s another thing! When you look at the topo of a hole when you’re building it, you can try to visualize different kinds of shots that can be played. Pete Dye does that a lot. Here is one for public golfer’s I’d recommend, play anything by Pete Dye - anything he did In America. The angles and diagonals - I mean he does some things that are spectacular. If I learned anything from Pete, it’s the angles. Have lots of them. I try to do that with my holes, both ground space and airspace. You have to think and execute. Sometimes at eyelevel, my hole doesn’t look that wide…

Jay: Sure, especially at Tobacco Road. The ridges come in and make the shot blind, but then you get on to the fairway and say “wow there is a lot of room out here, it’s wide open.”

Mike: Especially at Tobacco Road. Take for example, number one. The notch in the ridge you have to hit over. Not a lot of ground room, but loads of space up in the air.

Jay: If you were an artist who would you be? Dali, Van Gogh or Picasso?

Heidi: People might think you’re Dali...

Mike: That’s possible, I approach it as an artist and it does have an edge to it. I have always liked him and Van Gogh and and Picasso and Monet too. I really love Van Gogh.

Jay: Could it be that because people are living vicariously through your golf course that they might transpose some of the things that they see in your design onto their impression of you as a person? For example, someone [Golf Writer Brian McCallen] once called Pete Dye a “Mad Scientist” because Sawgrass appears unusual to them. It is possible that some misconceptions comes from the fact that there are some things in your designs that appear unconventional, but only to an untrained eye or to an eye that hasn’t seen those elements before or seen them expressed in the way you express them.

Mike: Very accurate. I have felt that myself.

Jay: What might some of those been?

Mike: I made a list once. [Author’s Note: see his interview on golfclubatlas.com.] I try to be much more than just “a wild and crazy guy building wild and crazy courses.” If I am going to build something someone thinks is “too far over the edge,” there is actually a solid design concept behind it. I may be a little misunderstood. But that happens with all architects to some extent every architect has that problem. They would have to explain why and how holes are the way they are and it is not just some revolution.

Jay: For example maybe some people are not used to the scale to which you build your golf courses? I mean with the huge amphitheatre-like settings. Like 5 at Royal New Kent for example? And with your blind shots, too?

Mike: Definitely with the blind shots. People from across the pond have nothing negative to say about the blind shots, they love them. That is true that they are more accepting of them. I have had whole families who all play together over here and they love the blind shots and other things. It’s different for them. Golf is much more festive when you have a broader pallet.

Jay: Lets talk about Area 51 or Project X or Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch or whatever you want to call it - a whole peninsula on the Pacific Ocean with 13 greens and 9 tees and a slide rule for the scorecard. According to legend, whoever has got the honor picks what green you play to and you calculate how many yards it is to how much to a par it is going to be and you keep going around randomly. Also, at Tot Hill a flood caused a rerouting where they played one hole twice from two different greens and you ended on a par 7. What do you think about this and what will it take for people to get out of this “36-36, two par-5s and two par-3s per side?

Mike: I wish I had an answer for that. I love it personally. Too many courses are all the same. The more adventurous golf was played at a different time and offered different products. People did receive the rerouting very well at Tot Hill. They were even good humored about the closing par 7 and having to play the same green twice. I have not had personally any bad comments. They did that themselves out of necessity. The other option was close the whole course, a solution thwey avoided and they did something creative. I helped with the idea.

Heidi: Like women rearrange homes….Mike rearranges golf courses.

Mike: Exactly.

Jay: Mackenzie once said that he designed courses for people who would play them over and over again and that the course would reveal a secret. Tell us some of the secrets at Tobacco Road or Royal New Kent.

Mike: I always try to make the player play outside of your ability…there is a temptation to play outside your ability. Everything thinks “yeah, I can do that, even though they don’t have that shot they think they have it. Also, I want to create an unconventional way to play the whole. It all goes back to giving more options. I always try to build that in to every golf course…every hole…there has to be a way for the person who cannot clear the ball over the hazard. Also, it is very important that you play the right set of tees. Take the first hole at Tobacco Road. It’s not that bad when you get out there.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Interview with golf architect MIke Strantz (Part 1)

I was rattling through all my notes and tapes and found some interview snippets form my 2004 interview with Mike Strantz that I never posted. I hope you like them. I'll have more later this week.

Jay: What is the driving concept you use when laying out your holes?

Mike: Where the land lays. I really spend a lot of time walking the piece of property looking to find the best locations on the site that will result in the best holes. I don’t start with a set number of par-4s and par-5s or whatever. The best combination is what the land decides.

Heidi: [Mike’s wife] The amazing thing about Mike is that he can see it all…that was just dirt, (indicating the northern expanse of Bull’s Bay from the clubhouse). This was a tomato field, this was flat right here.

Jay: How does the land tell you where to put a green complex? Can you give us an example from one of your holes?

Mike: It comes from experience and understanding and reading topography. One good example is No. 2 at Royal New Kent. When I first looked at that topo, I could see the lines, the possibilities, and the cant of the greens, I saw it right away, the way that green would flow.

Jay: Funny you should mention that. That is one of my favorite holes. Am right in thinking that the hole is a little similar to No. 13 at The Dunes - that if you want to go for it in two and you place your tee shot close the edge and then you chicken out then you have a tougher recovery shot to lay up? And if you’re in the correct spot to lay up you have a wider angle to play to?

Mike: Exactly. When you lay up out away from the hazard, you have a better angle to lay up than the guy who is thinking about hitting it in two and then is forced to lay up. I try to do the same thing with cape-style holes.

Jay: Like 4 at True Blue?

Mike: Exactly.

Jay: Let’s talk a little bit about Tobacco Road. Were you influenced by Pine Valley or World Woods or even Prestwick?

Mike: Yeah, it has some of the flavor of certain shots at Pine Valley. I also tried to capture some of the flavor of Merion too, especially the last three holes.

Jay: Like, for example, the tee shot at 18.

Mike: Yeah.

Jay: Now Mackenzie once said no hole was good unless it could be played with a putter. What do you think he would think of that carry off the tee? {Author’s Note: Sources disagree, but many now believe Mackenzie was referring to par-3s.]

Mike: (Laughs and points) He might think it was pretty mild and that I was taking it easy on you!

(much more laughter by all)

Mike: Actually…it would have been a shame if I had filled that in. It was there from the beginning. That pit was right there waiting for me.

Jay: How has Heidi made you better course designer?

Mike: Patience, I used to be very impatient I had to stick with it, I am also very sensitive. It’s human nature. I feel badly when someone might not like or understand one of my courses. Of course, they are welcome to their opinion but it hurts sometimes nonetheless. She’s helped me be more accepting of everything.

Jay: Is it possible that they don’t understand the strategic value of the hole or maybe they are playing the wrong tee box?

Mike: Those are all very true. Those are things that can definitely make someone enjoy the course less.

Jay: I made that mistake at Royal Kent one day…playing one set too long.

Mike: (laughing) That had to be a long day!

Jay: How about Forrest? [Design Partner Forrest Fezler] How as he made you a better designer and in what ways does he get a chance to influence the outcome of the course?

Mike: Forrest is especially good at making sure I don’t get carried away. He will look at me and say “Mike, how is my mom going to play that hole?” His mom is in her 80’s

JF: Can you think of an example?

Mike: Yes. 9 at Tobacco Road. I wanted to build that green much more steeply.

[Author’s Note: While expressing my own personal terror playing 9 at The Road, Forrest noted he didn’t think the hole was all that bad. When I asked him how his octogenarian mother played that hole, he replied “from the forward tees.”]

JF: Tom Doak said that the British and Scottish philosophy is different and better because to them golf is a natural and affordable game and you don’t want to get too pricy…is this a hopeless idea in the United States?

Mike: I hope not…I would like to think not. I mean as a designer you only have a certain amount of control over that, if any at all. I try to alleviate that by keeping maintenance costs down as much as possible. Also, they have more fun playing, they appreciate design a great deal and they are not worried about blind shots. In America we have to loosen up a bit.

Jay: Now what are some of your favorite designs over there that you recommend that might be a bit off the beaten track?

Mike: Well I love Royal County Down of course, and hang on, there’s an old favorite of mine that’s really obscure…I can’t think of the name (looks around for a minute)

Jay: Which country is it in?

Mike: Scotland

Jay: Machrahanish?

Mike: No…that’s a good one too, though. Another of my favorites but hang on…it begins with a g?

Jay: Begins with a G?

Mike: Yeah

Jay: Gullane?

Mike: Gullane!

Jay: I’ll take obscure Scottish courses for $1,000, please Alex.

(more laughter)

Jay: While we are talking about those courses, tell us how do you play your matches with your Northern Irish friends who may come over here or when you come over there?

Mike: Totally different….we play the 2-1/2, 2-1/2, 2-1/2 game. I bring my friends over there one year, they come here the next

Jay: What’s the 2-1/2 game?

Mike: You take 2-1/2 hours to play 18 holes in the morning….you eat and drink for 2.5 hours, then 2-1/2 to play 2-1/2 hours to play 18 holes in the afternoon.

Jay: So it’s really 2.5 hours of playing and 2.5 hours of drinking and 2.5 more of playing.

Mike: (laughs) Yeah.

Heidi: Don’t they do those 24 hour golf games too?

Mike: Yeah, they last till about 10 or 11. It stays light till about 10 or 11 at night there in the summer. Its great. You’ll see retired veterinarians walking with their dog tied to a bag. Bear his name is…

Heidi: The dog, you mean? Or the doctor?

Mike: The dog.

Jay: Let’s have a little fun for a second….I am crossing my fingers that you did have something to do with this or can remember it…let’s go back to the 1979 U.S. Open. Tell me what you know or remember about that Hinkle tree.

Mike: I planted that tree! I’m the guy on the tee box that night backing in the trucks! I tried to tell them they needed to move it a little bit, but…(laughs)

Heidi: We have old photographs from the Detroit Free Press around somewhere.

Jay: Did you put the “Hinkle Tree” sign on it?

Mike: That was USGA. I was rolling my eyes. But while I am not one to take playing options away from people, that was not a real option.

Heidi: Not a good option.

Mike: Well not that it's not a good option, but not what was intended, you need to have as many options as you can, but that…(laughs)

Jay: What drives you the most crazy about playing other courses?

Mike: Well first, if you can’t play well, play fast. Next, I don’t like golf courses that are dictatorial. I like options. Like National Golf Links and Shinnecock.

Heidi: Wow. Dictatorial. That’s a five dollar word for a golf course architect!

(more laughter)

Mike: (excited) You can count out your angles at National, there are so many ways to attack the course, it’s like gold to a golfer! It’s only 6,800 yards, but you can’t just automatically step up and hit driver.

Jay: What’s your position on the technology debate.

Mike: I am not much worried or affected by that. Such a small fragment of people can do that with a golf ball that it doesn’t really apply to the rest of us.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas to all golfers

...and as the shephards lay in their field
an angel of the lord appeared to them
and they were frightened, but the angel said to them
"Fear not, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy!
For this day, in the city of David, a messiah is born
and this child shall save you from all your sins."
And then suddenly the sky was filled with a great light
and a host of heavenly angels appeared and they sang
"Glory to God in the highest
and on Earth, peace
good will to all men."

Tour Announcement - New Years 2006 in the Desert

I'm happy to announce details for the New Years 2006 tour, which will have two separate legs and a total of eight courses, including one private layout which opened a mere few weeks ago.

First, I'll be reporting live each day from Las Vegas over the New Year's holiday winding up that run with the creme de la creme of Vegas courses, Wolf Creek. I'll also be reviewing some of the new casinos, poker rooms, restaurants and clubs including The Palms, Mandalay Bay, Ice, Red Square, Pure and others. There will obviously be plenty to report on during the New Year's Eve festivities.

After New Year's, the scene shifts to Scottsdale where I'll be joined by special guests, former golf course architect of the year Brian Silva and various music/film/TV celebs, who will offer bonus commentary on courses and deeper commentary on that all important topic, food. With a list of 25 different restaurants in Scottsdale, I don’t think we'll run short on that score.

Highlights of the Scottsdale leg include the "minimalist courses" - Apache Stronghold and Talking Stick (North) and the cherry on the sundae, Jim Engh's new private design Blackstone.

In preparation for the tour, I'll post reviews of some Vegas and Arizona staples between now and the New Year.

Until then have a happy, healthy and prosperous Christmas and a joyful New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some great golf gifts for the holidays

I love Christmas. You get to be nice to everybody for no reason. You get to smile and spread good cheer and clap friends on the back - all without Paxil (except you, Steve...you still need it;)

You also get winter and bad weather, which is the perfect time to warm the heart of the golfer closest to you, especially if they are crazy enough to play in it. Here's some great gifts:

Always make sure the golfer in your life can play at all times of the year, in any inclement weather. Cold weather fleece hats, fleece mittens, sweaters and rain suits are great options:

When it comes to fleece, for the last decade there's Goody's of Vermont and there's everybody else. Old hippies never die, they just get real jobs. Dave Goodesman is no exception. He hand makes all his fleecde products...and ladies let me tell you something...he makes ANYTHING in fleece. Fleece sweaters (he calls "grunges"), fleece sox, fleece scarves, fleece hats, fleece pants, fleece bras (FLEECE BRAS!) if you can wear if, he can fleece it. And Goody's such a good guy, he may even custom make something for you or at least help you pick out from his most select patterns (I prefer darker colors with no white, but that's just me. ) For many years, Goody's have been the only choice for fleecewear of many of the northeast's best rock n' roll bands, with artists like moe., God Street Wine, Ominous Seapods and many others proudly pimping their fleece, but he's not just for grungepunks anymore as you can find Goody's on Wall Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and San Franscisco as well as Seattle, Boulder and Albany. When it comes to fleece, if it's not a Goody, it's no good at all.

Goody's of Vermont (ask for Dave and tell them Jay sent you)

When it comes to hats that you can "triple use" - ski/golf/work the best choice is Shred Alert. I've been wearing my Shred Alert ski patrol hat for 6 years (including the new one they made for me with the OLD logo on it two years ago) and it's kept my melon warm from Lake Placid to Lake Coeur D'Alene, from Bandon to Boston and from Sawgrass to Snowmass. Sadly, the newest batch of designs clearly cater to the grungepunk crowd, but if you go to the Cozy Classics
page, you'll find the ski hats for those of us over 30. (Don't forget our demographic, guys!) They even outfit the U.S. Olympic Telemark team and are one of the only hats you can find at the Olympic Center and Whiteface Mountain. Hot! When you call, remind them to "throwback" your order and sew on the old logo of the running man with flailing dreadlocks. Best logo ever, period. Great name too. Tell them I sent you too...and that I recommended they "throwback" your order.

Sun Mountain has the lock on rain suits. I like my black full suit, even though the pants make me feel like a black version of the Stay Puff Marshmallow man. Always make sure that your choice in a rain suit is "water proof" not merely "water resistant. 48 of us found that distinction out the hard way at the 2004 Sylvania Golf Writer's Cup, held each year at beautiful and strategic Hiawatha Landing near Binghamton, NY. When we checked in for day two of the tournament (day one saw us play in 3 inches of rain), we were all pleasantly surprised to see each and everyone os us received a free navy blue, long sleeve, Hiawatha-logoed rain pullover waiting for us. You never saw anything like it...48 golf writers all dressed exactly the same headed out to brave another 3 inches of rain. "Waterproof" in that extreme case turned out to merely be water resistant and we all quit en masse after 9 holes. Well, that and the fairways had become rivers. I saw salmon swimming upstream in the 7th fairway and that was before the hot toddy;)

Finally, both Ogio Callaway make good stand bags. What Ogio makes up for in gadgets (great beverahge holder and better balance) they lack in the legs (Callaway has a better mechanical design, but both work admirably.

Merry Christmas everyone and see you from the road on December 30 for the beginning of another epic tour filled with interesting architects, terrific public and private courses and...

Could it be?

Celebrity special guests?! On the golf course? Right here at A Walk in the Park? Well...tis the season!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, Pawley's Island, SC

369 Caledonia Drive
Pawley’s Island, SC

Architect: Mike Strantz
Par 70
Excitement Level – 9/12
Difficulty – 6/12
Conditioning – Four and ½ stars
Design – Four and ½ stars
Cost - $120 peak, $80 reduced, packages available
Yearly Memberships – Yes, and dirt cheap!
Value – Five stars
Overall – Four and ½ stars

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Pintail 6526 70.9 132
Mallard 6121 68.8 122
Wood Duck 5710 66.7 114
Redhead 4957 68.2 113

Let’s be honest. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is the golf world’s equivalent of a Grateful Dead concert. It’s loud, colorful, raffish, and full of hawkers, lights, attractions and billboards commanding travelers’ attention and money. The “East Village” of golf destinations, this honky-tonk oceanside carnivale for budget seekers has all the charm and subtlety of a Moroccan bazaar, but all the vibrance and diversion as well. Amusement parks, buffets, sun-drenched beaches with oceanside hotels, cantinas, and golf, golf, golf all converge in a place where vacationing players can take Lionel Richie’s advice and “party, carrano, fiesta, forever” - or at least straight through until next morning’s tee time.

For decades, Grand Strand’s reputation relied heavily on its party atmosphere and bargain-basement prices. Word was the golf was wonderfully cheap, if mundane at times. That changed radically as the 90’s dawned. While the town still maintained its midway-filled, neon-lit pedestrian idiom, the golf began a steady ascent from “really good bargains” to “world class.” Courses of all shapes and sizes began to spring up from a broad spectrum of designers. Links courses, “tribute” courses (pastiches), parkland courses, low country plantation courses and any other genre the mind can imagine form a broad palette of options to compete for vacationers’ patronage. There are now over 120 courses to choose from showcasing every style of architecture by every celebrity architect. In an area supersaturated with solid golf and bargain priced packages, a course must be supremely well designed and have a distinctive, accessible and superlative personality to compete.

Enter Mike Strantz in 1994. Strantz had left his apprenticeship with Tom Fazio three years earlier and had spent that time honing his skills as a visual artist. Strantz, a devoted family man, had promised his wife and daughters he would stay close to home while they were growing up. He was also biding his time until opportunity would present him with a prime setting on which to craft a masterpiece.

Strantz was also riding a hot streak after successfully collaborating on the excellent Parkland Course at the nearby Legends complex the previous year. When people learned that Strantz had accepted his first solo job at a site in the Myrtle Beach area they may have expected an excellent layout, but no one was prepared for the monumental achievement he would deliver. Well, nobody except Team Strantz.

Strantz shocked the golfing world, making the grandest of entrances on the most competitive of stages. Caledonia Golf and Fish Club was from its inception and still is to this day nothing short of the grandest course on the Grand Strand, universally loved by players and critics alike. For twelve years it has held the top spot against all comers, including a star-studded cadre of seasoned, celebrated designers. Perennially ranked in the country’s top 30 courses in both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, Caledonia has year in and year out been the most requested course by visitors to Myrtle Beach and the most decorated course by pundits, an enormous success by any standards.

Caledonia is the Latin word for Scotland, but it should be the Latin word for gorgeous. Built on a stately old colonial-era rice plantation along the Waccamaw River in the more sedate township of Pawley’s Island just south of Myrtle Beach, the site is steeped in tradition, refinement and southern charm. The complete antithesis of Myrtle Beach’s pulsating reputation, the course is soothingly ambrosial in a bacchinalian city. Sublimely integrated with the landscape, the course is a sensuous yet subtle delight. Serene meandering streams, gnarled moss covered oaks, and fragrant flower beds all frame a chain of fairways as elegant as a string of pearls.

Never one to stop at the level of mere eye candy, Strantz created a course rich in risk reward options with holes that are never repetitive. At times, the course showcases the “sand and waste” design when that school of architecture was just beginning to blossom. At others times it features carries over lowland marshes in the classic “low country” style. At still others, it is simply a parkland gem.

No detail is overlooked and the customer is pampered right from the drive up to the clubhouse. Stately oak trees covered in Spanish Moss line both sides of the road, signaling this round will be a cut above the rest of Myrtle Beach. The epitome of southern charm and grace, the clubhouse is a classic antebellum design. Accentuating the native fauna, the course uses carved wooden figures for birds instead of colored tee markers – “Pintail,” “Mallard,” “Wood Duck” and “Redhead” represent the tips, regulation, senior, and forward tees, respectively. On Thursdays the course hosts a collegial public fish fry on the grounds for players to relax, eat and mingle, sharing glowing reviews of their day. The course even revived the South Carolina tradition of serving a complimentary cup of fish chowder to players as they make the turn.

Finally, one of the best and most original finishes north of Sawgrass greets players at 18. The kidney shaped green sits directly below the clubhouse veranda and is filled with rocking chairs waiting for lemonade sipping spectators who cheer heroic approaches over the 120 yards of water to the green, and who likewise deride failed attempts or lay-ups.

A warm, inviting, comforting design in a hectic location; harmonious with the rice fields, wetlands, river and forest and the flowering showpiece of Myrtle Beach golf, Caledonia is the flagship spearheading the region’s economic reinvention as a destination for connoisseurs and players, not just bargain seekers. Happily, the value is still world class.


Caveat Caledonia because it is sneaky how difficult this course is. At first blush, Caledonia may appear short and comforting. “It’s only 6500 yards…6100 from the regulation tees” think the careless and the egotistic. “How hard can it be?” But Strantz cleverly concealed the length. First, par is 70, not 72. Therefore, the course plays about 400 to 450 yards longer. Suddenly that sporty and sedate looking 6100 course seems more threatening at 6500. Suddenly those approach shots that looked to be short irons are fairway metals instead. For experts, the 6500 yard tees play 6900 or more. Even though the course only takes up a mere 125 acres, Caledonia has plenty of length to defend par admirably.

In an even more clever and subtle design feature, Strantz concealed the length in tough places. Strantz “saved” some yardage by keeping the five par-3s short. Number 3 is the longest by far at 187 yards from the tips, 175 from the regulation tees. The rest all average merely 155 from the tips and 140 from the regulation tees. Don’t get the wrong idea, all except 11 are surrounded by a deep sea of sand and these bunkers, coupled with large greens, defend par admirably. (The sixth green alone is 55 yards deep.) Moreover, 11 features a tough carry over a creek which cuts obliquely from the back-left to right-front of the green. Strantz loves this “modified-redan” style, (but rarely does the green ever run from front to back like the original at North Berwick) creating similar par-3s at Royal New Kent (Nos. 3 and 7) and True Blue (No. 3).

Short par-3s means can Strantz make up yardage elsewhere. The bulk of the length appears at Caledonia’s par-4s, particularly on the back nine. Five long and trouble laden par fours in a row appear from 12-16 and compromise the fangs of the golf course. Four of these five are over 415 yards and one just touches 400 on the nose (from the tips). Three of the five over 400 at the regulation tees. The shortest of this stretch, the 400/380 yard par-4 13th features the toughest approach of all as the green is a tiny island completely encircled by a sea of sand. The toughest of the run? The brutal 462 yard par-4 dog-leg left15th. A deep bunker guards the corner. Play close to the bunker for a shorter approach and a better chance at birdie.

There is so much to love about Caledonia. The mix and match of yardages and hole shapes at Caledonia is brilliant. Shorter par-4s stress accuracy, longer par-4s have more room, but are guarded by menacing waste bunkers. The golfer is constantly off balance. The approaches are well guarded and demand accuracy. The difficulty is subtle, perhaps even unnoticed until you add up the score and say “how the hell did I shoot that?!” But that may be a draw…Caledonia is a place where everybody wants to shoot 79 and thinks they have a reasonable chance looking solely at the card.


At Caledonia, Mike Strantz injected a spark of magic, integrity and legacy to an area once thought to be devoid of charm. Caledonia is a snifter of fine cognac in a margarita town. More amazingly, Strantz accomplished such a triumph on his first time out in an area drowning in golf courses. It is hard to decide which is the more incredible feat.

Strantz is indeed the master of counterpoint, dichotomy and vibrant dramatic contrast. In perhaps the tackiest city on the eastern seaboard he built a pillar of charm, old-world refinement, and relaxation. Then in Pinehurst, known for its refinement and charm, he built his legendary heathen firebreather, Tobacco Road. Both differ from their surroundings in the extreme, yet each is what makes Strantz courses unique gifts to our great game and Strantz himself, along with Pete Dye, on of the more visionary course designers of his generation.

Everyone loves Caledonia – experts, novices, women, kids, locals and travelers – everyone. Why not? Caledonia has everything – character, challenge, beauty, conditioning, service and warmth. It feels like and in fact is the best value in the Myrtle Beach region. It is also the most popular and most requested course on the Grand Strand, seeing over 50,000 rounds per year. Depending on where players stay, there may be surcharges of $70-120 to play Caledonia, but the course and the entire experience are worth so much more. If there is a drawback to the course, the facility only has a 125 yard practice facility, but True Blue is right across the street for a pre-round bucket. Completely different from Caledonia, True Blue is more bold and artistic, but with even more strategic options. It is hard to believe the two courses are on the same property and by the same designer. Do not leave the Beach without playing 36 here. If you have the good fortune to play on a Thursday, make time to attend the reknowned Thursday PM fish fry. Unlike the Dunes, which requires that players stay a night in a short list or resorts, Caledonia patrons can stay anywhere they like.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Coore/Crenshaw new course at We-Ko-Pa progressing nicely

The Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore "Back to the Future" Minimalist tour (yes, capitalize "Minimalist" from now on) is firing on all cylindars in the desert.

The Yavapai Indian Nation, owners of the We-ko-pa Golf Club in the Fort McDowell Region of Scottsdale had the courage to think out of the box for a resort and embrace one of the wisest trends in the golf industry...spend less money and move less earth and get a better golf course. Coore and Crenshaw has already scored significant successes in the desert with Talking Stick North being one of the conessoiurs' choices in a hyper-competitive market flush with great golf. The original Scott Miller design at We-Ko-Pa has also been a success, both financially and from a design perspective.

According to Director of Golf Jeff Lessig, all 18 holes at the new site have been cleared. Hole design and shaping are on an aggressive timetable and the course will potentially open by December of 2006. The Yavapai have not determined the name for the new course or the new name for the existing course, but marketing plans to have a decision shortly.

The 8th hole at the existing layout is right. The course takes its name from the Yavapai term for "Four Peaks" after a nearby mountain range. I'll hopefully have construction photos for you after the New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The evolution of a golf course architect's designs

Here's something interesting when you have time for a long term project. Take your favorite architect and play three or four (or more) of his designs in chronological order. Then trace the evolution of his design style and see how his philosophy changed over time. Two good examples are Brian Silva and Jim Engh.

Silva began his career building what most people identify as classic parkland penal layouts. For example Captain's Club on Cape Cod (1985). He had an epiphany upon seeing the 5th at Dye's PGA West and decided that the designs of Seth raynor and C.B. Macdonald were more interesting to all levels of play and widened his fairways and turned hzards perpendicular to the line of play.

He also began expirimenting with new bunker shapes...more strip bunkers and "Green Monsters" - huge mountains with bunkers cut vertically into the side of the hill. Thus, Waverly Oaks (1999 - t
op pic) shows his transitional period and Red Tail and Black Rock (2003, 2004 respectively, second pic is Red Tail) show the same concepts and bunker designs in more refined form than earlier prototypes.

It's the same for Jim Engh. You can see it especially in the shapes of his "muscle bunkers" and in the width of his fairways and locations of hazards over time. First, at
Sanctuary (1997, pictured right), then at Red Hawk Ridge and Redlands Mesa, ending with the most pronounced shapes recently, most notably at Fossil Trace (2003) and Pradera (2005). The bunkers get deeper and more pronounced over time. Moreover, hazards appear more frequently in the middle of fairways, especially on line of charm filled par-5s. 18 at Pradera is on the bottom, 18 at Fossil is right below. I'll be looking into this phenomenon a little more in the coming weeks.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Jeff Mingay's New Projects

Canadian golf course designer Jeff Mingay is having himself a busy winter. First, he and lead architect Rod Whitman are designing the new Cabot Links in Nova Scotia. Heralded by writer Rob Thompson of the Canadian national Post as the next great canadian Links, the first tee looks reminiscent of the first at Scotlands popular Machrihanish. Rob's article and more info are at Jeff's website, here.

Jeff is also designing/building a course for former PGA Tour player Richard Zokol, at Merritt, BC. It's going to be an ultra-exclusive club called Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club.

Jeff and team have another new 18-hole course on Vancouver Island that'll likely start clearing this spring, too. It's at the town of Comox, about 2.5 hours drive north from Victoria, and is tentatively called Raven Ridge.

Just as an aside, here's hoping they avoid the "animal name curse" that tends to follow American courses from time to time - see "Possum Trot," "Bayonet at Puppy Creek," all the "Big Cats" and the biggest head scratcher of all "Raccoon International." ("RACCOON INTERNATIONAL?!?!")...although admittedly Wolf Creek is pretty good and both the Canadian Red Tail and the American Red Tail have done exceptionally well...although technically thay dont actually have the animal name
in the name itself. For more on bad names, see Geoff Shackelford's "what's in a name?" piece in his book "Grounds for Golf."

Last, Jeff and Rod have another new 18 hole course laid out for the same developers for whom they designed Blackhawk in Edmonton. The new course is just
outside the gates of Jasper National Park near Hinton, Alberta. All of these courses are under the Whitman design group banner.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Recap of this year's Best Course and architecture awards

I have to disagree with GD's choices for their "Best New" awards in some areas. They missed big by not including Pradera as a best new Private and Monterey Peninsula Country Club as a best redeisgn this year. Here were my votes, click on the link for a more detailed review:

Best New Public Course - Lakota Canyon Ranch, Newcastle, CO (Jim Engh) Scroll below for details

Best Renovation or Redesign - Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course), (Mike Strantz)

Best old school private design played THIS year - Crystal Downs C.C., Frankfort, MI (Alistair Mackenzie)

Best new private design - The Club at Pradera, Parker, CO (Jim Engh), runner-up Black Rock C.C., Boston, MA (Brian Silva)

Best Hole - #4 at Black Rock, (Silva) runner-up #10 at Pradera (Engh)

Best course overall - Pacific Dunes, Bandon, OR, (Tom Doak)

Best conditioning - Red Tail, Devens, MA (Brian Silva)

Architect of the Year - Mike Strantz

Monday, December 05, 2005

My vote for Best New Public - Lakota Canyon Ranch and two new golf blogs

I'm glad Bully Pulpit won Golf Diget's best new affordable public award. North Dakota has a nice triumverate of courses now - Bully Pulpit, Hawktree by Jim Engh and Links of North Dakota by Stephen Kay. My vote went to Lakota Canyon Ranch this year. Personally, I thought it was well worth the $75 tag and should be in the "affordable" class, not upscale, but whatever. My stats and pix of Lakota are below and I will have a piece up on it soon.

Meantime, lets offer a polite golf clap to another excellent twosome of golf bloggers. Richard Oliver of the San Antonio News-Express has followed Rob Thompson's lead and has started a very good golf blog called Oliver's Twist. Next, Hitting the links is also a terrific resource. Congrats guys...looking forward to some interesting insights.

1000 Club House Drive

New Castle
, CO 81647


Architect: Jim Engh

Par 72
Excitement Level - 11/12
Difficulty - 8/12
Conditioning - Four and ½ stars
Cost - $75 normally,
3PM twilight $65
Value – Five stars

Overall - Four and ½ stars

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Black 7111 72.2 137
Blue 6369 70.5 126

White 5608 68.1 116
Gold 4744 68.5 123

Stark. Barren. Inhospitable. Outlaw. Hostile. Phantasmagorical. Surreal. Golf in any desert environ is visually gripping, but Lakota Canyon Ranch is perhaps the most powerfully raw golf course a player will find anywhere. There is plenty of beautiful mountain golf both in and beyond Colorado, but Lakota Canyon is now the archetype of the genre.

Opened in May, 2004, Lakota Canyon has everything Jim Engh’s fans have grown to love. Engh combines some of the most stunning views found on any golf course in the country – the rugged Colorado Flattops wilderness area – with his distinctive artistic “muscle bunkers” and varied angles of play so each hole poses interesting strategic options and multiple avenues of play. Some drops from the tee box are over 100 feet. Its really a mountain course.…at over a mile above sea level.

“This was one of the toughest pieces of property I ever had to work. We had to make the steep valleys functional, so we had to fill them from the bottom. We almost didn’t do that project because the topo was so severe…trying to get it to work plus huge amounts of storm water that roll through there. We found other ways to channel the water through the course…hills and ridges on left of cartpaths take overflow that pipes cant handle and runs it down the cart path” Engh recalls.
"There were lots of ways to shoehorn holes onto that property, but the key was to maximize every tee box and green setting."

Lakota is pretty much impossible to walk, with very long sharply uphill climbs to tee boxes and no walkways from the teeboxes to the fairways. It would be bad enough at sea level, but at 6,000 feet up, without a cart or a caddy it is a murderous thing.

Seen right, the 18thy fairway is a terrific risk-reward par-5. Engh loves lots of options on the closing hole. Typical of Jim, scores can be anywhere from 3-10. Now if someone could just give the mountains a quick ironing...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Redlands Mesa G.C., Grand Junction Colorado - How a great routing and interesting green designs improves and already great setting


2325 West Ridges Boulevard
Grand Junction, CO 81503
Architect: Jim Engh
Par - 72
Excitement Level – 11/12
Difficulty – 6/12
Conditioning – Four and 1/2 stars
Cost - $75 Peak
Yearly memberships – No
Value – Five stars
Overall rating – Four and ½ stars

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Monument 7007 71.7 135
6486 69.4 130
5838 67.2 115
4916 69.0 115

One look at Redlands Mesa and most golfers fall in love.

Holes play along the edge of striated red rock canyons. Tee boxes hang on narrow pinnacles. Green settings overlook the dramatic vistas of the majestic Colorado National Monument. Prominent golf writer Ron Whitten described it as “a fantasy golf calendar come to life.” Redlands states a solid case for the mantle of the prettiest setting in the country.

But contrary to popular belief, architect Jim Engh did not win Best New Public Course in 2001 for Redlands simply because he built a golf course on the edge of the Canyonlands. Sure the world rhapsodizes about the natural setting, but an architect would have to trip over himself to build a mediocre golf course on this property.

Engh, however, knew he had an opportunity to build a course that was a cut above, rife with multiple playing options and interesting design features as well as natural beauty. “Jim gets a lot of great sites, but he also does a fantastic job of routing them. He makes the most of every tee box and every green” says fellow architect and long-time buddy Tim Nugent.

There was so much more for Engh to balance at Redlands compared to other sites. Rolling, rugged topography can sometimes limit the ability of an architect to sequence the holes the way he would prefer. “Some architects believe that when you get a great setting, you take a minimalist approach to it” Engh explains. “On mountainous sites where there are dramatic features, you want to preserve them as much as possible. It’s a difficult balance because the topography has many extremes, but those also make for some of the best golf holes. I don’t mind difficult sites for that reason. I get a chance to work out a creative solution.”

Indeed, Engh built a career out of building great courses on difficult parcels of land with unusual limitations. At Fossil Trace he built a course in the face of twelve years of environmental opposition, scattered wetlands (which cannot be filled) and a small, irregularly shaped property. At Lakota Canyon Ranch and Sanctuary he built courses that defy gravity as holes cling to rugged mountainsides like moss on a rock. Similarly, Redlands Mesa’s site is so gorgeous, the old adage of “there were 100 golf holes here, we had to find the right eighteen” is true. Engh definitely crafted a course that plays like a classical symphony - a warm comforting beginning, soft peaks over the course of the round and a rousing crescendo to wind it up.

Yes, Redlands has superlative strategic choices over the course of eighteen holes, brains as well as beauty. But unquestionably the greatest achievement of Engh at Redlands from an architectural standpoint is the creative, varied and gorgeous green settings and backdrops. Just as Dr. Alistair Mackenzie let the wide variety of backdrops for green settings shine as the centerpiece at Cypress Point (because to overdesign would have cluttered such a virgin parcel), so too did Engh maximize the green settings at Redlands in the same way and not put in cliched nonsense like waterfalls and faux mounding that would clash with the scenery. Here is a breakdown of the last eleven green sites and their backdrops:

8 Downhill with green set at base of rocky alcove which wraps around the back.

9 Uphill with green set at base of clubhouse.

10 Downhill with green set in front of panoramic view of entire prairie extending for miles.

11 Green set at base of ridge which cuts along right side. Canyons open like picture window beyond the green.

12 Downhill to green set at a backdrop of rocky outcropping on left, open view of Canyonlands extending for miles to right.

13 Level shot to green at base of rocky hill.

14 Level shot to green set at base of rocky grotto surrounding two sides.

15 Slightly uphill to green fronting extensive view of prairie.

16 Uphill to green set at base of rugged rocky slope.

17 Level shot from severely elevated tee to green set in between two towering cone-shaped spires of boulders.

18 Uphill to green set at base of towering rocky hill with the clubhouse looming on top.[1]

Like Mackenzie at Cypress, Engh knew enough to dial down the difficulty and design of the holes just enough so as not to take away from the natural setting. Sure, Engh has not yet become the hero of millions of TV golf fans and sure he moves more earth than Mackenzie ever could with the rudimentary building technology he had (or lack thereof), but his fundamental principles are the same and emanate from the same great UK courses that inspired the Good Doctor.

Monday we'll go over more holes in depth.


Redlands looks like Sedona Golf Resort in Arizona, but has much better golf holes, better bunkering (unique styling and more strategic placement) and a stronger routing which takes in all the buttes, mesas and craggy outcroppings. There isn’t a single hole that is weak, connective tissue or an after thought. If there is a drawback at all, the housing complex lines far too many fairways on the front, but the back nine is just you, the course and the red rock monuments.

Along with nearby Lakota Canyon Ranch (in Newcastle, CO forty-five minutes directly east on Route 70), the pair are a fearsome one-two punch. The large undulating greens are similar at both sites, but the fairways are less hurly-burly than nearby Lakota. Red sandstone striated rocks replace the jagged buttes and wrinkled flattop mountains for a setting.

Because Engh had to move between 400,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of earth at both courses, they are not “minimalist” in the true sense of the word, (heck, he built the three giant cones of earth to make the 17th at Redlands alone) but he also didn’t crowd the picture with flashy or gaudy features like waterfalls, island greens or chocolate drop mounding. Happily, unlike Lakota, there are walking trails from the teebox to the fairway and the walks between tees are nowhere near as long or hilly. Lakota is pretty much unwalkable. The front at Redlands is easy, but have an extra energy bar or two in the bag for the back. Being a mile above sea level does impact a player’s stamina, more so when climbing hills all day.

Writer Ron Whitten, who also likes the course greatly, worries that some holes look too much like holes Engh used at other courses. For example, he says the par-5 13th looks too much like the 7th at Hawktree (Engh’s course in North Dakota) and 15th at Sanctuary. That may be, but it is not noticeable to most eyes since it’s highly unlikely many people will play both Hawktree in North Dakota and Redlands in Western Colorado (they would have to be a remarkably intrepid traveler). As for 15 at Sanctuary, the course is so private, it only has two members, the owner and his wife, so again the resemblance will only be noticed by a precious few, who will like the courses despite this casual similarity.

Lastly, it’s a great price at $75 or less. It won’t cost you $40 in golf balls either. Look for Redlands in a future version of the Links golf video game.

[1] Tom Doak laid out the green sites at Cypress Point in a similar fashion in The Anatomy of a Golf Course. It was an insightful look into just one of the factors that an architect has to consider and balance when designing a course.

The eighth is pictured below:

Redlands General Manager and Director of Golf Eric Feely agrees that eight may be the best par-3 on a course-full of excellent one-shotters. “Club selection is very difficult. Like number 12 at Augusta, the eighth features swirling wind conditions. A severe drop shot to a green nestled in a rocky grotto, it’s anything from a wedge to a 7-iron depending on the wind. Don’t be short as the chips are uphill from long rough.”

“My favorite par-5 is 13” Feely says with conviction. “At 540 yards, it is the perfect risk-reward hole. With a large bunker and water in front and high rough behind, this very shallow green is well guarded.”