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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New piece on Tobacco Road for Golf Observer, back to the Open

Picture caption: "Mmmm! This IS...a tasty burger!

I'll have a new piece up on Golf Observer soon comparing Tobacco Road to the movie Pulp Fiction. Here are some excerpts:

In his book Grounds For Golf, Geoff Shackelford once compared great golf courses to epic films. For example, he called Pine Valley The Godfather and he called National Golf Links of America Citizen Kane.

The analogy has merit. To continue the exploration, it’s clear that Mike Strantz’s tour de force at Tobacco Road is clearly akin to Quentin Tarantino’s celebrated, polarizing, avante garde neo-classic Pulp Fiction. After all – Tobacco Road is celebrated, polarizing, avante garde and neo-classic.

Part Pine Valley (and therefore World Woods) for its vast sandy waste areas and part Prestwick for its numerous blind drives and approaches, the result is a dazzling and unique synergy flawlessly executed to produce a course rich in risk reward options on a breathtaking canvas. It’s easy to see how players find Tobacco Road the most atmospheric and enjoyable four miles of potential eagles or triple bogeys ever designed.

But like Pulp Fiction’s divided initial reception – where it won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes film festival but lost every U.S. Academy Award except one to the more accessible Forrest Gump starring the “safe” Tom Hanks - the road to recognition and respect for Tobacco Road has been as bumpy as the great rumpled course itself. As Strantz correctly anticipated, the course divided some in the golf community and triggered controversy and frustration along with well-deserved acclaim.


Strantz gives out a break at the par threes at Tobacco Road. None of them is longer than 178 yards from the regulation tees and 194 yards from the tips and the majority average merely 150 yards from the regular tees and 170 yards from the tips. Mid to short irons are a welcome relief. Nevertheless, Strantz found a fascinating way to add an ingenious strategic design characteristic to these short holes. The sixth is a perfect example. Instead of runway tees or tees merely staggered by distance, Strantz built five different teeing grounds scattered laterally. The green, which features three distinct tiers, appears very wide but shallow from some tee boxes, but sits deep and narrow from the others. Therefore from one set of tees, the hole tests accuracy and from the other tees, tests distance control.

Like Pulp Fiction, many knew The Road was destined for greatness right from its opening, even in the face of vocal opposition. Just as Pulp Fiction stirred bitter controversy at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with its black humor, unabashed violence, deviant sexual exploration, and promotion of various aspects of criminality. so too did Tobacco Road stir controversy with its fearless courage in demanding blind and semi-blind shots to devilishly positioned greens. Nevertheless, Pulp Fiction’s riveting, poignant dialogue and virtuoso acting performances transcend its colorful subject matter. The movie made the careers of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson. So too do the strategy and artistry and other worldly, eye-popping visuals elevate The Road to legendary status in our game. With every hole playing like a crucial chapter in a book you can’t put down, The Road’s whole is greater than the sum of its mighty parts.

NOw, I'm also very happy to report I'll be returning to the media tent at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot to cover the Open for Cybergolf. Look for my Open preview piece soon.

Royal LIverpool (Hoylake) ready for return to Open Rota

After a long absence, the Open returns to the home of the Beatles. With only two Opens contested at Royal Liverpool - referred to by many as simplky "Hoylake" - in the last fifty years it feels we're rolling up on a magical mystery tour. As this will be Liverpool’s first Open in my lifetime, it will be tough to pick a winner when nobody’s won here in an age.

My dad remembers the last time the Open came here. It was ’67. Peripatetic Argentine Roberto de Vicenzo won what should have been his second career total major here. He edged Jack Nicklaus by two shots. Before that, Peter Thompson won in 1956. As many of you remember, de Vicenzo missed out on a playoff in the '68 Masters when he signed an incorrect scorecard. He then uttered the sound byte for which he became infamous - "What a stupid I am." Still, the well heeled de Vicenzo won over 230 tournaments world wide and had 5 top 10s in the Open Championship.

It’s also more than an interesting footnote that Bobby Jones won the second leg of his Grand Slam here in 1930. Now also factor in that Jones kicked off his hot streak with a Sunday overtime win at the 1929 U.S. Open at Winged Foot over Al Espinoza (remember, back then they played 36 on Saturday and settled ties with 36 on Sunday) and things get really interesting...

Hmmm…Bobby Jones won majors at both Liverpool and Winged Foot. Well, who has the same attributes as Bobby Jones?

Well, that’s a question for another day, specifically, my U.S. Open preview piece for Cybergolf coming soon.

Liverpool will be doing something strange to the routing of the course for the tourney. They are starting play on the par-4 17th and then circling the course in order, finishing play at the short par-5 16th. Conveniently, 16 green is not far from the club house, across one other hole.

This does two things. First, people can finish the day with birdie or eagle, but with OB all along the right side it is a perilous play. They’ll make anything from 3-8. And that makes things interesting!

Second, Peter Alliss called the real First Hole at Liverpool the hardest opener in championship golf and the old time players agreed. Again OB rolls all down the right, so miss your first drive of the day and you’re fighting uphill out of the gate. At least now the players get two holes in beforehand. Chances are less likely that round will get out of hand and the tournament get out of reach right out of the gate.

The course will play 35-37 with a yardage card of 3,495-3,763=7,258. The length alone won’t overpower the players (the par-3s are fairly short), but if the wind is up, winning score will be about level par.

Liverpool is a rather narrow course with the added nuisance of plenty of OB besides the wind and some of the UK’s deepest, most penal bunkers. Think exactly like it’s neighbor Royal Lytham: sheer sinkholes with vertical faces. Coffin Bunkers. They seem like 103 little ponds peppered throughout the golf course.

Most agree that the scenery is not the star here. This is not Turnberry, nor is it Troon. As one commentator waxed that he felt the course separated those that really love links golf and those that only kind of understand it.” With its rumbling ruddy multi-gabled red-brick clubhouse, complete with two inverted cones and a huge clock, it won’t win a beauty contest, not even against Royal Lytham, whose clubhouse Art Spander said “looked like the former home of Count Dracula, but if you really wanna get scared, go look at the golf course.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see Lytham and Liverpool for myself this October. I’m into Tudor architecture having gone to school in New England. Both courses are among the most excellent links England has to offer.

Started in 1869 and finished in 1871 by Robert Chambers and George Morris, the course was granted the Royal Distinction due to the patronage of the Duke of Connaught.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mailbag! - more Snakes on a Plane!

This came in from Lydia in Richmond:

Dear Jay,

I really like reading your golf reviews. Definitely keep them coming, but you had me ROTFLOL [author’s note: that’s “Rolling on the floor laughing out loud…” different from HOGMP which is “Hang on, getting more Pringles.” Anyway…]

…You had me ROTFLOL. Please give me more snakes on the plane jokes and point me to the websites that have even more Snakes on the Plane.

Lydia from Richmond, VA

Lydia, flattery will get you everywhere. After all, Snakes on a plane, it’s not just a movie, it’s a catchphrase. So without any further ado, here are more sequels to “Snakes on a Plane.”

“Mice in a strip club”

“Scorpions in a shoe store”

“Velociraptors on a cruise ship”

“Yoko in a thong”

I’m sorry guys, that was a cheap and easy joke.;)

“Satan in the Dining room”

Bud Selig in the commissioner’s office”


Anyway, “ESPN at the Masters”

These jokes CONTINUE to write themselves.

Now, here’s some alternate endings to Snakes on a plane:



- - - -

Scenario One

Samuel L. Jackson discovers a new superbreed of snake, developed by the United States military, on board the plane. Quickly realizing that this snake could destroy the world, and knowing he would rather die than risk bringing this monster to the mainland, he decides to crash the plane into an offshore nitroglycerin plant.

Scenario Two

After single-handedly killing all snakes on board and landing the plane, Jackson steps onto the tarmac and removes his trench coat only to reveal that he is, in fact, made entirely out of snakes.

Scenario Three

While on the bus ride home from the airport, Jackson notices the bus driver seems nervous. The driver informs him that if the bus goes slower than 55 mph, snakes will drop from the ceiling. Samuel looks directly at the camera and says, "Here we go again!

Scenario Four

As the plane is landing, Samuel Jackson is battling the last snake on the plane: a giant anaconda named Nancy. When he is about to let Nancy live by trapping her in a large duffle bag, he notices his father's wristwatch around her neck. Realizing that this is the snake that killed the man who raised him, Sam entangles Nancy's tail in the landing gear, simultaneously puréeing the beast and attaining the vengeance he has sought since age 13.

Here is the wikipedia entry.


Bulls Bay, Awendaw, SC - with photos

The first pic is from the second fairway through the "shortcut to the green. Now there's a line of charm!. The second pic: this critter played through on 10. Third: A great view of the ninth fairway up to the clubhouse. Fourth, the gorgous par-3 7th. Finally, the view down the 18th fairway from the club house. All told, you can see fourteen holes from the clubhouse. Does anyone else see a resemblance between the view in the last pic and the view off the first tee at Crystal Downs?

Design: 6-6.5 stars (all ratings out of 7)
Natural Setting: 6.5 stars
Conditioning: 6 stars
Value: 6 stars. see here for fees.
Overall: 6.5 stars

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bulls Bay, Charleston and Chechessee

I have yet to unpack and have work at law office AND writing table to do, but what a threesome.

Bulls Bay is my favorite of the three. Part True Blue and part its own idiom different from any other strantz work, the course is now a monument to his living memory.I love the hilltop clubhouse and panoramic view of 14 holes. The lines of charm are everywhere, but are indelible at the totally unique 9th and 18th.

Pete Dye told Strantz back in 2004 that he got the idea for his Bunkering at Whistling straits from a visit here.

Happy to report that Fuzzy, Heidi and the Strantz family are all doing great. Fuzzy was checking out the 10th hole. Some college kids with new Sasquatches were belting 380-400 yd drives with the wind...I saw them. Heidi won her ladies doubles match 7-6, 7-5 by playing mean volley at the net, then turned into the sensitive caretaker of her horses. She is a remarkable and inspiring woman. Her daughter andrea is the epitome of charm and class. Fuzz looks great...he still looks 35.Join here.

It is so nice and adventurous...a little watery, but grand.Thanks to Scott and his son Matt at Chechessee. What a nice low key round. Matt is a great kid,,,when I have a 17 y/o son, I hope he's just like Matt...respectful, intelligent, and engaging. and what a swing...I thought I was flexible...kid just rotates.

Scott has unique swing. He's cherubic,,,until he's over the ball. Then his left foot kicks up like a baseball player, he takes the club back really wierd, then has this feirce downward move that brings the club down violently on the ball. The result is a piercing rising trajectory like a laser. Staight as an arrow.

Luckily, my short game helped me save face as I got up and down from everywhere even with the fierce greens. 52 degree and putter were really good the whole trip.Chechessee is rightfully Scott's little slice of heaven...some of the views are just sublime and the greens are the star...lots of character...I like 12 green and 13 green. Wonderful place.

Of the two I PERSONALLY like a little more edge, so I prefer to join BB, but if your a CC guy...its the epitome of old time golf.

Finally...wait till I post the pix from CC CHarleston. SIlva has a lion by the tail here. I finally had the light bulb come on about military fortifications looking back down from the fwy from the greens. Looked just like being at Fort Stanwix or dunkirk. You could imagine soldiers w/stens lying in the trenches waiting to plug oncoming golfers. Lion's mouth hole!!!!!Overall...BB and Charleston 6, Chechessee 5.5 (outta 7)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A.W. Tillinghast wins Architect's Tourney and more on Wild Dunes and Mike Strantz courses

Three bits of housekeeping today while I go get clobbered at Harbour Town. (Well that's my guess. I played great at Pinehurst and Bulls Bay...86-87. I didn't break 90 at Wild Dunes and I don't wanna know what I shot at Kiawah. I got humbled. Great course, but man...relentless.)

1) A.W. Tillinghast won the Architect's Final Four Tournament over C.B. Macdonald. The bracket is here. Congratulations to Cliff Hamm who scored the highest in his prediction bracket. He had A.W. winning. C.B. beating Alistair Mackenzie killed me.

2) There has been an excellent string of Strantzian questions in response to my Wild Dunes thread and the Bulls Bay piece. (I like that word..."Strantzian." I miss you Mike.) Click here to participate or see what others think.

3. Now I have been fairly criticized for a point on my Wild Dunes piece. My collegues Tom Doak and others have both reached out to me to point out that back in 1981 when the course was built, it was completely different than it is today. Back then, there were no houses and hotels and Hurricane Hugo had not destroyed 17 and 18. Back in 1981 the golf world was so different, much of the course was groundbreaking. Perhaps having my plate full with seven articles to write and a law practice to run, my article on WD may have been a little hard. Upon considered reflection, I think they made fair comment, but I definitely still stand by my 2006 perceptions. I have made some brief amendments to my article, but also everyone agrees also that 25 years have completely changed things at WD.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

High scores coming for Kiawah Island Ocean course, Bulls Bay

I'll have longer pieces up soon, but both Bulls Bay and the Ocean course at Kiawah Island are among the best courses South Carolina has to offer. Kiawah makes a strong argument for the best course in the state and sports the highest slope in the country. It's still playable, but man you better hit it straight. It's murder on amateurs. Lots of marshy water on the right on the back and really thick difficult sand in the waste areas.

Go figure, but who would have thought a MIke Strantz course would be a low impact day, but that's what the amazing Bulls Bay is in comparison. I shot 20 shots better...87 at Bulls Bay. I played terribly at Kiawah...my evil twin "wrong way Jay" must have gtten loose out of the trunk of my car that day...Reviews soon. The pic is the view of 18 from the clubhouse. Like Crystal Downs, Alistair Mackenzie's masterpiece in Michgan, you can see many holes and the huge body of water in the far background.

What a place.

Big thank you to the Hampton Inn Daniel, Island

Have you ever heard of Daniel Island, SC? Tennis fans probably have as it hosts the Family Circle Cup Tournament every April, but even though my geography is solid, I had not. But when a friend recommended I stay here as a base of operations for the Charleston leg of my trip, he hit the nail on the head.

Daniel Island is centrally located to Kiawah Island, Wild Dunes, the Daniel Island courses (obviously) and many other golf destinations. Most important courses south of Myrtle Beach are within a half hour...maybe forty minutes with traffic. The Island's Hampton Inn is perfect for a golf traveller or family. It's right on the main thoroughfare, 526 which is the "beltway" of Charleston. Rooms are quite comfortable and well appointed and the prices just can't be beat. The island has a great Mexican restaourant, terrific pizza, some pub with pub fare and has a little shopping of its own, but is convenient to the shopping in Chraleston proper.

The staff have been nothing short of stellar. Manager Duane Parrish's attention to detail and your personal trip needs is a benchmark of good service and Elizabeth, his second in command, fires off any recommendations you need for anything with laser like precision. If you like tennis too, whoa! you just hit the jackpot.

This is a terrific little family place, is in the middle of everything and provides great value.

Here's the vitals:

Hampton Inn, Daniel Island
160 Fairchild Street
Charleston, SC

Lee Sossen, Cameron Myler, Nyla Adams make the Honor Roll and Snakes on a Plane

For all my new readers, welcome to your first feature on the Honor Roll. Old readers love this feature because it's that place where I take time to praise the accomplishments of truly superlative individuals who set the bar higher for all of us in any field of endeavor.

My friend and former soccer teammate Lee Sossen made the Honor Roll for the second time. After graduating form Harvard U and Harvard Law and practicing at a sterling NYC white shoe firm, Lee transitioned into a biathelete. (Running and biking). Last year, Lee actually won a major race and began travelling all over the world to compete...including Australia for the TriSports team.

Well guess what? Lee just won NYC's March Madness Biathalon!

Yeah, you read that right. He WON.

But that's not all - he set the course record (SET THE COURSE RECORD!)...which was held by him. Simply amazing.

But Lee's not just a great athlete. Like former Olympic Luge rider Cameron Myler, who competed in four Olympiads (she carried the flag in one...CARRIED THE FLAG!) and now is a national expert on steroids in sports representing athletes, they are leaders and role models off the field.

1) They are humble and grateful. 2) They inspire others to elevate not just their game, but to be the consummate sportsman win, lose or draw. Hanging out with them makes you a better person. That's the true hallmark of an Honor Roll Member.

Who else makes the Honor Roll? Not just athletes. Let's see...David Wadler and Ian Clarke for their pioneering work in the field of computer science. David Rose for
being a brilliant entertainment lawyer and saving a choking guy's life with a lightning fast Heimlich, Janine Small for keeping the Bonnaroo festival running smooth, Nyla and Pete Adams and Laurie Trombley for their epic music documentary on Jeff Buckley (wait till you see it, it will break your heart...click here to see), Jay Flemma for running down and tackling a fleeing burglar - Lee, I still got my jets! Not like you, but I had enough to run that chump down! As Jerome Bettis said "There is no substitute for speed" - Steve Czaban for being one of the nation's epic sportscasters and the voice of the great American sports fan, Brian Silva for his brilliant and flawless reconstruction of The Country Club of Charleston to Seth Raynor's exact specifications, Bowling for Soup for nailing down a massive co-branding deal and headlining an epic 70 city national tour with four bands under them, Jay Kogan for being Superman and Batman's lawyer and getting them off any collateral damage claims, Aden Holt for being one of the nation's greatest music managers, Heidi Strantz for her new chick book which will be published soon...there's plenty more I forgot. But as we say here at the Honor Roll, from time to time they'll do superhuman things and I'll tell you about them. To quote Samuel L. Jackson, "Dats how we do."

Hey! Samuel! Snakes on a plane! (That's a new hot Samuel L. Jackson movie coming out for those of you scoring at home. Really. It's called "Snakes on a Plane." Can you say "plot spoiler?" Check it out, it's hilarious...google it, you'll find it..guess what it's about? Some lunkhead lets some snakes loose on a plane. Bet you didn't see that coming!)

What's next? "Alligators on a Golf Course?" Wait I know, "Bees in a car." "Chumps in a bar." "Nerds in a girls dorm." "Pirannhas in a hot tub." "Lions in an elevator." "Barracudas in a shower. "Gnus in the living room." "Jay with a keyboard." These jokes write themselves.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bobby Hill of Pinehurst - the best caddy I ever had


You only have two choices playing Pinehurst No. 2 - take a cart or hire a caddy. Of course, I recommend being old school. (To quote David Carradine in Kill Bill 2, “and you know I’m all about old school.”)

Pinehurst is all about old school too. The caddies there must be the best in America. Over 100 years of history demands no less.

Enter Bobby Hill. Bobby has caddied at Pinehurst for forty-five consecutive years. He knows every blade of grass, every sand-filled divot, every dew drop, and most importantly, every target line and green read.

He carried former president Gerald Ford’s bag. “Fore right!” he laughs. “Cause dat’s where they all went, so you can’t stand there!” He caddied not once for Michael Jordan, but every time he comes. Jordan asks for him. He caddied for Roger Staubach, Roy Williams and Dean Smith, the list is endless.

“I seen in all in foooohty-five years” he says with a southern drawl. “I saw I guy get a hole in one on number nine after he smackked it off a tree. I saw another guy hit a golf ball backwards. He just teed it up, it popped straight up in the air, the wind caught it and it ended up behind him.”

But Bobby is more than just a character. He has that ocean of wisdom books can’t teach – things you only learn after observing the behavior of all manner of people coming through the resort to use the golf course as a mirror to their soul. And believe me, without a good caddy, it’s a frightening confrontation on Number 2. “You can’t hide on a golf course and especially not here” he opines. “You really can tell a lot about a man the way he plays golf.”

Bobby is the consummate professional caddy and the best I’ve ever had. At $43 plus tip, he’s a bargain all day long. I doubted him once…on the first green. My playing partner was in my line and finished out his two footer before I putted. His broke right, but without being within ten feet of the line of my putt, Bobby said, “ignore what you just saw, it’s gonna go left.”

I thought I knew better. My eyes had told me so. How could he be right? He was twenty yards away cleaning my wedge while I was on the green! But Bobby was right. Ever the dutiful golfer, I did not doubt him again and together we read each and every putt perfectly save one. He was great off the tee too, steering me to the best approach angles, the most pivotal task on Number 2.

“That’s a golf shot” he’d say in a “matter of fact” manner. That’s all he said and all he needed to say. When I striped one off the tee, “that’s a golf shot.” When I changed clubs on him for the only time all day, choosing a flop 9-iron over a full sand wedge and put it six feet, “that’s a golf shot.” When I was deep in jail in the trees on ten and hit the shot of my life, a punch 4-iron through a two-foot gap sixty yards away, “that’s a golf shot.” Sometimes, heck, he’d even take out his towel and wipe the sweat off his brow while saying it. Out comes the towel, wipe, peek at it, back in the pocket, “that’s a golf shot.”

That’s all you needed. No fist bump. No high five. No David Feherty-esque "Nice Ball!" Just "thats a golf shot" and it was. Bobby had said so.

Of course, then I hit one three-metal thirty-five feet. “That’s not a golf shot.” We laughed. With Bobby’s guidance I was Steady Eddie, carding a long string of pars on the back broken only by a greenside miss on 17 into the deep back bunker.

He’s been caddy of the month. He’s been caddy of the year. With any luck, Bobby may have earned his immortality – enshrinement in the Caddy Hall of Fame.

To paraphrase Bobby, “that’s a golf caddy.” I’ll see you again Bobby. I need you on my bag.

Wild Dunes- Links Course - Isle of Palms, SC


10001 Back Bay Drive
Isle of Palms, SC

Architect: Tom Fazio
Par - 72

Excitement Level – 8/12
Difficulty – 6/12
Cost - $130 Peak, $45 replay and twilight
Yearly memberships – No
Design – Three stars (all ratings out of seven)
Conditioning – Five and ½ stars
Natural setting – Five stars
Value – Three stars
Overall rating – Three stars

In the book The Greatest Golf Courses in America, Wild Dunes is listed beside Augusta National, Pinehurst, Oakmont, Baltusrol, Pebble Beach and Oakland Hills.

I respectfully dissent.

As most of you know, I swear by every course Mike Strantz has done, and Strantz worked on this project, but while the course may have been groundbreaking when it opened, the addition of houses and the ferocity of Hurricane Hugo completely changed the golf course. Sadly little remains of its former glory and charm.

Located on the Isle of Palms, the course sits on the sandy soil that is the holy grail of all the great designers, yet underwhelms through flat greens, mundane hole design and too much “Florida-style” palm trees, ponds and a collection of holes that look and play the same. By the time the player gets to the “money shot” – the last two holes which play along the sound, the ordinariness of the other holes fail to turn the tide of opinion. Five great holes do not make a golf course - not even on the seaside.

A good candidate for the mantle “a six hole wonder,” the course is strikingly similar in design, scale and appearance to the Ocean Course at Amelia Island Plantation, which has a much nicer resort.

Fazio once again proves a slave to the doctrine of symmetry (par 72, 36-36, two par-5 and two par-3s each side, does he know you’re allowed to do something else?), the doctrine of framing (read: spoon-feeding), too much water, way too much out of bounds and flat featureless greens.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some inspired moments. The excellent par-5 fifth features a Strantzian blind shot over enormous bunkered dunes to a green set high in a tree-sheltered dell. This terrific hole washed away the bad taste of the preceding three, all overly narrow holes guarded by dense marshy scrub. But while the penal nature of the start fades as the course progresses, the rest of the front nine is lackluster. The short par-4 ninth is a puzzling folly, featuring a blind pond guarding the left side of the fairway. (A blind pond?! Why?)

Few greens and fairways have any undulation, despite being built on excellent terrain for golf. One exception is the really short par-4 10th, which despite being quirky looking actually works from architecture standpoint with several landing areas amid heaving swales in the fairway. 12 and 13 are also good holes, playing among natural looking sand dunes.

Perhaps the course is best summed up by what it lacks - punchbowls, biarritzes, redans, false fronts, in short, it lacks interesting greens and holes shapes.

Guarded on all sides by out of bounds and houses and looking particularly unnatural, the course looks and plays nothing like Fazio's work at World Woods. It’s hard to believe those two courses were built by the same designer. Even the practice facilities are sub-par; irons only off mats at a severe angle into a broken net. While those satisfied by resort courses won’t complain much as it will feel at home to them, perhaps a day at Caledonia or Kiawah is a better choice.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Off to Carolina, a word on Pinehurst, Golftown, USA


While covering the 2005 U.S. Open for my first writing gig, I kept an open mind all week as the world debate raged on whether $375 is too much for a round of golf at Pinehurst No. 2, or whether $240 is too much for Nos. 4, 7, and 8. I listened to the good points raised on either side - and there are plenty to go around. Even I struggled with the analysis. It's a tough and close debate.

The natural setting is not Pebble. Or Bandon Dunes. Or Whistling Straits. Or even Kiawah Island. But that's OK. Look at Sawgrass or Bethpage. They don't tip the scales for natural setting, but are two of the most quintessential tracks in the nation.

It’s not solely the course design either. A.W. Tillinghast wrote of his classic Winged Foot, “The holes are like men, all rather similar from foot to neck, but with the greens showing the same varying characters as human faces.” The same is true of Pinehurst. Certainly Pinehurst’s greatest weapon is its benign nature tee to green as well as its intricate green complexes. The wide fairways, devoid of stunning vistas lull the player to sleep when he should be on high alert. The design from tee to green is so non-descript that the nuances escape most golfers, until they find themselves in a greenside swale. One mistake approaching the devilish greens and the ball is in a place where the player cannot get close to the hole to save par. No less a personage than preeminent architect Tom Doak called No. 2’s green complexes “the best in America.”

But over time, the greens morphed into something different from what Ross intended. Ron Whitten wrote an insightful piece, Donald Ross Wouldnt Recognize These Greens in the June 2005 issue of Golf Digest. His undressing the myth of the greens severe contours as a mountain of topdressing compiled over decades, not Ross design, fills in a vital piece of history. Moreover, the USGA took advantage of the increased height of the greens by cutting off sharp slopes so as to create false fronts and sheer side drop-offs to make for crazy bounces at severe and unpredictable angles.

With two such analytic geniuses jousting, the debate is surely valid on both sides. Either way, Pinehurst is not overwhelming, overly penal or heroic. Instead, No. 2 is a tricky pickpocket, an Artful Dodger which steals strokes right from under your nose…except when the USGA comes to town for the Open – then it becomes an axe murderer and a serial one at that. Still, there are seven other courses as of this writing.

It's not the price either. $375 is half a month's rent, a luxury car payment, two dinners for two at the glitziest NYC restaurant, tickets for four to a Broadway show, or tickets for a family of six to a major league baseball game (or tix for two to a three game series). Only Pebble Beach, Cascata and Shadow Creek are more expensive in the U.S. Sawgrass is half the price and Bethpage is 1/4 or less.

It's not Donald Ross either. Yes, Ross is a seminal designer, and yes, he was able to fine-tune the strategic genius of Number 2 all his life, but I don't “drink the Donald Ross Kool-aid” and genuflect on command. (I know the Donald Ross Society will want to grill me alive for saying that. But hey, as St. Lawrence quipped, "Turn me over, I'm done on that side.".) I study golf course architecture as a science not a religion. Yes, Pinehurst No. 2 is brilliant, but some say it may not even be Ross’ best work. Many choose Inverness or Seminole as his best.

But there is a reason why Pinehurst is the St. Andrew's of America, Golftown, USA if you will - and I am not handing out that mantle lightly and it's not just because of the unique and wonderful golf course. It's the people. It's the Pinehurst locals and the North Carolinians. Pinehurst is EXACTLY like Ireland or St. Andrew's in one critical way. The magic of Pinehurst is in meeting the locals. The apres golf is unparalleled. Maybe only Oregonians can match North Carolinians for warmth and hospitality. It even tops Pebble Beach - where you stay at the resort, but don't interact with the natives. Instead, here even your waitress or counter clerk will discuss golf history or swing mechanics or travel with you. Golf is embedded in every level of the local's lives. In Pinehurst, the locals have golf in their DNA. The town is the heartbeat of American golf. After five generations, the game is in their DNA. You lose out on so much if you just play golf and leave - or play golf and go crash in your resort suite. Instead, if you delve deeply into Pinehurst's greatest treasures, its people, you will be rewarded in return tenfold. Come to play golf, but leave with ten friends. It’s as though you can buy shares of stock in the town’s soul.

If you love Pinehurst, Pinehurst will love you back. Many who do this, soon have a bumper sticker on their car that reads "PINEHURST - I wasn't born here, but I moved here as fast as I could."


In their book, The Golf Course, architect Geoffrey Cornish and writer Ron Whitten praise the deceptive design. The holes are straightforward appearing from tee to green, but with pronounced swales and devilish chipping areas counterbalancing deep eyebrow bunkers, approaches must be pinpoint accurate.

Tour player Thomas Levet opined that many of them are really two tiny greens instead of one large one. Take for example number 9, there's a little area top left and there's a little area bottom right and that's it.” Additionally, players rarely find a good or consistent lie in the rough. Fairways are canted with the slopes feeding the ball in unexpected directions. The greenside swales, mounds and hollows pose more difficult recovery problems than the sand.

Levet dissected the secret of the greens in that one sentence. Now if the greens play that small from optimum angles, imagine how tough a target they present from the rough or from angles that if you miss, the ball is in jail. The course is fiendishly clever in its intricacy, despite its sedate appearance. Pinehurst is a chess match on grass.

Payne Stewart won his chess match in 1999 with solid planning and strategy. He walked the course with Chuck Cook, who pointed out in Payne’s yardage book areas around the greens from which it was highly improbable to get up and down. Payne asked Cook to mark those areas in red. Cook responded “I’ll mark them in blue because I don’t want you to be afraid of them.” These are now referred to in jargon as the “blue areas.” Instead, he marked the middle of the fat areas of each green with an “X” and had Payne “hit for the X” all week.

Cook wrote, “A good example of how this worked was on the eighth hole, where left or long is no good. Consequently, his target was the front-right of the green. Payne aimed there every day and played the hole one-under for the week. You might recall the eighth as the hole where John Daly played hockey up the hill, finishing with an 11.”

Payne hit it in the blue areas once in 72 holes, on number 2 on Sunday and he was lucky to escape with only a bogey. That’s how he won.

That’s also how Retief Goosen lost the 2005 U.S Open. “If you are on the wrong side of the flag, it always feels like you can putt it off the green on the other side or chip it over the other side. It was very difficult to commit to hit it hard enough at places and that's where every time I chipped up the hill I chipped it short or when I putted up the hill I putted short so I couldn't get the pace right today.” Goosen, Jason Gore and Brandt Jobe, all playing in the last or second-to-last group were +35 collectively and uniformly testified to the ferocity of the angles out of the rough, (although one irreverent wag opined to me that maybe it was the fault of the mushrooms served at noontime in the clubhouse).

The chipping areas are so severe, Lee Westwood added, "You have to be very defensive out there. It's very difficult. If you miss the green, sometimes you have to treat the hole as a dogleg and play four or five feet away from the hole and hope to make the putt."

Many people mistakenly describe the greenside swales and mounding as “subtle,” but that’s way off. Being three to six feet below the pin and facing drop-offs on all sides and behind? That’s about as subtle as a Louisville Slugger.

Of all Ross’ masterpieces, Pinehurst is the most complete and unique because he tinkered with the course for thirty years – just as his mentor Old Tom Morris tinkered with the Old Course and Glen Dornoch most of his life. Doak noted, “Ross himself said his treacherous greens and links-style greenside swales brought into play an infinite variety of recover shots that other hazards cannot induce.” The pronounced slopes and valleys are an ever changing and limitless challenge to players to creatively invent shots and then execute them with feathery touch. The greens slope in all different directions – front to back, side to side and even diagonally.

Sure the fairways are wide and seemingly straightforward, but his crowned greens and eyebrow bunkers strategically and randomly placed where the land naturally accepted them are often imitated, but not yet equalled. Doak notes “The slightly-raised, intricately contoured greens and the fairway-height bumps and hollows which surround them are identified by many amateur architecture buffs as the epitome of Ross style, but in fact they are unlike almost all other Ross courses I’ve seen.” (From The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.)

Doak continues by noting that "it is the hollows and green settings, rather than the greens alone" which define the green complexes, giving them an extra strategic dimension and making a wide variety choices available to players for recovery shots.” The hollows closely resemble the undulations of his native Scotland, especially St. Andrews. Ross lived on the site and tinkered with the design all his life.

I thought Andy North and the boys at ESPN were clowning around when they bounced golf balls off of upside down mixing bowls, but they were spot on. The only amendment is rather than a true circle with the target on the center, the tops of the bowl are smaller and spread around the unique contours from green to green. Its all about the angles. To set up the angles to the green, you have to be in the right place off the tee. The happenstance of the topdressing may actually have improved Ross design to make it even more fearsome.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The U.S. Open returning to Merion? We can dream, maybe it would come true...

I may disagree strongly with Geoff Shackelford about Sawgrass (I love it and the TPC and think Sawgrass should be allowed to host a major. It's a better test of golf than Pebble Beach and Riviera and they get majors frequently despite holding a tournament each calendar year)...

...but Shack found some important news in an article by Philly writer Joe Logan. Merion is being considered for the 2013 U.S. Open. The official announcement of which course will get the tournament will come at Winged Foot during this year's Open and other courses are being considered.

This would be a triumph for classic courses everywhere and would bring hope to making strategy a more important part of our national championship. Merion East harkens back to a simpler time, before waterfalls and mega-wattage developers and "daily-fee" mumbo jumbo...when guys named Joe went out for a friendly round, paid for their greens fees and bacon and egg sandwich to a counter woman named Jo.

Now our game's been perverted and complicated. Guys named Joe are now chumps named Chandler with a cell phone earpiece in their ear, munis are replaced by casino courses and "Jo" is now "Sydnee" and don't think of calling her anything but a "golf industry technician," buy Merion says "you can relax, we'll show you what an old-time, relaxing golf round is really like."

Love Shack's report on Logan's article is here.

Everybody sing along! Love Shack...goin to the Love Shack, gimme the Love Shack...

The Final - A.W. Tillinghast v. CB Macdonald and James Bond Golf Quote, Goldfinger

I spent the weekend away and forgot to bring all the votes with me, but A.W. Tillinghast defeated Pete Dye and C.B. Macdonald narrowly beat Alistair Mackenzie.

So the Final:

A.W. Tillinghast v. C.B. Macdonald. Voting ends noon on Sunday.

Now, since I am preparing a) for the East Coast leg of the Spring Tour and b) for something a little different:

Here is the best golf quote I found recently:

And, Bond reflected, while Goldfinger was pumping millions of pounds a year into the bloody maw of SMERSH – “Smiert Spionam,” “Death to Spies,” the murder apparatus of the High Praesidium – he was pyramiding his reserves, making them work for him whenever the odds were right, piling up the surplus for when the trumpets would sound in the Kremlin and every golden sinew would be mobilized.

Noone outside Moscow had been watching the process, noone suspected that Goldfinger – the jeweler, the metallurgist, the resident of England and Bahamas, respected member of Blades Club and the Royal St. Marks at Sandwich Club – was one of the greatest conspirators of all time, that he had financed the murder of hundreds, perhaps thousands of victimsof SMERSH all over the world.

Only M suspected it and only Bond knew it.

And here was Bond, launched against this man by a series of flukes, a train of coincidence that had been started by a plane breaking down on the other side of the world. Bond smiled grimly to himself. How often in his profession had it been the same – the tiny acorn of coincidence that soared into the mighty oak whose branches darkened the sky.

And now, once again, he was to bring an evil cancer down. With what?

A bag of golf clubs!

- From Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More on punk rock and golf - C.B. Macdonald

Remember earlier this week we were discussing punk rock idiom and golf course designers and trying to see some similarities? Let's finish our discussion.

Remember the punk idiom as it originated was one of purism in terms of the music (the craft) but avante garde in terms of their attitudes - stalwart in the face of adversity, brash and even unapologetic.

I have made my serlection - it's C.B. Macdonald, legendary designer of National Golf Links of America (for short, lets just call her National or NGLA.)

C.B. Macdonald, and his protege Seth Raynor built National with the goal in mind of showing people how to REALLY design excellent holes. They were not humble men, and our game and architecture is better for their tenacity and confidence. They told us National would be a great encyclopaedia of great golf holes...the Alps, the Biarritz, the Redan, etc.

Kelly Blake Moran, Lederach, The Masters and Kyle Harris

Just a few quick hits today, before I prepare for the east coast tour.

1. Today is opening day at Lederach and a great day for architect Kelly Blake Moran. As I reported a few weeks ago, Lederach has excellent green complxes with loads of contour and character. Kelly also had some inspired moments with the bunkering including the soon to be infamous blind bunker on the par-5 third. I know of at least 8 architecture experts on the course as we speak, along with the various golf indy dignitaries shaking babies and kissing hands, so here's hoping y'all have good stories when you return. I'll follow up with quotes from the soiree later.

2. So far, so good on my prediction. I thought somebody other than the Big Five would win this week. So far so good, but with Tiger lurking, all it will take is one spurt for him to take the lead...then another for seperation and game over. Now, interesting note about my choice of "The Field." Thanks to my old golf coach Hank Furgol (nephew of Ed Furgol, winner 1954 U.S. Open at Baltusrol) for pointing out to me correct use of Jargon for "The Field." "Jay, I got what you meant when you said you took "the field," you meant a prop bet against the big 5, but using the term accurately, you would have had to bet on any player who did not have an individual line. As you wrote it, you'd be rooting for Ben Crenshaw!"

Finally, Kyle Harris pointed out that Steve Czaban had the year in his last article off by one on Crenshaw's victory was '95, not '96.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

My piece on the Rawls Course on Cybergolf and Steve Czaban encore

Cybergolf.com picked up my piece on The Rawls Course at Texas Tech. Hats off the Jeff Shelley and team. Of course, I have to throw a flag on myself here - I forgot that Doak's first course, High Point is also in the same price range as The Rawls Course. See? That's the golfer in me...calling a penalty on myself;) I'm finishing a piece on the incredible Black Mesa which will be up soon too. Run don't walk to go play that place. Along with Tobacco Road and Bandon Dunes, it's one of the facilities that defines our generation of golf courses and is everrything right and true and bold about the science and art that is GCA.

Also break a leg to Sal Johnson, David Barrett and the rest of the Golf Observer team for the best Masters preview materials on the Web. There were a ton of great articles all week and with Sal and David on the groulnd, they'll have the best features and webcats all week.

Finally, right after I go and praise him on this site, Steve Czaban goes for a curtain call! His Masters preview is spot on:

How great is the Masters? Consider this…

The Tournament has been witness to the following “All-Time” moments and stories…

Greatest Pro Debut In Major History: 1997 Tiger Woods obliterates the field in the first major where he’s eligible for a paycheck.

Greatest Win By A Living Legend In History: 1986 Jack Nicklaus. The sport’s ultimate “turn back the clock day” performance.

Most Emotionally Freaky Win In Golf History: 1996 Ben Crenshaw. He buries longtime teacher Harvey Penick on Monday. Then somehow wins on Sunday, hitting flawless shot after flawless shot. This despite not even being competitive on Tour for years. Flat out spooky.

Most Horrific Collapse By A Popular and Elite Player In History: 1996 Greg Norman. Not just that he let Faldo catch him, it was a non-stop lowlight reel of things you just can’t do on Sunday at Augusta.

Most Dramatic Shot In Major Golf History: Tiger on 16, 2005. A 180 degree, U-turn, slow roller, die on the lip, and fall in for pivotal birdie chip shot on the course’s loudest, prettiest, epicenter hole. Awesome. Great react sequence too. Tiger crouches. Tiger agonizes. Tiger double fist pumps in joy.

Best Walk-Off Shot In Golf History: Larry Mize, 1987. Local boy angle made it even better. What a scene, with him leaping in the air, back arched like a bow, visor flying off his head. (Okay, technically, NOT a walk-off, because Norman still had a 30 footer that missed.)

Only Major Sporting Even In Modern History Televised On Network TV Without A Single Commercial: 2003. Thanks, Martha!

Czabe goes on and on...he only misses one category, Scott Choke's putt in '89 was actually six inches shorter than the one Doug Sanders missed to open the door to Jack Nicklaus in the '78 Open Championship at St. Andrews. That's even worse than blowing it at Augusta. Also close were those 18 inchers missed by Retief, Stewart Cink and Mark Brooks when they all suddenly didn't want the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills. That was some jive funk they were layin' down there with all the marbles on the line. Of course Van de Velde should also make any "infamous" and/or "freakshow" lists.

My pick this year? I'm not sold that everyone's out of it. For some reason, my intuition tells me take "The Field" this year. If Sergio could ever get the putter going, he's doing everything else right. I'm hearing he's "made an adjustment" in his stroke...it betrayed him over the weekend at Sawgrass, but he'll be a factor. All it will take to eliminate Phil will be one bad stretch. Tiger will be there late, but we're due for a strange winner and Augusta sometimes likes to "Feel Like a Stranger..."

***Insert cool jazz riffs***

You know it's gonna get stranger
so lets get on with show...

Feel like a stranger...
Gonna be a long, long crazy crazy week

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Steve Czaban on the LPGA, Tiger Woods Interview (what there was)

The pulse of the American sports fan is alive and well over at Steve Czaban's website, czabe.com. Looking for what sports fans believe in today? Forget focus groups and branding profiles, Czabe is thinking what every red-blooded hard-hitting, hard-farting sweaty, smelly, stinky sports guy knows. ***cue the new "Dial Soap Jingle," complete with tuba riff..."I'm a man...,manly manly man...I'm a man...YES I AM...*** He just says what everybody else in America is thinking. Thank goodness somebody has the nerve. Go read it, I'll wait. Good, wasn't it? For the rest of you too lazy to switch, here's the juice:

First, Czabe had me in stitches with his take on the tradition at the Nabisco where the winner (and often her caddy) take the plunge in the pond on 18.

He writes, "
Anyhow, fast forward to this year, where God bless women, they always have an eye on cleanliness and hygiene. Apparently the LPGA gals had been complaining about the yucky, icky, murky, muddy waters that … ewwww.. smelled bad, and wanted to see if anything could be done.

Sure enough, the tournament cemented off a portion of that wrap around hazard, and filled with clear, clean filtered water. That’s where Karrie Webb got wet on Sunday.

Now come on, gals! A little pond water ain’t gonna kill ya, is it? Jerry Pate jumped into a bonafide, you-could-drown-or-get-eaten-by-an-alligator-LAKE when he won at the Players years ago. [He] threw Deane Beman in with him.

Now maybe next year we can just have a bunch of clowns with seltzer bottles come running out and hose down the winner. Would have been a lot cheaper."

I nearly spit up coffee on my laptop.

Then, in one sentence he summarizes why the Tiger Woods interview on CBS 60 minutes...paragon of virtuous television THAT it is...flopped so badly:

"But hey, we did hear about his Foundation, which is great. Not like anybody was wondering: “Hey, do you think Tiger has a foundation?”

We also didn’t see any hard pitches thrown his way. If I had one “brushback” pitch I could throw, it would be this…

“Tiger. You swear a lot on course, and you know you are on camera. You also slam clubs and sometimes damage greens. Are you embarrassed at all by your temper, and are you working on fixing it?”

Of course, such a question would probably have killed CBS’s right to air the piece, and denied Ed Bradley all future rights to “fist-bump” Eldrick."

I wonder what Peter Kostis would have thought?

Do we NEED to wonder what Dan Hicks would have thought? Problably something droning and delivered in his nasal, yet strangely hypnotic piercing tenor, while the horns of the NBC golf theme wail in the background..."That was a courageous and invigorating exploration in to Tiger's psyche...Jungian in it's complexity..."

The Force is with you Czabe. Go, Go, Go!

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Carolina leg of the Spring Tour

The Jay Train rolls into the Carolinas next week with stops at four epic resorts and three private courses which all have fascinating pedigrees.

For the public golfer, I'll be directly comparing and contrasting the finest resorts Carolina has to offer: Pinehurst No. 2, Wild Dunes, Harbour Town (right after the MCI) and Kiawah Island. I'm really looking forward to kickin' it with Dan, Brad and Jen Maples while in Pinehurst. I'll be bringing everyone up to date with some of the excellent new golf deals Jen has got advertised for the spring and chatting with her famous father about his new design projects. You think Crazy Eddie's prices were insane? Dude ain't got nothing on Jen Maples. $177 for two round of golf at say The Pit or Southern Pines or Tobacco Road or Tot Hill AND two nights stay in spacious suites. What are you waiting for? Put some pants on, sweep away the empty Pringles cans from the computer and get those fat fingers of yours dialing!

Then it's off to Charleston for the resorts.

For the private club reader and those of you who are architecture experts, I'll review three private clubs too, as I know you are always looking for another place to drop 30K or so. (How do you guys that are members of five places do it? (FIVE PLACES!)

In between resort soirees, we'll visit with Brian Silva to see how his renovation of the greens at the Country Club of Charleston are coming. Happily, Seth Raynor built in lots of character and contour in the greens and Silva will restore the original specs of redans, biarritzes, punchbowls and other great green and bunker complexes. Silva is the reigning winner of best redesign for his work at Donald Ross' Brookside CC in Ohio.

Next, I'll get to see one of my old favorites, Mike Strantz's Bull's Bay, a rare gem of a course and the course where Mike and his wife Heidi made their home and raised their children Dana and Andrea. The course is striking, with its clubhouse built high on a hill overlooking a staggering 14 holes! The vista is as breathtaking as the view off the first tee at Crystal Downs...built by MIke's idol Mackenzie...with a heath like view of the magnificent rolling golf terrain. Other holes at BB meander close to the intercoastal waterway. It's an epic place. Along with Monterey Peninsula CC and Pradera, its one of only three places which I am (for now) considering joining as a member for my warm weather play. For those of you scoring at home, the cold weather places are Winged Foot, and Cystal Downs...(and National of course, if they'll have me. Note: Black Rock in Boston would be on the list, but it's too darn cold there for too darn long! Warm weather and geographical proximity come first!)

Finally, I'll decompress from the hustle of reviewing for my book and the magazines (Golf Observer and Cybergolf will both be getting pieces soon, so look for them) by playing at the private Coore/Crenshaw design at Chechessee Creek, another low key, minimalist design, this time highlighting the gotgeous intercoastal waterway for a backdrop and featuring the crowned greens and severe bunkers for which they are rightly famous.

That's one thing about minimalism...it's inexpensive to build and you can do it anywhere. OK so that's two things. So what I can't count, you hire me as your lawyer and you read me for golf. Numbers cost extra!

Architect's Final Four - Dye v. Tillie, C.B. Macdonald v. Mackenzie

Pete Dye narrowly defeated William Flynn and C.B. Macdonald held off a furious assault by Stanley Thompson (thanks for voting, Canada!) and join other regional final winners Tille the Terror and The good Doctor.

Here are the Final Four matchups:

1. Pete Dye (St. Andrew's) v. 1. A.W. Tillinghast (Bandon)

2. C.B. Macdonald (Augusta) v. 1. Alistair Mackenzie (Cypress)

Vote till noon tomorrow.