Four of us from OCCM Golf – Mike Clayton, Ashley Mead, Mike Cocking and Peter Bessey – travelled to the Unites States in April to play some golf and watch Geoff at Augusta. Aside from a chance to watch the tournament it was an opportunity to see, and play, some of the game’s best courses. In a somewhat frantic 13 days (if you can’t manage it all in 13 then take 16) we visited a brilliant group of courses including Rustic Canyon, Los Angeles CC (North), Riviera, Pinehurst #2, Augusta, Pine Valley, Merion, Garden City, Friar’s Head, Sebonack, National Golf Links and Shinnecock Hills. – Michael Cocking
Here are some observations – some considered, others random – on the game, and its courses, in North America.
LACC (North): In 2005 you could see the bones of the great course – and what a fabulous job they have done restoring it.
LACC (North):Is also the poster-child for George Thomas’ concept of the course within a course. It is amazing that part of golf design never became mainstream.
Riviera: A wonderful course – but why is there only half a fairway at the 1st hole?
The 8th @ Riviera – 2005 v 2012: At least the trees are gone so it’s miles better and there are equal options of playing left or right. In 2005 no-one was crazy enough to play up the left. It’s still a long way from Thomas’s original sketch – or the barancca holes up the road at LACC North.
Are gum trees in LA the equivalent weed to pine trees on the sandbelt?
Rustic Canyon: Terrific public golf – and close to a city. We have terrific public golf – just not in the cities.
Great job: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were responsible for a perfect restoration of Pinehurst #2. They removed more than 35 hectares of maintained rough, 650 sprinkler heads, returned the sandy wastes, wiregrass and built bunkers that matched the look of those Ross built all those years ago. One or two greens have been softened but they are still wildly contoured and extremely difficult. Width is not a word synonymous with the US Open – hopefully that will change after 2014.
#2: Has five par-4s over 500 yards – yet Bill Coore said the only criticism was that ‘we have made it too easy’. Why do so many equate wide fairways with easy golf?
SPRINGTIME IN AUGUSTA
Very cool: It’s easy to be critical – especially after decades of tinkering with MacKenzie’s masterpiece – but it is still a fabulous golf course and amongst the best dozen in the world. It’s incredibly wide (wider even than Royal Melbourne), dramatic, seriously steep and has a terrific set of greens. Strategy and fun encapsulated perfectly.
Unquestionably it is the best-run golf tournament in the game. Arguably it is the best-run sporting event in the world. You can do a lot with an unlimited budget but it takes real attention to detail as well.
When Augusta builds a new back tee the club recreates the look from the original tee by removing the old tee. It takes more money and time but it’s worth it.
From those back tees Augusta is really long… almost unmanageably long for the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Larry Mize and Craig Stadler – and they can still hit (but not like the kids).
The use of short grass at Amen Corner is brilliant. The US Open should try it occasionally.
How can you spend hours watching players approach the 2nd green in the final round of The Masters yet miss Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross because you decide to have ANOTHER pulled pork roll? We didn’t miss Peter Hanson’s shank on 12, though.
Could Bobby Jones’ house between the 10th and the Par-3 Course be the coolest place to live? Or does the house behind the 6th tee at Pine Valley win?
The tiers in the greens at Augusta National are beautifully disguised with internal contour – no obvious green steps here.
Yes, it is worth the trip to The Masters – no matter the cost.
Why does the MCG charge so much for food and drink when Augusta doesn’t? We know the answer but you get the point.
Singularly good: Is there another course in the world where every single hole is great?
Turtle soup is surprisingly good.
The pro-shop at Pine Valley is reported to be the most profitable retail space per square metre than anywhere in the world.
To miss any hole would have been to miss something amazing. As good as it is though, is it as good as it was in the days of the black-and-white aerials taken in the 1930s? That course looked incredible!
A pity the alternate strip of fairway has long since disappeared on 17 – putting it back might make it even better.
Don’t go all the way back to the championship tees. ‘I don’t play off them when I go there,’ says Geoff Ogilvy.
The lengths they have gone to in order to host the Open is staggering – and somewhat disappointing. Clearly this is a wonderful golf course, but it’s a shame to see the fairways narrowed to the point where the holes have no strategy, some fairway bunkers now 20 yards in the rough. The 14th tee is being pushed back onto the putting green, forcing players to hit over the road, trees and unless they get permission from the council…a stop sign. The 4th tee has also been pushed back almost to the edge of the 7th fairway, and the 2nd, 11th and 16th holes look like they only have half a fairway.
The four par-3s for the Open: 130 yards, 230 yards, 250 yards and 270 yards. Hopefully they move the tees forward on some days.
LONG ISLAND GOLF
Class of its own: Long Island is a golfing mecca, with an abundance of courses much like the London Heathlands and the Melbourne Sandbelt. If you have to pick one city, New York wins.
Is NGLA (The National)the best course in the world? It has to be the most fun. Does most fun equate to ‘best’? It features amazing greens, great width, timeless strategies and a touch of quirk.
For a little hole ‘short’ at NGLA is no snack, the large green with its wild internal contours is brilliant.
Shinnecock Hills: They’ve taken out 3000 trees since 2001 – and made a great course even better.
If you have your maintenance shed in the middle of the course don’t try and surround it with ugly mounds to hide it. Build a great-looking barn, as they did at Shinnecock Hills.
The Redan at Shinnecock is the only hole on Dunne’s original course that survived William Flynn’s work. It has an incredibly severe tilt from side to side – and front to back. It doesn’t take much imagination to see why it almost stopped play at the 2004 US Open.
The Redan at NGLA: Possibly it’s the best of all the Redans – better even than Shinnecock. Maybe it’s better even than the original at North Berwick… although don’t ask us to make that argument. There’s a little more internal contour which helps prop up some of the pin positions – especially toward the back left. It perfectly asks the great questions of a Redan: Do I aim straight at the flag or try to draw it in from the right? Or do I land short and get the ball running or hit it high and soft.
Why has no-one built a Redan in Australia?
Friar’s Head: If they had built it in 1920 it would be rated one of the best dozen courses in the world.
Bill Coore was out redoing the 7th green – even the best don’t always get it right first time!
The holes in the dunes are spectacular! The transition between the less-interesting lowland that was a part of a farm and into the dunes is perfect. Coore and Crenshaw are renowned for their attention to detail and they pulled off something great here. The feel of the course is like nothing else – other than perhaps the black-and-white photos of Cypress Point or Pine Valley when they opened.
There is no excuse not to get your game right at Friar’s Head – not with 30 perfect acres of practice area and brand new Titleists. You certainly get what you pay for!
We do the link between greens and tees in short grass well on the Sandbelt but the area around the clubhouse at Friar’s Head, linking the putting green, 9th green and 1st tee all together, takes it to another level.
Garden City: The great three-line letter from Devereux Emmett to Walter Travis hanging on the wall in the clubhouse at Garden City – ‘My dear Travis, We were friends so long and I have always regretted our estrangement. Cannot we be friends again? Most Sincerely, Devereux.’
There is nothing quite like a bit (well, a lot) of Old School quirk. There are some great holes but it is like stepping back in time. No-one would be game to build Garden City today. Why is designer Walter Travis – the first Australian-born major champion – not better known in Australia? (Well, aside from the fact he never hit a shot in Australia…)
What a great clubhouse at Garden City – you could spend as much time in there studying the history of the club as playing the golf.
AMERICA v AUSTRALIA Australia really is cheap for golf. A lifetime of golf at Royal Melbourne might be a third of the joining fees at Sebonack, or Friar’s Head.
Clubhouse design, character and atmosphere: America does it better than we do. Maybe it’s easier with only 300 members.
For a long time the sandbelt courses were plenty long enough but in reality their only defences now are rock-hard fast greens and wind.
Caddies – a pity they don’t seem to work in Australia any more. America is often criticised for its cart culture but every course we played had caddies.
Has Australia been left behind pretending that 6300 metres was long enough for championship golf? For a long time the sandbelt courses were plenty long enough but in reality their only defences now are rock-hard, fast greens and wind. Fortunately we can do the first… and we have plenty of the latter.
Merchandising: Americans are brilliant at it! Cool logos, quality gear – impossible to walk out without buying something. And a good logo sells even more merchandise – Merion, Friar’s Head, Pinehurst…
Attention to detail: Something we pride ourselves on – but the elite American clubs really get it. And they don’t seem to be afraid of doing a little extra hard work in order to achieve it.
Great greens: We have a lot of good greens in Australia but nothing that comes close to NGLA, Pine Valley, Pinehurst and Shinnecock. Complex sets of greens with plenty of variety and lots of contour – big and small.
Next time we hear someone complain about one of our greens being too severe we want to take them to Pinehurst.
There were lots of instances where you could be just a few yards off the playing surface but have an unplayable lie. Why are Australian golfers so intolerant? The wild roughs at Garden City and Shinnecock… huge expanses of sand and vegetation at Pine Valley and Pinehurst… tiny bunkers at Rustic Canyon… impossibly deep bunkers at Pine Valley.
In Australia houses detract from the golfing experience. At Pinehurst and Pine Valley they add to it.
The distance thing: Isn’t it time we started calling holes between 435 and 445 metres par-4s? They have all made that leap in America – not that we should blindly follow them.
Standing on the plaque where Ben Hogan hit his 1-iron in 1953… at around 215 yards to the green it’s sad to think it’s probably just a 5- or 6-iron for Bubba Watson.
Safety: It was explained to us that in America the onus is on the individual rather than the club. Perhaps that’s why the 2nd at Merion still exists – it would be shut down in Australia! (Or they’d have to erect a 30-metre-high fence). Its fairway edge is five metres from a busy road – much busier than the dead-end right of the 6th East at Royal Melbourne.
If you are struggling with your game beware of the clubhouse on your left on the 1st at Sebonack and 1 and 18 at The National. At NGLA’s 18th the clubhouse is 30 metres from the middle of the fairway!
The 17th at Garden City (a reachable par-5) runs alongside a road almost exactly as the 17th East at Royal Melbourne does – but there are no trees and there is no fence. How does that work?
Other tips: It’s a bad idea to fly from Melbourne to Los Angeles and then play three rounds in a day and a half.
Don’t even think about eating at a Waffle House – under any circumstances. After ordering chicken, one cook was overheard asking the other what to do with it. “Make it brown”, she said. Pass!