6,352 yards, 136 slope from the Whites
Course: In Havertown, PA, which is about 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, is Llanerch Country Club. Alex Findlay designed the course in 1928 while Stephen Kay did some restorative and renovation work in 2005, which included rebunkering, tree removal and tee/green expansions. Originally 27 holes, 9 were sold to development, leaving the single course. Llanerch is a club full of history that hosted the 1957 PGA Championship, which was the first year the tournament was contested with medal play instead of match play.
A Findlay design rich with character in the Philadelphia area is hard to come by nowadays. While Walnut Lane is nearby and could fit that bill, it’s more of an executive course and in need of some drastic attention. Otherwise, Llanerch is it, or at least to Philadelphia proper. A classic course that has plenty of challenge, especially around the greens, the moderate hilly terrain and meandering creeks are used very well in an outstanding routing. The course is also a lot of fun, with several drop carry shots and some how not a lot of uphill climbs despite the terrain. The par 3’s stuck out as very impressive and I liked the character of the bunkers; large, craggy with fescue, asserting themselves throughout the round as a force to be reckoned with.
|Approach shot territory|
|A little closer|
|The back of the green, looking back towards the clubhouse|
|Approach shot territory, with still a ways to go|
|A little closer|
|Approach shot territory|
|Love the flags, with the hole number on each|
|The green, from the right side|
|Moving down the fairway|
|A peek at the green from one of the bunkers on the left|
|The left side, just off the green|
|Approach shot territory|
|Moving down the fairway|
|Approach shot territory|
|Approach shot territory|
|A closer look. Love the bunkering here.|
The Eleventh is a 406 yard par 4. Bunkers on either side of the fairway await lesser tee shots and while trees are on either side, there’s enough width where they don’t come into play unless you’re really offline. The hole then opens up for the approach to a wide green with bunkers short to contend with. The fairway feeds right into the green, with a sloping short grass area near the right front. The green moves from right to left as well.
|Approach shot territory|
The Twelfth is a 157 yard par 3. This is an interior hole on this side of Steel Road, meaning it’s one of the few that doesn’t border the perimeter of the course. Needing to transition directions yet utilize all of the property, this hole fits in perfectly, as the small nook upon which it is set makes for a great shorter par 3, where the green runs fast from back to front and we see more of those great looking bunkers on all sides, all different shapes and depths. Whether you try to use the slope to bring the ball back towards the hole, or land short of it for an easier uphill putt, by all means avoid being above the hole.
|A closer look|
The Thirteenth is a 333 yard par 4. The tee is set below and to the left of the fairway, leaving us with a blind tee shot. The placement of the the also make this a bit of a dog leg left where hitting the fairway is a real good idea because of the trees, just waiting to block you out. Bunkers are well placed sparingly leading up to the green, with the fairway spilling out to the left after one of them, which creates some what of a false front. Bunkers then pinch the apron leading to the green while the sides run off downhill, with a sly trench bunker off the back of the green. A nice green complex and with it generally moving away from the front, a nice change up from what we’ve seen from the back nine up to this point.
|Moving down the fairway|
|Approach shot territory|
The Fourteenth is a 446 yard par 4. It’s the longest par 4 of the round. The tee shot is straight out to a fairway climbing slightly uphill with trees being rather unforgiving on both sides. The fairway then dips downhill before rising and turning left to the green. The fairway starts narrowing as you get closer to the green, with bunkers on both the left and right of the narrow yet deep green. The second shot is likely one of the toughest on the course, considering what your lie probably is, the smaller size of the green and angle of the approach. It’s a tough hole, demanding two very good shots.
|Approach shot territory|
The Fifteenth is a 313 yard par 4. We go from the longest par 4’s to one of the shortest. And it’s quite the short par 4. The fairway runs at a 4:00 to 10:00 angle from the tee with bunkers running along the left side up to the green. These left bunkers also serve the dual purpose of blocking your view of the fairway from the tee, so you don’t know how much or little room you have for your tee shot. Before the bunkers, there is ample space to lay up shot of them and settle for a longer approach into the green. But the left bunkers will not be ignored, you’re either taking them on off the tee or the approach shot. Those that try to swing out to the right from the tee will be blocked out by trees on the approach, or will end up in a smartly placed bunker on that side. The green, while of a nice size, is surrounded by bunkers and has a lot of movement. The trees on either side also make sure that the old bomb and gouge isn’t used too often, as any tee shot getting caught up in the trees will ensure at least a couple strokes to get on the green.
And there you have the makings of a great hole; a puzzle to solve that can be attacked a variety of ways, but must always be thought through. Local knowledge is rewarded as the battle scars add up and those who continue playing it start knowing what works and what does not for them, yet never able to master it. Such is golf – a game to be played, but not beaten.
|The row of bunkers waiting for you on he left|
|Approach shot territory|
|Look at the fescue lining the lips of the bunkers|
The Sixteenth is a 482 yard par 5. And we go from short to long, yet again mixing it up. A narrow fairway running straight to the green awaits. Trees line both sides, then a large bunker enriches on the left side, which narrows the fairway at that point before widening again and feeding into the green, which is a little raised from the fairway. A bunker on the left front side of the green, and another on the right side protect this green, which is fairly large and runs from back to front. There is a thumbprint indent on the left side of the green as well, taking balls in that off the green and into the rough below.
|Moving down the fairway|
|Approach shot territory|
The Seventeenth is a 144 yard par 3. Crossing back over Steel Road for the final time, the Fourth par 3 is directly to our left, which gives this course two great par 3’s right next to each other. This hole is a semi blind tee shot to a raised green, with three massive bunkers carved into the front and another to the left, which the green is shaped around. Trouble abounds every where. Any shot off to the right either falls down the hill or if too far right, ends up in water. Short is no good because of the bunkers. The left side will encounter the bunker or rough, but also means the green is moving away from you. Alas, hitting to the center of the green seems like the only reasonable option and while that is likely true of most every hole, the defenses of this shorter hole, towards the end of the round when tournaments or matches are coming down to the wire, make this a fun and challenging hole.
The Eighteenth is a 291 yard par 4. The shortest par 4 on the course, with an elevated tee shot that’s a forced carry over water to a generous fairway. Similar to the Fifteenth, thinking through this hole is necessary since its distance allows it to be played a number of ways. A lone tree on the right means that any long hitter will want to advance on the left side, although there are fairway bunkers on that side to contend with. The fairway does widen short of the tree on the right, but laying up off the tee is necessary to utilize that room while providing enough space to carry the tree to the green if necessary. The fairway is then at its widest just after the tree, which I suppose tempts longer hitters to carry the tree from the tee altogether. There is an entry point to the green on that right side as well, but most approach shots will need to carry the bunkers strewn about the front of the green. The green itself moves from right left, then back to front on the left side. With the clubhouse directly behind the green, you can be certain that everyone inside is watching your every shot, commenting and judging appropriately. Try to give them a show.
|The green, from the left side|
The back nine is quite a bit shorter than the front nine (almost 300 yards), but just as challenging and diverse. The par 3’s are terrific and the par 4’s provide a broad range of tests and enjoyment. My ranking of them would be 10, 15, 17, 13, 18, 12, 14, 11, 16.
Generally, Llanerch is a solid classic course. The challenge is subtle and there is plenty of strategy necessary to play it well. All of this is done on a smaller piece of property without resorting to over penalizing. It’s a diverse course, allowing play for any shot in your arsenal while properly mixing up the challenges and when they’re presented. Trees are used well and it appears there is an active effort to open up corridors and vistas by removing non-essential trees. At the same time, there are areas where trees are used nicely. The greens at Llanerch are challenging yet add to the fun of the course. Using their movement on approaches or recovery shots makes for engaging strategy calls, as well as makes you plan your shots from the green moving backwards to the tee.
I remember saying in my review of Jeffersonville that the challenge there is so subtle that you tend to blame high scores on your play rather than on the course and I think that’s true at Llanerch as well. The course seems there for the taking, but when strokes start piling up, it may not be immediately apparent how the layout has contributed. Rest assured, however, it certainly contributes.
Llanerch is a great example of what classic courses do well. It certainly is one of my favorite courses by Findlay and an integral part of the Philadelphia golf legacy.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: They are separate and I believe both were recently renovated. The east side of the clubhouse is adjacent to the Eighteenth and showcases the courses from every room and level on that side. Both are well sized.
Practice area: A full sized range, a couple putting greens and a short game practice area. Use those putting greens, you’ll need it out there!
UPDATE JUNE 2020: The revised nine holes on the clubhouse side are below, which are 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 17 and 18.
The course now very much has an English heathland feel to it. The abrupt and sharp mounding found throughout is the one of the more noticeable changes, which will come into play more often than they appear based on the firm and fast conditions the course is now designed to cultivate. Indeed, the ball took those glorious bounds and leaps down the fairway upon landing from its initial descent, adding an entirely new dimension to the course. To accommodate, corridors have been opened up and the course is now much more open, allowing the freedom to take an array of lines from shot to shot. Findlay always emphasized shotmaking with his courses and these changes are consistent with that tenet, albeit in a different manner than having trees dictate shape and flight. Now, those commanding higher or lower ball flights get different receptions from the slopes and contours. Same with shots turning left or right; how they respond to the fairways and greens emphasizes the importance of shaping shots. The shorter hitter can now use those slopes to his advantage while the longer hitter can as well in an entire different manner. Wider fairways and larger greens also accommodate the new style of the course.
Bunkers are also noticeably different. Before, they were typically larger and placed in areas that would collect mis-hit shots on the fly. Now, they are deep and more concise, scarring hillsides and fairways. The ball will now more likely find one by rolling in than on the fly and based on their pointed severity of slope, they become more necessary to avoid.
Schneider has mentioned Myopia Hunt Club, West Sussex and the Kings Course at Gleneagles as models and inspiration. Inland courses, modest in length yet brimming with interest, challenge and strategy. Tufts of high grass, creative mounding throughout and bunkering varying in depth, with an emphasis on angles and distance control. Endless interest in the greens. These are the things I have heard and read of the courses above without playing any of them that I could see applying to Llanerch in several respects. An interesting parkland classic before, the course now moves into a much more intriguing and distinct parkland playing differently than most courses in the area with its heathland inland links feel. Taking the strong attributes from the course and then evolving it is the type of work that I feel is progressive course design. I look forward to how the remaining nine holes shape up to complete this impressive transfiguration.
UPDATE: MAY 2021 – FULL COURSE NOW OPEN
The opening of these remaining nine holes marks a transition for the club in many ways. One of these ways was by adopting a secondary logo. The logo is that of a trolley, which represents the Red Line trolley that ran along Route 3 outside the club, which eventually becomes Market Street as it crosses 69th Street. The Red Line ran from 1898 until the 1970’s. Track based cars were the primary mode of transportation for decades and many used the Red Line to get from the industry progression and hectic day to day of downtown to Llanerch, where they were able to rejuvenate and relax, have a cocktail or two, then get back on the Red Line to return to the city. As the city expanded, many longstanding clubs moved locations in an effort to remain beyond that ever growing urban sprawl. Llanerch remained where it was, as the world around it changed and progressed. That Red Line remained as well, both club and car a steadfast, comfortable presence. Now, it is the course that is changing, yet as with the logo, that change is anchored in its extensive historical roots.
The world of course design is in the midst of change. Most every course is undergoing some form of change, for one reason or another. The change at Llanerch is notable for a couple of reasons. The extent of the change is remarkable. Before the project, the property was full of trees that framed much of the play. It was a classic parkland with large, full, fescue lined bunkers and mid sized greens with a lot of tilt instead of interior undulations. While the project included significant tree removal, it could have stayed within this pre-renovation structure. It could have even given the bunkers the en vogue blown out look (which I assume Brian wouldn’t have done because it would have been out of place), or gone the other trendy way of creating more, and bigger, bunkers, which would have dominated the visual landscape, and has been done elsewhere, again and again. Instead, bunkers were minimized yet made more effective in their purpose. The land was opened up and along with it, a whole new world of ground based strategy. Maximizing the smaller piece of land, every square inch is now in play and instead of having to punch out of the trees for wayward tee shots, the golfer has a cornucopia of choices at each shot, no matter how egregious the sins of the past one. In short, the course plays different than anything else in the area now. Resembling an English heathland, its complexity lies deep underneath. While the fairways and greens may look more accessible, it only looks that way. The challenge and interest here has shifted, and grown.
During opening weekend, I was rounding the corner to the Ninth tee when I saw Brian Schneider standing on a hill that allowed him to look at various holes on the clubhouse side. “So, are you happy with it?” He said he thought so, then asked if I was. I told him I was and talked to him a bit about it and then had to find my tee shot that ended up some where near that God forsaken creek, but I could have stood there for a while asking him how all this came about. I know in general how it did, but the vision and what he was striving for, and how much of it were cues from the land and so on. Of course he had a lot of help from a talented team, but at some point, someone looked at the course, and the land, and this idea of transformation came about. Into a much more low profile design, the hills and wind more affecting, the green complexes enthrallingly vexing. That vision was conceived at some point and that’s what I’d be interested in learning more about.
Of course, that answer may lie with the history of the course. Some of the holes have been restored some what and as the course evolved, cues from prior versions may have helped bring this all about. In no way is this a do over, or hitting the reset button; it’s an interesting path by perhaps restoring what’s worth restoring to some extent, then incorporating the other extreme of that by trail blazing in an entirely different direction. While there’s restoration that moves us forward, there’s also bold renovation that does as well. Rolling Hills Country Club in California is another example of a course completely changing its playing structure, and philosophy. While I feel that course is heavily under rated for its impact of course architecture, it was due to the renovation, which looked forward in deciding how the most interesting golf could be conjured from the land. That renovation also incorporated additional land that was acquired, so it’s a bit different than Llanerch’s project, which did so on its existing land. And this isn’t a course that is struggling, or suffers from some poor reputation rumblings; it was well thought of before and seemed to decide what would make the most interesting and engaging golf? Do we have it now or can we improve? That is what moves us forward in this art. Engagement and interest. Some times, that means moving beyond the trends and, when done well, you end up with something special.
I enjoyed the new first nine so much that the new second nine was almost like playing with house money. I wasn’t expecting as dramatic of a change on that side while some changes, like the mound at the Fifteenth, I hope wouldn’t come off as too experimental. After playing it the first time, I realized it was much better than I anticipated. If anything, the theme of the renovation is crystallized with the changes on this side, as the greens were widened and more specifically, their entry points were widened a lot. With a lot less trees, those who hit way wayward tee shots (like me), can decide whether to hop it back to the fairway, go for the green, or maybe find safety some where in between. The wide entry points have splintering short grass collection areas here and there that really aren’t bail out areas but rather are tougher than the bunkers they replaced. Whether to putt, chip, or even (gasp) use the old hybrid/fairway wood bump and run are all in play. They remind me of the 2015 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where those short grass areas around the green gave the players fits. Kaymer was some how dialed in with his putter and used it for all those shots, on his way to victory. It’s not the only thing that reminds me of Pinehurst. Perhaps it was being there so recently, or my infatuation with the greens at number 2 or 3, but the greens are very complex, deep and sophisticated. There were multiple times I walked off a hole and declared to the entire group I needed to come out and study the contours, as the directions the ball would take defied physics.
Objectively, the course has been taunting me recently. World class shots are not awarded properly, but get thrown to the side in comical lies and angles. On the Fifteenth, I hit a belting tee shot for all to admire, only to have it fall on the left side, in the mounds of rough. What seemed like a simple wedge shot turned into a fit of strokes, piling on like flapjacks. I stepped back, and gave myself a pep talk: You’re in what they call the fucking Pit. It’s supposed to be hard to get out of. At that point, it dawned on me the course demanded a level of mental resolve I wasn’t expecting. And that made me smile, even if it looked like a grimace. It’s not about hitting good shots, but correct ones. How the terrain treats the shot must be accounted for, despite how great it looks in the air. And of course, rub of the green is very much in play.
In all, the course transformed and now has several dimensions to it. The age old principle is very much now alive and well here; the closer you get to the pin, the more difficult it is to get in the hole. And from that hole, each shot must be planned backwards all the way to the tee. There are angles into the greens that are unfavorable from certain sides of the fairway. There are pins that cannot be accessed from particular areas. Harkening back to Pinehurst yet again, there are times that hitting shot to the pin is the worst decision and instead, the golfer must figure out how to coax the ball close using the contours of the green. The width is a newfound freedom to approach the holes in several different ways yet there’s now a mental agility one must acquire to deal with the ever changing shot scenarios out there created by the randomness of the terrain. Its heathland style is unique to the area, its bunker transformation a different and welcome direction than current design trends its incorporation of various hazards subtle and brilliant. Rich with character and now relying on the terrain in thousands of different ways for its versatility, the course brings back a much more interesting style of golf with its changes. While the project was not a restoration as typically defined, its changes certainly return us to a historically significant era of golf all while moving us forward by showing how impactful renovation can be when all those involved are willing to break free from what has been in place for so long, make bold choices and embrace a style all your own. Llanerch now has a distinct identity in more ways than one. As one who just began membership there, it’s exciting to watch that identity take shape and evolve as time wears on.
The First. The trees on the right are now gone, replaced with bunkers. The cart path and bunker on the left is also gone. The fairway and green are wider while the greenside bunker on the right is much deeper yet closer to the green, terrifyingly very much in play.
The visual from the opening tee is more open, more inviting, more full of possibilities. Before, the opener was precarious, little room for error, setting the tone for the ball striking gauntlet to come. The current staggering of the bunkers on the right with the fairway tilting from right to left, both shots are strategic with a lot of different areas to attack from. And since you asked, yes, yes of course I ended up in that deep coffin bunker, against all odds. It was as much as fun as imagined.
The Second. Trees on the right off the tee are gone. Along that right side is the sharp mounding seen throughout. An entirely different kind of hazard that could result in just about a billion different lies and recoveries, they’re spectacularly distinct in how they penalize. The green complex is wider, the bunker on the right side gone and the left bunker moved out a bit. The bounce and roll near the green was a great sight and the punch shot was the deadly weapon I always knew it would be some day.
The Third. Less trees on the left now and bunkers staggered on the right, again suggesting some strategic decisions off the tee, wanting to favor that right side but having to consider when mounding or a bunker will ruin the best laid plans, which of course are always paved with good intentions. At the green, the right side bunker was removed while the left side bunker enlarged. Decisions on sides is now at hand, and which miss can you live with more. The rear of the green is also larger, so get aggressive on that approach.
The Fourth. Quite simply, this is one of my favorite par 3’s in the area and I remained interested what would happen to it. The bunker walls show different, more stoic and structured, while the cart path that crossed the hole for some reason is now thankfully gone. But the change I was hoping for came through, which was widening the entry point and placing more emphasis on the right to left movement of the green. The bunker on the right becomes much more attractive and dangerous at the same time, yet those that are able to land near it on the high side of the green will see their ball move towards the center of the green, hopefully closer to the pin. The banking and sloping around the green is now a lot sharper as opposed to the gradual slopes before. Improvements at all the right places.
The Fifth. Trees and bunkers were removed, ripples and mounds are now off to the left before the green and the most significant change is to the green itself. The front bunkers have been removed and in its place is short grass and hard slopes. This opens up an array of shots into the green, yet the contours and slopes are much more challenging to decipher than the straightforward bunker shots that awaited before. The right side of the green starts to really charge to the edge, yet there are interior spots where things will shift directions or slow down. The left side is safer to land on, but the shallowness of the green means any shot can easily run off if not accounted for properly. The change to the green is more restorative of what was here in the past. While the first two shots require proper skill to get to an advantageous approach shot area, the hole really changes gears from the approach to the green with its flexibility in receiving so many different shots in, and recovery shots.
The Sixth. Alternate tees are now positioned directly behind the Fifth green and the real noticeable change is the enormous tree on the right is gone. in its place is what I call the donut bunker. The fairway is a little wider and seems to move a little bit more from left to right. The left fairway bunkers are now gone. The green is bigger, a wider entry point with more bunker removal. The sharp steep sides of the green are now pronounced and the movement much more wild. The run up to the green is sleek and green complex cleaner. The fescue lined bunkers dominated the green area before but now, the golfer rues the day the green needs to be attacked from the sides.
The Seventh. The tee shot remains similar but the fairway bunkers are now gone and the left to right slope of the fairway is much more pronounced. A lone tree remains at the right side near the green. While it seems to be in place to guard against the longer hitters, I’d like to see it go. It blocks out well hit tee shots from the center to the right side, forcing a much more shot out to the left. The green is well defended with its contours and the creek, so trust those defenses and get rid of the tree. The green moves from back to front, towards the creek. I really like the green and its surrounds. With the creek, that Wilshire comparison feels apt.
The Eighth. After crossing the road and seeing the holes that have yet to undergo revisions, the next three offer another look at the new work. Schneider drew inspiration from the Sixth at West Sussex here. The tee boxes were shifted to the right, away from the cart path and bringing the water more into play off the tee. The fairway leading up to the green was widened to the creek on the right side, intrinsically bringing it into play a bit more. The creek risk continues with the entry point to the green more off to the right, yet wider than before, the tiers shelved right in front of you. Mind the rear bunker, which is between the green and the Ninth tee and can be considered purgatory, for the scorecard or match at least. The new angles into the green are a great change, adding more strategy and variety of acceptable shots.
The Ninth. One change that seems more practical yet takes away some of the quirk was the re-positioning of the tees so they face the fairway head on. Before, the tees were angled to the tree line on the right. Hugh Wilson, among others, were known for positioning tees towards hazards or out of bounds so the golfer would need to heighten their awareness and adjust accordingly. It is a tougher tee shot so perhaps the positioning helps but I liked the temptation presented to try and draw the tee shot towards the tree line and have it come back. At any rate, near the green is now staggered in how bunkers and mounding were placed as you get closer to the green. This widens areas near the green yet provides a bit more defense on each side, especially for those trying to reach the green in two. I also noticed the joy of firm and fast as I was able to maneuver my ball from the rough and have it bound from the lower apron to the green, only to see it settle off the other side. I like the green complex more now. The staggering and the, “side selection” are good fun, just the right place for these conditions and engaging an entirely different dimension of the game.
The Tenth. A narrow tee corridor is now friendlier with the removal of the bunkers on either side, the trees enough challenge for those wayward off the tee. At the green, however, received the most change. A much wider green now, the greenside bunkers on either side reduced, now sits on a plateau of sorts, with two distinct levels, one before the green, then a wall of grass, before the green. Shots short of the green now come into many different scenarios, whereas before their fate was almost certain to be sandy. The approach is decidedly more inviting yet deceptive since some places on that green are going to be trickier recoveries than if you ended up in the one of the large bunkers that used to reside here.
The Eleventh. The fairway bunkers reachable from the tee are now gone, the tee shot is now more simplified, a welcome respite yet it’s necessary to hit the fairway to set up the longer approach. The bunkers have been reduced in size but not severity. The green is large, just like before. It seems to eschew shots towards the edges. The changes aren’t as dramatic as to the other holes but it didn’t need it.
The Twelfth. This hole, however, is a dramatic difference from before. What used to be a smaller green severely tilted from back to front surrounded by large rolling bunkers is now a much larger green. Less back to front tilt but a good deal of interior undulations, the slope off the right side more pronounced and an atypical intrusion at the entry point with a couple meddling bunker mounds looming. Hitting the green is really only half the battle here and those who are off the green on either side likely have it a bit worse. Yet that elasticity is now present where the hole can be attacked a million different ways. Tee placement can also vary a lot and with the wind, I have taken anything from a 4 to an 8 iron here in my limited rounds. I like this hole quite a bit more now.
The Thirteenth. Speaking of dramatic change, there are a few key ones here. The tees are now off to the right and closer to the hole. What once was a blind tee shot is no more. The green is now in view from the tee and it feels much closer. The horizon from the tee is a bit staggering for the uninitiated. A couple deep set bunkers are off to the right but otherwise it looks like all the room in the world to do as you wish from the tee. The fairway is wide yet narrows as it gets closer to the green. The green falls off severely on the sides and back, as well as moves from right to left at a good click.
The Thirteenth is a great example how the course has transformed in general. It may appear the tee shot is now easier because of the width and in terms of getting in a position for an approach to the green, that is likely correct. Yet the challenge and strategy have shifted. The challenge of getting the tee shot to an approach shot that allows you to access the pin is an entirely different story. The green is deceptive. It may appear harmless, but its movement takes most shots and throws them off the left or back side. The front right quadrant is really the safest landing area to avoid this. Of course, you can try to run it on from the entry point but that shot must also be taken with just as much precision, as too fast with see the same fate and too light will slow down before reaching the green.
The first time playing the hole, my tee shot flared to the right, seemingly near my house a few miles away. I still had a shot to the green, in rough, the green completely blind except for the flag of the pin, and my ball ended up a few feet from the hole for a birdie. I didn’t realize it at the time just how fortunate I was with that shot (and how I probably couldn’t do it again), as just a few feet in either direction would have sent it off the green in undesirable positions. Yet the challenge of the recovery ramped up commensurate to the crappiness of my tee shot.
With another recent round, a player in my group hit his tee shot chipping distance to the green while I hit my tee shot in one of the bunkers. My second and third shots were pretty good, getting me to a comfortable par putt, while the longer hitter had trouble with the green and ended up with the same distance par putt, yet he was above the hole and I was below. I made and he missed. The tee shot is a single aspect of a hole and here, the complexity that shot actually has does not immediately reveal itself. It’s not until you see how it interacts with that green that you see there’s much more to it and a well belted tee shot close to the green still means you have a ways to go before counting on par or better.
The Fourteenth. The stretch between the Thirteenth and Sixteenth takes on the cadence of an accordion in how it constricts and lengthens, then constricts and lengthens again. A short par 4, then a long one, a short par 4, then a par 5. With the length differences comes adjustments to strategy and at the Fourteenth, its brawniness will not be denied. The tree removal was considerable. There was almost an entire forest on the left side of the fairway which is now gone for the most part. Instead of having to punch out of any tee shot that doesn’t find the fairway, there is now the option of trying for the green or some other area short of it. The bunkers around the green are still mostly intact but those on the left side have a little more panache. The green is larger now and ground game is very much part of the hole, so much so that running the ball from the bottom of the hill is worth a consideration. Even a well hit tee shot will mean a longer approach into the green, so accounting for the terrain and if there’s a way to run the ball on gives the hole more versatility. Also, do not go long.
It’s still a very challenging hole but now has much more variety in that challenge. The deep green is one of my favorite on this side, especially liking how its pools off to the right and left in front. Those who know the green complex well will fare much better than those who have the length to get there but then are lost within those contours.
The Fifteenth. This was a hole I liked a lot the way it was and was a little uneasy on the proposed changes. A mound running lengthwise bisecting fairway and green, inspired by the wall at North Berwick, was bold and I was concerned may come off as gimmicky. I anticipated the mound would be much taller than it actually is and that has proven to make a world of difference. Instead, it strikes the right note between subdued and dominating, certainly coming into play so you can decide to hit over it or use it to roll your ball on. The left side of the mounds features rough and a whirlpool of bunkers, a nasty little swatch of trouble called the pit. It’s not all that far away from the green but the combination of lies, footing and angles to the pin can get you seething in a hurry. This area can be cleared from the tee if the shot is long enough, which is then rewarded with a clean wedge into the green. The tee shot can also cede to the right side of the mound, which is much safer than wagering against the pit, but then you’ll need to cross the mound to the green on the next shot, which possibly brings the pit into play at that point. Another option is going up the right side of the mound, then crossing over to the green with a putt or chip. This takes the pit out of the equation completely, but the green will be tough to take on from that side. In fact, the green is devilish, running from back to front, terraced and swales on either side affecting rolls.
This was the most pleasant surprise of the changes. The hole is indeed better, retained all its strategic character and then some and I find it more challenging than it was. The general theme of the changes are exemplified here.
The Sixteenth. This hole was most in need of changing. A straightaway par 5, the fairway was long and narrow, relying on the green for a lot of its identity. The tee shot is relatively the same except for losing some trees and the short right fairway bunker. The fairway is now broken up with a group of bunkers, with the left most one climbing high up and flaring itself, which can be seen from the tee. The second shot will need to decide whether to take those bunkers on or lay up short of them. The green is still large and deep, a lot of it preserved, even the thumbprint off to the left.
The Seventeenth. The closing sequence includes this penultimate short par 3. The hole was originally modeled off of the Fifth at the Kings Course at Gleneagles. The tee moved towards the creek creating a better visual, more mounding off to the left, the front bunkering also changed to now become more natural looking rather than the three symmetrical ovals from before. And the path was reconfigured to take it out of view. Some great aesthetic changes and along with more room at the rear side, it still plays great, very much in line with what you encounter at a volcano green, which I can’t begin to talk about how fond of those I am.
The Eighteenth. A great finisher, some widening and shifting of the tee did well to consider playing towards the tree in the fairway so you can access a friendlier and wider sloping into the green off to the right (sans a bunker on that side, or at least moved to the left more). It’s amazing how many more options now become realistic and capable of pulling off.
Enough has been said. The transformation was profound and I find the new course an engaging, sophisticated play that addresses all the things I hold dear about the game. It’s a course I suspect I’ll never know completely, always surprising me with unexpected directions, rolls or bounces. From a member’s perspective, that endless journey is ideal.