6,429 yards, 133 Slope from the White tees
Course: Designed in 1919 by Seth Raynor, then by Stanley Thompson in 1948/50, Robert Bruce Harris in 1958, George Cobb in 1976, Geoffrey Cornish in 1979/90, Cornish and Brian Silva in 1985, Rees Jones in 1990/2002, Stan Gentry in 2002-18 and James Duncan this year, is Somerset Country Club. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Somerset maintains very much of its Raynor roots while the distinguished list of those who worked after him have done well to evolve the course within his style.
A terrific parkland setting with a great blend of hills, undulation changes, trees and water, the course uses the terrain nicely for a varied round. The Raynor character is self evident and possesses some terrific features, including the Redan at the Seventh and the subdued yet effective Biarritz at the Fifteenth. Subdued, at least in the sense of quiet, reflective and restrained, may be a good description of Somerset. There’s a pleasant charm floating about the place and with the notable history of the club and course, the classic character is impressive.
Seth Raynor is now widely and strongly celebrated amongst the course architecture enthusiasts and there’s no denying that’s in large part for his bold and unique style of crafting template holes within a vast range of different settings in a seamless fashion. It was fascinating that here, these features were distinct, yet not in as much of an imposing manner as seen at most courses. While the course has seen its share of work performed throughout its century of existence, which has included changes in the routing and some of the holes, its Raynor lineage has been preserved and is still recognized by those keeping score at home. While many Raynor courses are good because of his design, it felt like Somerset is a good course in its own right, then elevated to an even better course with Raynor involved, if that makes any sense. Gentle, relaxing. . . courtly; Somerset is all of these and in terms of the universe of Raynor courses, is a fine example of how effective subtlety and conviction can conspire together for terrific golf.
This was my first time golfing in Minnesota and really, was my first time in Minnesota period, outside of landing for a connection or two through the years. Crossing the Mississippi River on the way to the course was a surprise for some reason, mainly because I forgot how far North the river reaches. I decided to walk, take in that northern air and knock another state off my list. In terms of taking in the charms of the state and enjoying an engaging round of golf, you could do a lot worse.
The First is a 351 yard par 4 (from thw White tees). Slightly uphill to the green, staggered bunkers on the right, then left, all to the green. The undulations and general tilt from left front to back right of the fairway is subtle and there is enough width for various avenues to the green. The greenside bunkers are on the left and below the green, which moves quickly and undulates from back to front. A great opener.
The Second is a 411 yard par 4. We now go downhill in the direction of the clubhouse, a bunker on the left, then water on the right further up, coming into play on the second shot. The bunkers, used sparingly yet strategically and effectively, lets the terrain and shaping do most of the talking for the course. Here, the fairway bunker on the left is actually hidden by a ridge and the subtle contours of the fairway shift once you get to it. Bunkers on either side of the green, moving from back to front.
The Third is a 473 yard par 5. Starting the trek into the hillier portion of the course, this dog leg left starts to climb after the tee shot. I’ve said it before, but parkland courses mean there are trees and their management can be the difference between a good and not so good course. Here, trees line many of the holes, but the fairway width allows the course to flourish nd the trees typically come into play on the most egregious of shots. That is the case at the Third, but it is necessary to clear the trees on the left for an unobstructed view of the green.
The approach shot is a fantastic one. The green is set on top of a ridge as the fairway climbs up to it, with bunkers carved into the ridge on the right. Any shot ending up short will likely roll away from the green. All other shots are blind, so intending for the back of the green, or even its center, requires a leap of faith, yet is necessary to reach it. A deceptively challening par 5.
The Fourth is a 145 yard par 3. This is the Short template hole of the course. Surrounded by bunkers on all sides except the front, the tee sits slightly above the green, which is large and fraught with all kinds of delightful internal contours, yet generally moves from back to front. The bunkers are well below the green and with their narrowness, can make some lies downright treacherous. The green is receptive, yet once on it, becomes an entirely different adventure. Lots of various pockets of movement. While I don’t believe this hole is from the original design, no matter. It is a well done Short.
The Fifth is a 486 yard par 5. The trees do confine the tee shot a bit, or at least present that visual. The tee shot is elevated to a fairway that climbs and bends to the right to the highest point of the course. The fairway is steep and the shot to the green is blind, more wide than it is deep. The second shot is flexible and depends on how you would like to deal with the hill. There are bunkers short of the green, so those who try to belt one close to the green will need to account for those while those laying up should account for the areas where the ball will not catch the hill and could roll away from the green. Steep uphill holes are tricky to pull off but this is the only one on the course and its flexibility ensures it remains more fun than daunting.
The Sixth is a 424 yard par 4. A nice view up here, with the city line off to the left with nothing but trees leading up to it. From the highest point, we come tumbling down, where the fairway dog legs right and then ramps up to the green. There is a lone fairway bunker on the right to contend with off the tee and of course the trees keep you honest but again ensurong a clean look at the green is necessary. The green is positioned well in a natural little nook, giving it a semi-punchbowl feel. While many punch bowls provide a sense of freedom and allow you to go full bore at the green with reckless abandon, knowing the slopes will bring the ball towards the center of the green, here the the trees take that freedom away a bit. Ending up short is fine all day yet it gets tricky quickly if you’re off to the sides of the green. A great approach and green complex.
The Seventh is a 177 yard par 3. It’s the Redan and what a glorious one it is at that. Set on a hill and at an angle from the tee, the green is deep, with bunkers running the length of the left and right of it. Hitting the front of the green and have the ball roll down towards the pin seems ideal, yet so does a nice high draw to accommodate that slope, or even a fade over the left bunker to land softly on the green….and well you get the point. Infinite pin positions here can dramtically impact the play of the hole as well, adding to its versatility. In short, it’s a great par 3 and as we move through the round, we come to find the collection of par 3’s here are tremendous, showcasing how effective templates can be used on fitting terrain for thrilling golf.
The Eighth is a 378 yard par 4. Heading back towards the direction of the Sixth tee and the hilly fairway of the Fifth in the distance, the fairway here slopes from left to right and provides more width than we’ve seen in a while. Like the Sixth, the green is set wondefully within the mounds, which have them moving from right to left and there’s a great sideboard area to the front right and right of the green. The birdie putt dropped here and still in the afterglow of the Seventh, was enjoying the round immensely.
The Ninth is a 400 yard par 4. Heading back to the clubhouse, the tee shot is a little more confined than the Eighth yet there’s still ample room to manuever as you see fit. A bunker on the right encroaches the fairway and as the fairway cants slightly from right to left, flirting with it off the tee is a decent idea for a nice approach. Water on the left narrows where you can end up on the approach and as we’ve seen throughout the front nine, the sway from left to right in terms of hazards and landing areas is well done and promotes shot shaping, instead of attacking the hole from one side through the green. The entry from fairway to green is generous and with a large green, a gentle comforting end to the front nine is virtually inevitable.
The front nine takes on the hilly part of the property. The par 3’s are very good while the par 4’s are as well with the placement of hazards from one side to the next, as well as the diverse and intriguing green complexes. My ranking of them would be 7, 4, 1, 8, 6, 9, 2, 3, 5.
The back nine starts with the 354 yard par 4 Tenth. A straight hole but the ridge off the tee makes the shot, and the rest of the hole up to the green, blind. On the other side, the green actually dog legs left , with the lower tier on the back left side. Blind shots used sparingly yet effectively add to the thrill of the round and that’s the case at the Tenth. The green, and its movement, are similarly thrilling, starting this back nine off on the right note.
The Eleventh is a 153 yard par 3. The green is slightly raised with a front bunker guarding the green. The sides fall off into bunkers or run off into rough. It’s wide, yet the water on the left and trees on the right place some pressure off the tee. That front bunker made the hole for me, inserting some trepidation into decisions made.
The Twelfth is a 511 yard par 5. This is the Road hole. The tee shot is over water to a fairway that rises up before turning downhill and to the right, off to the races on the way to the green. A wallop of a drive can hit that hill and advance down the fairway quite a ways, while a second shot perched atop of the hill ain’t too bad either. Set up the approach shot so you have your preferred line into the green. The green is immense, but it’s right side falls off into a trech bunker that runs along that entire side. The green runs in that direction too. It’s a fantastic green and with an equally exciting tee shot, is the best par 5 on the course.
The Thirteenth is a 366 yard par 4. This is the Cape hole. A small creek needs to be carried off the tee and take as much off as you can, yet consider that the creek runs in that direction, so the more you want to take off, the more the creek may come into the picture. The fairway then moves uphill to the green. The right side of the green is protected by a bunker while the movement is very quick since it’s set on a hillside. Lots of fun here.
The Fourteenth is a 394 yard par 4. A downhill tee shot to a fairway canting right to left. Using the fairway off the tee to get left enough to clear the trees for an approach is a good idea. The fairway dips down abruptly, creating enough of a valley to carry the green on the approach. The bunkers are on the left of the green, consistent with the slope and fairway movement. I fear for those who have to hit a fade, or even a left line to the green with that slope and water on the extreme left that could come into play with some of the worse misses on that slope. We are cooking with gas.
The Fifteenth is a 220 yard par 3. This is the Biarritz hole. There are so many things I like about this one. Its length and along with the elevated tee and wide green, there’s a good amount of room for a variety of tee shots. The subtlety of the biarritz is impressive. The large green invites all of these tee shots and by the time you get to the green, the biarritz has asserted itself without you even realizing it. Putting is thereafter a complex web, the trap has been set. Very well done.
The Sixteenth is a 503 yard par 5. A gentle dog leg to the right, moving downhill after the tee shot, with trees on both sides. The fairway seems to keep turning even through the green, so staying on the left side for a clear following shot becomes the task at hand. The green is level with the fairway and heartily welcomes the ground game. The sunken bunkers around the green were the stars of the green complex though.
The Seventeenth is a 312 yard par 4. A short par 4 that doge legs wildly to the right, diving into a group of trees and hiding there. This hole just didn’t fit with the rest of the course for me but does present a unique challenge; laying up off to the left is conservative and sets up a short approach while there will be those that cannot fight the temptation to wail away for the green. Trees along the right are heavy though and shroud the terrain, which moves deeper into those trees to the right. I suppose the hole could play a little like a Cape, where those hitting it longer try to cut off more and more of the hole, flirting with that tree line, but it felt out of character with the more subtle and complex holes where the strategy wasn’t so blunt. It certainly rewards course knowledge and is in a good place for match play.
The Eighteenth is a 395 yard par 4. The trees make way for an elevated tee shot to a fairway that falls before rising to the final green. The placement of the bunkers well short of the green are in an interesting position but with the entrypoint to the green wide as the fairway, there’s a lot of different ways to get there. There are some gentle contours to pay attention to on the green before knocking it in and retiring to the confines and comfort of the beckoning clubhouse.
The back nine is on gentler land that is more rolling, with a great collection of all different par holes. Lots of variety and impressive template holes that lean more towards subtle sophistication then daring distinction. I would rank them 15, 12, 10, 14, 13, 18, 11, 16, 17.
Generally, Somerset is a well done classic parkland aeccentuating a refined Raynor style that coincides with the terrain. The array of shots and ways to get around the course, the thrill of some of the tee shots and most of the green complexes and the clever bunkering all make for a great course. The work done by a who’s who of course architects through the years seems to have kept the course in nice pedigree. Maybe not all of the course is the exact original design, but it’s a great example of how a course can refine with age and the proper attention. Nothing out there signifies an original design is the best design and there are a million reasons to stray from it in the best interest of the course. Again, Somerset shines through as some where able to retain its historical identity with the right kind of work done to it. It was a delightful Raynor course that is the kind of place I always hope to run into on this neverending journey.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Understated, yet both are well endowed. A great selection of equipment and apparrel while the clubhouse is a slice of home more than anything else.
Practice area: A range, putting green and short game area