The golfer has his reasons for golfing. Those reasons are all his own and can change from time to time. Yet they are strong and stirring within him, remaining well after he has left the course. Whatever those reasons may be, the game is much more than a game for many. It certainly is for me.
Golf is art, religion, history, spirituality, focus, control, nature, humor, seething, sublime. Its vast range of emotions and settings and interaction with the natural elements is invigorating and at times, maddening. It’s deep and complex and there are answers out there you could never find any where else.
Like anyone else, the meaning of the game to me has evolved in some ways and remained steadfast in others. I’ve always been one that will swing, relentlessly, all day, if time and health permit. Every swing is a brief journey; the address full of hope and promise, the backswing all of the grit and action of the thing while the downswing is the build up to the crescendo of the hit. Then it is done and you watch the ball do as it will, the product of mind, body and the elements harmonizing, all of it channeled to that tiny ball, off on its own, subject to the randomness of life. What has evolved for me is what I derive from the game, from those swings.
The game can be so many different things to us and most of the time, it is usually the thing we need at that particular time. This has certainly led to the game becoming important to me and getting my family involved, much like my father indoctrinated me into his passion of distance running, which I’ll always be grateful for. All of this meant instead of a club where I could get away from it all, a club that would be part of it all was in order. More important than the club, however, is the course. A course one belongs to that will be played over and over, and over, at least to me, must be fulfilling in a number of ways and endure as such. Of course, the more I play and the different courses I get to all refine and adjust the type of golf I delight in. I can appreciate and enjoy most if not all of it for one reason or another yet at its core, one does have their preferences for the type of golf they’d like more often than not. I’ve always enjoyed those courses with character, an identity their own that makes you think as much as allows you to try and outsmart it in as many ways as you can imagine. The ground game firm and fast, one must think about the ball once it lands and plan accordingly. It must hold interest by being complex, which it can achieve by over tempting or deceiving or intimidating. It should be a joy to walk. Having one’s passion nearby is ideal, which intrinsically makes its more an integral part of one’s life. The more time on the course, and swinging, the better. And the closer to home, the more home will come to the course. While I grew up playing just about every sport out there, ironically the elusive one that draws me in now is the one I did not know as a child, yet the one I should have known. My children will know it.
I’m still getting to know my new course, my new club. I don’t know where the locker room is, or where I’m supposed to go if I want a burger, and I nod and smile hello to everyone who I hope to talk to more at some point. All of my time has been at the range trying to work in new irons and out on the course. I look at holes and pin positions and try to take note of the wind. I’m starting to realize which holes I’ll become fast friends with and which will start off as my nemeses. The greens are moody, some times rewarding my long putts and gambles while other times flatly slapping me in the face, out of no where. The course is why I joined, so it’s only proper that we become well acquainted. I’ve started silently cursing it at times but it’s too early for chastising. We’ll get there.
Also, I’ve only played nine holes of it. I haven’t seen the other nine holes yet since they were renovated last season. Having seen and played the nine holes on the clubhouse side, that’s all I really needed to decide on it.
I should probably be clear, though. I didn’t just play nine holes, walk into the clubhouse and sign up. I know exactly what those other nine holes look like even though I’ve never seen them personally. I’ve read all there is on the renovation project by Brian Schneider of Renaissance. I watched hours of videos of Brian talking about the renovation, even attended a Zoom gathering Brian did with a lot of us course design types where he talked about his work. All that, as well as playing the nine holes open for play that Brian worked on, led me to romping about on the fairways of Llanerch.
Llanerch is the type of intimate, strategic, old school firm and fast layout I revel in. It has character and quirk, with distinct and sharp penal features that do not rely on the visuals of bunkers as many others do, often to a fault. The course is cleanly presented, more geometric, with features more daring and fine with interrupting play and flow, like true hazards are wont to do. The par 3’s are among my favorite of all time. There are several half par holes, which amplify those decisions between being aggressive and conservative. Its identity, now more than ever, is distinct in the area. It reminds me of places I think highly of, like Wilshire and Garden City, while along the lines of Myopia, Meadowbrook in Michigan and West Sussex, some of which Brian drew inspiration from. These courses pull off remarkable golf while limiting the importance of length, cleverly. Five minutes from where I live, I’m already a spoiled brat and get testy any time the intersection of Route 3 and Manoa backs up a bit and costs me an extra minute.
Convenience of distance is a coincidental nicety, however. Without the course, there are others close enough if proximity was influential. What struck and impressed me was the renovation, and the direction it went. In the age of restoration and many trying to dial back to a prior more original version of what once was, Llanerch decided differently. Tree removal was a big part of it, which opened up the land and engaged the terrain. After all, Llanerch is Welsh for “open space.” A corollary to this is that the course is now more exposed to the the wind, yet the openness makes it accommodating for such conditions. Greens were expanded, as well as off green areas, extending on the theme started with the tree removal. More radically, bunkers have been minimized or altogether removed in many instances. This is radical only because the general trend recently has been to add bunkers, or give them the trendy blown out look, or rough their lines to make them look more jagged and natural. Here, however, the bunkers have been steepened and minimized in several instances. This increased the amount of green space yet actually becomes more effective than it large scale predecessors. The bunkers now are not to be trifled with and there’s not even a guarantee of a workable lie, or that you’ll have enough room for a backswing. I’ve had to re-groove opening the club face way open to get the ball up high in a hurry. These come into play more often than it initially appears, as the firm and fast conditions takes balls to them from areas that only look harmless. There’s now creative mounding about the course, as was done in many English heathland courses and remains today elsewhere, by way of example locally include Forsgate, Somerset Hills and Hidden Creek. Probably the most notable of these is at the Fifteenth, where a prominent mound runs lengthwise across the hole, in homage to the Thirteenth at North Berwick, which instead of a mound, has a wall configured to the hole in similar fashion. These present a unique issue and a welcome degree of randomness.
While some aspects of the course were restored, like the Fifth green, the renovation was an impressive move by both designer and the membership. I’ve heard a few times from Schneider and others that instead of trying to out-Merion Merion, or out Aronimink Aronimink, the club embraced its strengths, selectively restored aspects that made sense and focused on providing the best and most interesting course possible. It’s now excitingly unique, unapologetic in its new identify. More versatile and strategic now, its style of play is something special that cannot be found in our area.
One’s home course is where they spend most of their experience with the game, and all that encapsulates. The joy, sorrow, rage, triumph; all of it played out over time through the fairways and greens. And every course has a different path as it lives on and evolves. Whatever that path, more interesting golf should be the overarching goal in every instance. To continue learning, each round anew from the last, the journey of discovery never coming to an end.