6,731 yards, 123 Slope from the Blues
I learned more this day about airplanes than I ever expected in one sitting. The others in my group appeared to be plane mechanics of some sort and would talk about this plane or that as they flew overhead. The sounds they may made denoted different capabilities of the plane, some of which were apparently a bitch to fix while others were simply flying pieces of shit. They were friendly and fun for the round, letting loose and like me, eager to finally get out after being under ice most of the month. They sounded like they knew their stuff though, so whoever ends up flying in those planes can rest assured. This gave me peace of mind, because, like me, they should not quit their day jobs based on what I saw of their golf games. It didn’t appear any of us would be showing up to compete at Torrey Pines that week, which is where the PGA was at that point in all the sun and warmth of Southern California. Fortunately for us, the Pines kept a lot of the wind away while the day showed promise of staying light out a bit later. Wisps of a warmer time, but still a long way to go. So it is.
The Pines course is more inland than its counterpart, the Bay course. The Bay was closed for the off season, to my dismay. I had grown to enjoy playing the Bay during the winter as a rite of passage. But now it was finally time to stay on the clubhouse side of the road and walk among the pines. William Flynn designed the first nine holes in 1929 while one of his proteges, Red Lawrence, did some work here in 1931. David and William Gordon then added another nine holes to complete the eighteen hole circuit in 1957. William Gordon was another one of Flynn’s proteges while David was his son. As it stands today, the Third through Eleventh were designed by the Gordons. Alas, the course certainly retains Flynn character and is now one of if not the only course the public can access from Flynn in the Philadelphia area.
“The Nature Faker” by Wayne Morrison includes correspondence from Flynn in which he sets out his design philosophy for the course. Within, Flynn states that the primary purpose of the course is to, “offer an incentive and provide a reward for high class play and by high class play is meant the best of which each individual is himself capable.” Flynn also points out there are no “insurmountable compulsory carries,” that the holes are individual since each are carved out of the woodlands and are well segregated from each other. All of this remains today. Moreover, one of the main concerns in courses set out in wooded areas is that the trees will confine playing corridors but here, that is rarely the case. The fairways enjoy a good amount of width while relying on an array of bunkering ranging from dramatic to playful and of course use the trees to define dog legs and other playing structures, all of which instills degrees of strategy. The greens are of moderate size and include some contouring that isn’t overdone. The occasional elevation shift is used nicely so that in all, the course is varied and flows surprisingly well through the sea of pines. The Bay course gets a lot more attention nowadays but the Pines is a worthy counterpart, a ball striking exam emphasizing multi-dimensional positional strategy.
It had been a stubborn winter thus far. The cold and ice unrelenting, finally giving way closer to the Jersey shore for just a spell before closing back up. In fact, it would be over a month before I was able to get back out again after this round. Even this day was brisk with just hints of the sun every now and then. Regardless, I was out there with a smile.
The First is a 396 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A relatively straightforward opener with bunkers then trees on the sides. A larger bunker is at the greenside right while the entry point tightens between bunkers. The more skilled golfer will be going for position off the tee for the best approach while the lesser skilled will be striving to avoid the trouble, keep it straight and get on the green.
The Second is a 495 yard par 5. Things narrow a bit even though it’s a longer hole and the tee shot is critical to get down the fairway. The one thing about the pines is they are not very tolerable of wayward shots and recoveries most often mean having to pitch back out sideways. A bunker on the right about midway breaks up the fairway a little and demands consideration on the second shot. Those first two shots are well and good but it is the green that gets surly with its mounds and contours surrounding its smaller size. Again, the hole invites position on the first two shots while the focus on the approach and closer to the green narrows for those trying to score well.
The Third is a 193 yard par 3. Three large bunkers canvas about the hole while the green is deep and is between two of them. The longer nature of the shot brings those large bunkers into play a lot more and those that get caught in them should heed the distance across the green and instead try to use the depth of the green in their recoveries.
Up to this point, the course plays relatively flat and in a strategic style of some where such as Portmarnock by way of example. No, the courses are not similar but only in the sense that both rely on strategic hazard placement throughout the hole without going too far up or down to compensate for the level terrain. It reminded me of that style in that sense. It’s a straightforward yet subtle opening sequence before the course delves into its turns and dives.
The Fourth is a 432 yard par 4. The dog leg is almost a right angle off to the right, which is evident from the tee. A large bunker on the right puts pressure on the golfer to either carry it or makes them steer further left than they otherwise normally would. The turn must be cleared in order to have a clear approach and the safer one plays from the turn, the longer and blind the approach. The fairway dips down to the green after the turn, so those further back will only see the ridge line, not the green beyond. The green is wide and the fairway runs into the green on the left, with a bunker at the front right guarding the green on that side. It’s a romping par 4 that seems to transition the round from the calm into the rapids.
The Fifth is a 404 yard par 4. Yet another sweeping dog leg right, this one uphill from the tee with a smaller, more slender bunker on the right to contend with. After the turn, the fairway moves more downhill than we saw on the hole prior. The green is below with two bunkers at its sides. The green actually sneaks behind the right bunker, sloping down in that direction. It’s a very cool green and hidden feature that the uninitiated among us will be a little surprised by and pin positions in the back right change the entire dynamics of the hole.
It is also worth noting that thus far, there has been little to no trouble behind the greens. This is the Gordons, who firmly believed the golfer had enough trouble already if they went past the green and felt it too much penalty to twist the knife in further.
The Sixth is a 185 yard par 3. It truly is a maze of holes within the pines, as one could turn one direction or another and run into a golf hole, thinking it was the natural next on tap. This is the work of the routing, the course woven into the woods and hills nicely. A small ravine eats into the area short of the green, which was turned into an enormous bunker and sits well below the green. There is some room to miss short right of the green but this is more of a forced carry hole as the green has some subtle shifts towards the edges. A nice challenging hole coming at the right time of the round.
The Seventh is a 410 yard par 4. This is the first straight hole we have seen since the First and Second. Note the differences in how the terrain is pushed up and shaped here heading to the green. The right side is mostly raised altogether while the bunkers on the left come up as well. At those left bunker, the fairway dwindles down next to nothing until opening back up again to the green. The green is also pushed up from the fairway with a couple bunkers on the left leading up to it. Another solid par 4, with the terrain used a little differently than the opening sequence.
The Eighth is a 375 yard par 4. A dog leg left with the left tree line imposing very close early on and the right side with a trio of bunkers to think of off the tee. The left tree line comes in so close that cutting over them is an option off the tee. The mounds flanked towards the fairway certainly helps with this. After the turn, the green is close yet a bunkers guards the front and right so most approached will need to be aerial. It’s all about the tee shot here. Negotiating the array of hazards and deciding on a path can result in a nice short approach or scrambling for recovery to get back in position.
The Ninth is a 526 yard par 5. Straight out, the first fairway ends where a march cuts in from the right. It must be carried to the second fairway beyond and above. Large bunkers are short of the green, then short grass before leads into a narrow entry way to the green. Deciding which of these fairways and landing areas to use is up to the golfer, so long as the shots are straight. The green has some some undulations running back to front in general, so our work isn’t done just because we reached the green.
The front nine is starts off gentle enough before getting to its core character consisting of dog legs framed by the pines and strategic bunker placement, along with an array of forced carries and spattering of terrain movement. I would rank them 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 2, 9, 1, 3.
The back nine starts with the 480 yard par 5 Tenth. There may be a halfway house behind the Ninth green/Tenth tee but I couldn’t tell for sure since it was winter and was closed regardless. We are not back at the clubhouse though; still a lot more journeying through these woods to get there. It’s back to back par 5’s as we now tee off down hill straightaway. Bunkers have their way at this hole. They’re enormous, placed to the right at the second shot, then surrounding the green about the front. The green is elevated so the golfer will need to carry the giant bunkers and the hill to reach it. It’s a great green complex and the magnified saucer bunkers add a lot to it.
The Eleventh is a 424 yard par 4. The larger scale of the Tenth gets tamped down to a more narrow, smaller one here. The fairway takes a slight bend to the right with a couple fairway bunkers on the right side to discourage those from cutting the inside too much. Then there’s a large greenside bunker on the left adjacent to the fairly small green.
The Twelfth is a 154 yard par 3. The stretch of Gordon holes is past us and the Flynn holes recommence with a devilish par 3. A random assortment of bunkers is between the tee and green that push and tilt the front edges of the green. The green is large and moves from right to left with a few gentle contours. It should be an easy enough hole but those that fall short of hitting the green off the tee will make it much much tougher.
The Thirteenth is a 393 yard par 4. A hard dog leg left with an elevated tee shot. The fairway is wide with the turn and bunkers line the left side. Clearing the turn off the tee shouldn’t be a problem but the temptation to take more and more off will bring the tree line and bunkers off the left into a play a lot more than it should. A well executed tee shot will avoid too much greed and head straight out, which then reveals the green a short iron ahead. Large bunkers line both sides leading up to the green. Most approaches will be aerial and considering the scale of the fairway and bunkers, the green is smaller than one would expect. The tee shot rules supreme here.
The Fourteenth is a 436 yard par 4. This part of the property features a bit of hills and they’re used nicely here at one of the better holes of the course. The large bunker on the right signals the end of the fairway. It’s also a pretty good looking bunker that I always noticed when driving down Jimmie Leeds Road all those times on my way to the Bay course. It grabbed my attention with its size and shape, making me wonder just how the rest of the course might be. And in these drives, I would ponder perhaps these handsome looking bunkers were all over, which they are to some extent. The fairway cleverly snakes around that bunker and the one to the left of it, which is where the hills start to jut and rise. The approach will need to carry the rough between fairways and reach the green, which is narrow and deep with a large bunker below on either side. Both the tee and approach will need to be placed artfully among the wavy and sandy terrain.
The Fifteenth is a 236 yard par 3. A much different bunker scheme is found here than what we encountered at the Twelfth. A more natural, jagged fescue-laden sand scape is between the tee and green yet there’s a narrow sliver of fairway off to the right of it all. The rear left corner of the green is pulled up, triggering the overall movement from left to right and back to front, brisk in pace. The urge will be to favor the right side off the tee but the trees and bunker come into play quickly so that the golfer must either shape his shot to curve away from those and into the green, or settle for the front of the green. Those who want to get close to the pin will need to confront the sand and carry it. A very cool par 3.
The Sixteenth is a 219 yard par 3. Just as we come across back to back par 5’s, we now get back to back par 3’s. Each green of the par 3’s seems to abruptly end at the rear, which makes the features between tee and green a lot more relevant. Those who try to simply carry all of it with a club much too long will end up who knows where behind the green, likely in a much worse position than one of the bunkers before it. Here, the hole is long yet the shot is downhill and the green moves from front to back. Placement off the tee is vital, as those hitting the green are not assured safety every time. The entry point and the green just after it are the ideal landing areas, especially with such a longer downhill shot, which will release on to the green just enough to be in good position no matter the pin position. The rear right side might be an acceptable area and provide a better angle to the pins but the shot must carry the bunker on that side and avoid darting into the thickets beyond the green. Lots to chew on as we near the final stretch.
The Seventeenth is a 468 yard par 4. A long as hell par 4 that gives us another ninety degree dog leg, this one going to the left. The turn can take most well hit tee shots, so it’s more about brawn than finesse in simply getting the ball out there past the turn for an unobstructed approach. The approach will likely also be on the longer side, yet a bit downhill, with a large bunker on the right then left moving up to the green. There are no greenside bunkers, recognizing the strife from tee to green is sufficient challenge and allowing the golfer a bit of a reprieve as he gets closer to the pin.
The Eighteenth is a 505 yard par 5. A long, some what narrow and uphill hole meets us at the last. Bunker placement starts on the right, then to the left further up, the right further up from there, then left further up from there. So it goes, right, then left, then right, then left. The bunkers come into play at each shot so knowing what side to expect them becomes important. The fairway slithers through each set, widening and narrowing when appropriate and the general rule of thumb is the degree of width is proportional to how far away that particular area of fairway is to a bunker. The further away, the wider. Two massive greenside bunkers are on either side with the green pushed up a touch from the fairway. The green seems to move from the rear right to the front left as the pines have cleared the finishing stage, having already accomplished their task of guiding, challenging, tempting and mocking the golfer to this point. The round ends steps from where it began at the rear of the Seaview Hotel with the Bay beyond, all quiet in the midst of its winter’s rest.
The back nine asserts a lot of its identity here with changes in scale size and terrain movement from hole to hole while the back to back par 3’s makes for an interesting oddity that works. It’s a bit better than the front in my opinion and I would rank them 14, 10, 15, 16, 18, 13, 17, 12, 11.
Generally, the Pines course is a nice example of how course design wrings every ounce of interest from a wooded parkland site on mild terrain without simply narrowing playing corridors with rows of trees. Width fluctuates, the direction and frequency of dog legs is well varied and even the size of the greens and hazards transforms from hole to hole. The variety adds to the interest for sure. It’s a nice classic play with interesting architecture notes, even in the face of changes to the routing through the years. It complements and contrasts with the Bay course nicely, giving the Seaview a notable offering of two classics that puts it in rare company within the U.S.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The same as the Bay and within the hotel, it’s well adorned and equipped.
Practice area: There’s a range and practice green, all of which is shared with the Bay as well.