“What so tedious as a twice-told tale?” – Homer
In a Golfadelphia exclusive, we start the new year with a confession. My chief concern; my biggest fear, at least as far as my writing is concerned, is repetition. Repetition in what I write about courses, repetition in how I see them or talk about them, repetition in thought. Indeed, I spend most of my time thinking . . . striving, to make each review new, different, distinct. Some times that’s easy. Other times, not as much. Yet as this fear has plagued me over the years, 2023 is the time it comes to an end. That’s because I realized it could never happen. Or even more to the point, I’ve realized repetition ain’t that bad of a thing in this context.
The drive to Bandon certainly wasn’t repetitive of last time. After finding a hell of a bottle of bourbon at a Eugene liquor store (the cashier called it an “Easter egg”), the trip started off with a bang. That changed quickly as the sun went down and a monsoon descended on us. Dark, pools of water on the curvy steep hills, we some how managed to survive unscathed even as we drove past a couple accident sites of others not so lucky. We had dinner at the same place we dined the first night five years before, even had a tee time at the same time in the morning from five years before. As I went outside in the morning, I saw the sun starting to rise. It was beautiful, signifying the promise of the trip. All the fun, scenery, peace and comradarie that was ahead. I took a photograph of it to capture that moment. And yes, I took the same photograph from the same place on the same morning of the trip before.
“Haven’t we had this conversation before?” – George Costanza
It didn’t matter. The same feelings, the same viewpoint, the same circumstances and it didn’t matter. It hit me the same way and the impact was no more powerful. Of course, this is not novel. We watch movies more than once, read books more than once, go to restaurants and order the same dish more than once, drink the same wine more than once . . . golf the same course more than once. Repetition is the cousin of tradition and routine while more directly the father of pedagogy. We desire repetition in our golf game besides. I have watched the move, “Vacation” an infinite number of times. I know every line, every cue, every nuance, yet I watch it all the time and enjoy it just the same. Laugh at the same parts. There’s a comfort there yet there’s life experience I have from one viewing to the next that some how comes into play as well.
What I’m really talking about is how I characterize golf courses. How the terrain is used, how the greens are configured to the fairways, how the bunkering comes into play, the shaping, the greens. The setting. Figuring out how to describe these things and express the identity of a course in a unique way is what I enjoy doing, yet it can become challenging. Trying to come up with a different yet really good way of explaining why a course like Shinnecock Hills is a great course can be challenging, especially when much has already been written, some of it by far far better writers than silly old me. It’s a challenge that I welcome, however. And while I fret that my review of one course will sound a lot like another, I suppose that’s built in motivation to keep things fresh.
This also may be a long-winded of explaining away this preview is following the same message as years past. I set forth some things last year in my preview, didn’t do most of them, then I use the preview to laugh it off and explain my golf plans are usually too nebulous to plan this far in advance. Yes. While I know for sure at least one place I will be going (other than Bandon) this year, work, family and everything else make it tough to plan too much too quickly. Or I’m just too lazy. But just know I do have a list. A list of courses that I intend to get to this year, organized by state. I will end up playing many that aren’t on the list and some that are. But the cardinal rule is I play courses I think I will find interesting. That’s it. Fame, fortune, exclusivity, rankings, how many times it hosted the Awesome Golfer Open; it doesn’t factor into the equation. I don’t feel the need to boast where I played and I buy apparel and the like from courses I enjoyed playing as a way to remind me of the experience once I leave. Does the course leave a lasting impression of character that I haven’t found elsewhere? Or is it otherwise meaningfully engaging? A course does not have to be unique to be good. It could excel as a very good example of a minimalist course, or parkland. Its shaping could make it stand out. Perhaps its the greens with the character. If I have learned anything (which is always negligible at best), the greens are usually where one can find the nerve center of the course.
Alas, another reason why I have nothing to worry about in terms of repetition. I’m always seeking courses for their individuality. Indeed, each course has individual character and that is what I try to evoke with each review. Just like that, all of this hit me as I stared at the sun rise at Bandon. And just like, my concerns and fears dissipated into the coastal fog, never to be seen or felt again.
To be on the safe side, this preview will do something it has never done. Every now and then, I’ll get questions on this and that. Some of them are below.
How did you get on Awesome Course X, or more generally, How do get on all these awesome private courses?
The best answer I can give is I talk about golf with anyone who will listen. I have met a lot of interesting folks that way. Also, I try to be a good guest. Leave a light footprint, be someone that’s enjoyable to golf with even if your swing is terrible. Above all, golf fast.
What’s your favorite course?
I have Shinnecock listed atop my rankings but really I’m such a nerd I always need more context with this question. Favorite course to play everyday? Favorite course for a match? And so on. What I will say is I prefer “favorite” to “best.” One is a matter of opinion as it should be while the other is to dogmatic yet impossible to answer. The truth is I could list over 100 courses I would be completely comfortable calling my favorite. There’s that much brilliance out there.
Who’s your favorite golf course architect?
Donald Ross. It was a Ross course that initially lured me into the course design universe and it is Ross that appeals to me the most. There’s a brilliant practicality to his designs that always considered every class of golfer.
You should come play golf course X and do a review of it.
I actually enjoy these. At some point in the past, I had something on the site I called, “Golfadelphia For the People,” which was for anyone to reach out and put in requests for places they thought I should visit. I didn’t get too many so I scrapped it, but I’m always interested in hearing these ideas and trying to get there. It doesn’t have to be a course you belong to either; if there’s a course I haven’t reviewed and you think it would be an interesting play, let me know!
Don’t you think every golf course by RTJ, Rees and Fazio should be blown up and re-designed?
I tried to touch on this in my Merlot and Golden Gil articles and also discuss a little bit in my review of LedgeRock. I enjoy and appreciate all types of golf courses from several different eras. Yes there are modern courses out there that are formulaic and more a cog of a housing development or a resort than anything else but there’s a lot of Golden Era courses that were likewise formulaic, some even a peripheral to a resort. Golf course design is cannibalistic out of necessity. The modern era was a time where technology was used to a large extent and pushed that envelope, claiming it would “improve” golf courses, which usually meant making them more difficult and emphasizing conditioning that was costly to sustain. We have been in an era for the last couple decades of revising what they did in the modern era (or otherwise updating/revising things that were needed over the passage of time). Some refer to the modern era as “bad” course design but I see it is a necessary step in the progression of course architecture. There’s a place for some courses to return to an earlier iteration of itself yet most should find a balance of restoration yet embrace all that has transpired since the Golden Age. I think Gil does this well. He doesn’t feel the need to deride what came before him, sees what is worth preserving from it while restoring other aspects of a project to earlier times. Golf courses need updating and revising usually just from the passage of time anyways; there’s no need to convince anyone that the design style of the 1970’s through 2000’s needs to be changed because it’s not good.
I’m of the opinion that outright dismissal of any era or style, or architect, is myopic. It’s fine to prefer one style over another, or even think one era is better than another, but it’s all part of the design evolution and I’d opt for more open-mindedness. And yes, there are courses by Fazio, RTJ and Rees I enjoy a lot without a tinge of remorse. All of them are talented course architects.
I can’t believe you like Course X so much. Course Y is so much better.
Probably. It’s all part of the discussion. All I can do is explain why I like one course more than another and it all hits us differently. This is why I enjoy writers and media outlets such as Golf Club Atlas, Adam Lawrence, Geoff Shackelford, Bradley Klein, Derek Duncan and No Laying Up. They highlight courses and course architecture with well articulated opinions and perception, instead of agenda driven content that pretends to be authoritative.
What’s on your bucket list?
A ton of stuff in Scotland, Ireland and England. And Australia.
Why are your reviews so long?
I read a lot of James Michener growing up. That might be part of it but the reviews are long form on purpose. They are meant to refer to on more than one occasion. Perhaps someone is wondering what the Fourth at Sweeten’s Cove does, they can look at photos and a description of it. For those just trying to get a general idea of a course, read the beginning and end, skim the photos.
When is “Behind the Bogeys” coming out?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it was one of these days?
Where are you playing next?
Maybe the rest of this Preview will tell us.
First, as is tradition, my first golf round of the year is already in the books. A postcard day at Pacific Dunes. The ocean was rippling tremendously way out yonder which would then calm to some gentle lapping at the beach. I enjoyed the course more the second time. Some of the green complexes reminded me of the wild fun at Stonewall North while the amazing natural terrain was certainly taken advantage of. The hole out from the bunker at the Seventh capped off a real good front nine before all the travel finally took its toll on the back. No matter. The course played very well and it was quite the start to 2023 and a magnificent Bandon trip.
It had been five years since my last visit. Like seeing an old friend after years and picking up where you left off like it was nothing, so it was at each course. I hit into that same bunker at the First off the tee at Bandon Dunes, screwed up the approach at the Fourth there and completely botched the Seventeenth, yet again. At Trails, parred the Fourteenth again. And so on. There was a comfort and familiarity with the courses yet their multiple dimensions started to show themselves. Perhaps there’s a complexity in repetition. If you could do it over again, how would you do it. I don’t know how many times before the trip I promised myself I would birdie the Eleventh at Pacific Dunes. Yet I ended up in the bunkers on the left, yet again. Is it fatalism or a self-fulfilled prophesy? Surely that is part of the game that draws us back. There’s always next time.
“This is the lesson that history teaches: repetition.” – Gertrude Stein
It was the second day during our round at Trails, however, that it sunk in. The same misty heft cloaked the air as we walked while the occasional raindrops came down to make sure we would never be parched. The late afternoon seems to clear most of the players and combined with the general isolation of each hole, it felt as if we had the place to ourselves. That nice balance finally came over us, where there has been enough golf swings and shots in such a short period of time that it starts to become like tying your shoes or cutting a steak. We would watch the ball soar this way and that. Indifferently yet with joy, immersed in the surroundings and company. A family of deer watched us casually at the Eighth, going about their business, feeling the same calm we did. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t notice the width of the entry points before. This opens up the greens from just about every angle in certain respects, yet this of course means a knowledge of the greens is in order. We reached the Eighteenth as we did all those years ago. At dusk, the comforting light of the clubhouse in the distance. It was a bit lighter this time and I was able to see my tee shot land safely in the fairway. Then a greenside bunker to the left, as I walked in that direction and talked about the differences between Sweetens and Inness. I managed to get my ball out about six feet away for par. I missed to the left edge. Oh that’s how it goes, made no difference. Contentment and peace had washed over me long ago during the round, that was what I came for. And I will keep coming back. For those same feelings, same shots, even if they happen every single time. We can only hope.
“There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence.” – Gertrude Stein
The next day was not repetitive as we braved Sheep Ranch for the first time. We decided this would be the round for our big match since no one had played it before. With up to 80 mph gusts, it’s amazing how mechanics and the like go out the window and a healthy dose of inventiveness mixed with survival kicks in. I kept everything on the ground and as low as possible. Doubles often won the hole and we kept waiting for a turn so the wind would be at our backs. The ocean mist along with some rain began to pelt us, stinging like tiny bullets on the face, eyes, soul. Someone called it so we played in from there, getting in nine holes. The wind helped me earn an eagle putt at the Eleventh, missed of course.
The weather finally calmed and we headed to Preserve. This was the last round of our last trip. We planned for the whole day at Sheep Ranch but this seemed like a good way to end things instead. Same cocktail as we headed out, same struggles at the start. Of course. It would have been so easy to repeat. I then slipped down a hill on some mud. I could have ended things with a whimper like before, the course obviously hates me. But nay, it was time. I’m a better player than I was last time, it was time to punch fatalism in the face. It was time to finish strong and leave here a glorious champion, a parade of cheers and laurels back to the Bunker Bar. Par-Par-Birdie-Par-Par finish as I heard the nearby Pacific when my ball landed in the final cup. The dunes and hills nearby blissfully silent. Alas, repetition is opportunity for redemption. For free will.
Repetition. Perhaps there’s no such thing!
As for the website, be on the lookout for a new list where course reviews are listed by state. This should make it a lot easier to see what reviews there are and for those going to particular places, they can see what might be nearby from the Golfadelphia collection.
I started a sign up for a newsletter on the home page. The first one is coming this year. Sign up if you want to read it!
Breaking with tradition, more Bandon reviews and content will be coming out soon, instead of waiting the normal few months in the queue.
Yours truly will be on a podcast coming up soon. Be on the look out!
One place I can pretty much guarantee is more Michigan this year. There’s so much good stuff out there and we barely scratched the surface last year.
I’m also targeting either PGA Frisco or Streamsong as part of Golfadelphia’s ongoing mission to keep up with the fascinating public access course architecture out there.
Locally, my plan is to try and play some of the public courses I have been meaning to get to while the weather remains mild.
More Jersey Shore Shoulder Season!
I came close last year to a trip to New Mexico. I’m going to try and make it happen this year. I also see a path to Utah via a Vegas trip….
Admittedly, it is becoming tougher and tougher to find places nearby to review for the first time. This means out of necessity I’ll start getting to more under the radar courses and places I have been meaning to get to for years. It also means it is time to start getting to the rest of those states I haven’t played in.
There is a Donald Ross design out there very high up on my list that I have not yet played. It’s probably not which one you think it is. I’m getting there this year.
I intend to play a lot more Dick Wilson designed courses this year so I can finish my article relating to him. Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida are likely included in this.
My index reached its lowest point last year but we’re talking by tenths of points. Instead of looking at single digits, I’m looking at 10. That would be 2.3 strokes; I have to be able to find that out there!
Let’s get after it out there in 2023, friends. The beauty, intrigue, company; the time on the course is meaningful, substantial, soulful time that is life well lived. That time is at hand!