6,640 yards, 151 slope from the III tees
The man gazed out to the horizon from the rooftop pool. It was hot but he was in the pool doing his gazing so didn’t mind the sun beating down. LaDainian Tomlinson walked by. The man wondered whether he should go thank him for his help in winning the man’s fantasy football league in 2003. The man did a double take. Maybe the sun was in fact doing a number on him. The man decided gazing upon the horizon was too good to pass up. He was probably mistaken anyways. After a while, the man was walking in the lobby of the hotel when he thought he saw Zach Johnson. “I should go tell him who his captains pick should be,” the man thought to himself. Once again though, the man was certain he was seeing things. Later on, the man was in the locker room of the golf course he was about to play. Corey Pavin came out of one of the stalls.
The man started thinking maybe he wasn’t seeing things.
And so it was at PGA Frisco. The new PGA headquarters settled on a town a little over half hour north of Dallas and has gone all in early. Two golf courses, a short course, a putting course, an indoor Top Golf, rows of stores and bars and then upscale lodging, all of it walking distance and most of it open to the public while a large LCD screen shows golf non stop above it all. The place already has a buzzing energy feel to it. Even more so when I was there, which was when Zach made his captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup (I knew I should have went over and strategized with him). The picks were made there and like some sort of top secret beacon, the legends of sport descended upon the area for it. Indeed, warming up at the range with Pavin next to me was surreal. I heard Trevino was around and my head went on a swivel.
Frisco is doing its best to quickly become a golf destination. The two golf courses are the centerpiece; Fields Ranch East and Fields Ranch West. Gil Hanse designed the East, which had lofty aspirations before the first shovel hit the ground. It has already hosted a Champions Tour major and is scheduled to host the PGA Championship in 2027 and 2034. It will be the first time a golf course in Texas has hosted a PGA major in 50 years. I thought I heard it was slated to host a future Ryder Cup but cannot confirm that yet (rumors are that it will host in 2041). Not surprisingly, the golf course is a lot of challenge. The question is how did Hanse bring about that challenge and was it done in a way that will meet these lofty expectations for the next decade while still enticing the golfing public to want to travel to Frisco to play it, not just once but again and again.
As written by Golfadelphia a couple years ago, at first Gil discussed Perry Maxwell would be a large influence of Fields Ranch East and would feature Maxwell features such as deep bunkers and smaller greens. Even back then, he was clear that the course would stretch to over 7,600 yards, include a 611 yard par 5 Eighteenth and spectator mounds. There’s not much discussion of Maxwell at this point yet the bunkering shape is similar to his recent work at Southern Hills. It’s a clam shell rough-hewn edges look and while at Southern Hills, he seemed to individualize the bunkers more, here they are usually grouped into larger complexes. And while the greens are likely smaller here than Fields Ranch West, they are not small. There are a good many that are shallow and wide, which can give the golfer fits who doesn’t get their distances right. The size of the greens often becomes of little concern with the short grass surrounds anyways. The rough and fairways are composed of the same grass, making it easy to fatten and constrict playing corridors as seen fit by the super. Likewise, the tee areas weave and twist, so can vary their place in not just length but angles into the fairways. And this is getting at what is the most notable trait of the course. Its flexibility. It has a superb ability for the daily set up to change dramatically but beyond that, the course recognizes the certain possibility it will need to change over time. This open-mindedness is evident in how the course was placed about the terrain. In general, just about everything can be stretched, shifted, pushed, pulled or even flat out displaced and the course wouldn’t skip a beat. Consistent with this, the course is an engaging play for just about any golfer. It can play short and sure as hell can play long. It can play along the ground most of the time while those want to rattle pins may do so. Different sides of the fairway calls for different types of approaches. And so on.
Yet make no mistake. The course is a challenge. Despite the influences he intimated earlier of his work here, Gil is now taking ownership, declaring the course is a representation of his team’s beliefs and thoughts on what is a good test of golf for the touring pros, as well as the amateur. The recent Senior PGA Championship was held here and the players remarked that the course is the type of place where you need to hit it and miss it in the right place, some admitting you need time to learn how to play and still did not have it figured out yet. Stewart Cink said it reminded him of a combination of Southern Hills and Erin Hills so he was gonna start calling it Southern Erin. The challenge is indeed strategic, which centers around getting in ideal position at the greens and avoiding a lot of the hazards, which can get exponentially penal. That’s my fancy way of saying some of them are tough as shit to get out of. The bunkers are deep and it’s also the rough grass ditches and hollows, as well as the off fairway areas that range from long hay grass to marshy wetland to rugged hillsides. Yet it starts with the greens. Micro contours, subtlety and nuance made it tough to decipher the first go round and there was more than once where a well hit approach layered to the green only to take an unfortunate bounce and up in some unsavory and disgusting position. It is, however, challenge the right way.
Gil and the Cavemen found eight holes that were naturally set within the topography, so built the course around those. The Second through Fifth and Thirteenth through Sixteenth are those natural holes. The clubhouse location was set, the West course location a consideration, so there were some constraints on the routing once the focus on those eight holes was locked in. No matter, the remaining holes are likewise seamlessly in place. There is every kind of hole just about, from long to short to multi paths to do or die to tough or easy tee shots to intimidation or temptation. Gil seemed to touch all of the buttons throughout.
Fortunately, Texas was treating me right. Brimming with confidence after my personal low round the day before and feeling good about my game, I was up for the challenge of Fields Ranch East. With Corey Pavin in the group ahead of us and throngs of laughter surrounding Trevino some where close by while Zach made a last minute switch on his captain’s picks, we set out into those prairie hills once again.
The First is a 537 yard par 5 (from the III tees). Panther Creek runs about the course in almost random fashion, yet acts as a gateway to the heart of the course. It must be carried at the opening tee shot while a gathering of bunkers must be avoided at the same time. Indeed, the left side is preferable, especially because there is another group of bunkers on the right further up, so the trade off in more length on the left is one worth considering. Short of the green complex is one of those bunker, rough ditch areas that should be avoided and its placement is certainly brilliantly menacing. It is not set up against the green and is at an angle, so the further right your approach, the more exacting it needs to be in hitting the green. The green moves to the right and falls off on that side as well, so those opting for the shorter carry over the ditch complex at the left will need to figure out how to stop their ball from continuing down across the green.
The Second is a 388 yard par 4. We come upon the first hole that Gil felt was naturally within the terrain and it makes sense with the small bluff acting as the green site. Of course, the tee shot needs to get us in a position where we can get our approach on top of that bluff and the bunkers out there complicate that, as they’re both in play. The approach is up a steeper hill where the green is blind and rest assured, there are bunkers on either side of the green that are tough to make out as well. Make sure your approach is healthy enough to hit the middle of the green because those that are short, or even barely on, run the risk of falling all the way down the hill.
The Third is a 522 yard par 5. Another one of the natural holes that follows the hillside. While the West course uses most of the prominent hill, the East uses one side of it with this hole and the next. The tee shot needs to stay right of the dry wash that dominates our line of sight while bunkers separate fairway from the wash on the left. The hole sweeps to the left and climbs up the hill. A conundrum of bunkers awaits, both left and right, then a couple short right of the green, which are staggered. All of this makes the golfer consider where is his second shot supposed to end up exactly. It could be to the left of the green beyond the bunkers on that side, which leaves a nice angle in and the green acting as a back stop. It could be short of the bunkers, which avoids going into them yet leaves a more precipitous shot into the green considering its movement. Or honestly, the greenside bunker could be used, which won’t roll any where and yields a decent angle into the green. It’s a great hole and shows off the strategic challenges of the course well.
The Fourth is a 156 yard par 3. Thus far, the opening sequence has been stiff. Some may see this hole as a reprieve but the edges of the green fall off the sides and it is fairly shallow, so a substantial amount of accuracy is needed while there’s not too many places to miss except off to the right. Those off the green will be met with interesting recoveries from sand or undulating short grass.
The Fifth is a 416 yard par 4. The last of the holes on the front that were essentially found, we begin to move away from the hills and towards some of the lower lying land where Panther Creek snakes about. The creek is off to the right of the hole and many will need to hit something less than driver from the tee if they wish to remain in the fairway ahead. The green appears off to the right, on the other side of Panther Creek and its surrounding marsh land. Approaching the green head on is ideal but requires a tee shot getting almost to the end of the fairway while shorter tee shots will come in from the right and be subject to the lateral movement of the green. There’s plenty of short grass around the green if the approach misses but as we have seen, these shots need to be surgical to negotiate the various movement they’ll encounter.
The Sixth is a 435 yard par 4. Now in prairie country, the horizon infinitely before us. And this is where it happened. Being a good golf partner, I was walking about the left side of the fairway on the border of the native grass when I heard a faint buzz then a sharp pinch on my left leg. Then another, and another. I was getting bitten or stung and while they didn’t hurt all that much, I knew enough to get the hell out of there. It was then I thought I remembered hearing there’s murder hornets down here or maybe I got that wrong. At any rate, I realized I wasn’t going to die instantly and as time went by, they felt similar to wasp stings I had to go through years ago. If that was the case, it was nothing I needed to worry about now, but the next few days would suck. And most importantly, my golf swing remained unfettered.
As for the hole, the fairway narrows considerably from what we had seen in holes prior and there is some rough ditch areas on the right that should be avoided. The green is well guarded by larger bunkers, the first on the right, then greenside on the left (and right rear). The green has some devious movement that is certainly consistent with the theme of putts and shots rolling off the green, just when the golfer assumed he was safe. Always mind the speed and movement of the terrain before you. The course will whisper this to you over and over.
The Seventh is a 290 yard par 4. A short par 4 where placement off the tee varies based on the inclinations of the golfer. The bunkers on the left are first, then there is another greenside at the lower left end while the bunkers on the right are just short of the green on that side. The tee shot must consider all of them, as well as the movement of the ball once it lands. The green is L shaped with the longer end running vertically along a ridge and the rear dropping off some what. Negotiating the bunker placement and terrain movement makes for a fun hole while the green makes it challenging to score.
The Eighth is a 142 yard par 3. The tee shot is a forced carry over some wetlands area to the oblong green set at a diagonal from the tee. The tee area and green configuration is a great example of how versatile this course can be, as the angles and contours take on dramatically different meanings depending on where the tee and pin are positioned. Bunkers are at the front right and front left, yet leave room for balls to fall off between them. And yes, balls can fall off the right side as well, leaving precarious shots to a green flailing away from them. Another great shorter par 3.
The Ninth is a 418 yard par 4. Each shot is a forced carry here; the tee shot over the wetland area and the approach over our favorite Panther Creek. A center line bunker complicates the tee shot, so either favor one side or the other, or just plain carry it altogether. The green is on the other side of the creek, a bit to the right. The green moves back to front and is surrounded by a comfortable layer of short grass, then an inner surrounding of bunkers. A challenging end befitting the challenging beginning.
The front nine uses a variety of natural settings, from the wetlands to the hills to the prairies, all of it brimming with strategic challenge in both land and air. The par 5’s and 3’s shine brightest but the 4’s are not close behind. I would rank them 3, 8, 1, 2, 4, 7, 6, 5, 9.
The back nine starts with the 440 yard par 4 Tenth. Panther Creek once again demands you pass in the right way by carrying over it on the tee to a fairway that runs diagonally away from us where a poorly decided line will run off the sides and into native grass on the left and down into wetlands on the right. The angled configuration is another example of learning the course, as those unfamiliar could easily line up incorrect and see a perfectly hit shot sail well sideways of the fairway. The fairway moves a bit uphill to the green, which moves left to right and falls off on the front and right. It is a tough green to hold on approach, as well as putt less than three times on.
The Eleventh is a 376 yard par 4. The wetlands area is still on our right but the left side is pulled in more so as going over the right side of the tree is a good line. But the further right one gets, the better the approach angle into the green, whose front half runs to the front edge and rear half runs that way. It’s the smallest green on the course as well and if anything, hedging left on the approach may be a good idea.
The Twelfth is a 416 yard par 4. We continue down the same direction as the prior two holes. The wetland area on the right and trees, desert land on the left. There’s more width here than on the last hole but the contours within the fairway add to the suspense of where the tee shot ends up after the bounces and rolls. The green is on the right just off set from the wetland area. The left side of the green has a couple bunkers, precluding the freedom to come in from that side unimpeded. We have seen fall offs on almost all of the greens and here is no exception (it’s on the right).
The Thirteenth is a 191 yard par 3. A long par 3 to an uphill green with a forced carry over our friend, Panther Creek. This starts the stretch of holes on the back that Gil found naturally within the terrain. The room after the creek on the hillside shows how it had been sitting there waiting to be found. Bunkers line the left and rear of the green yet the right and short of the green are wide open with short grass area. Personally, these areas made the hole seem much easier than it’s trying to be. The right side wasn’t slick enough to send balls down the hill, so they would stay up and allow shots even pin high to roll over like putts. Even if they rolled down, I enjoy a nice uphill pitch to the green. For those trying to stick the pin, however, I could see how the hill presents issues. I would like to see the bail out area on the right with some more downhill movement, which I think would be more in line with the strategic benefits and pitfalls the course presents throughout.
The Fourteenth is a 539 yard par 5. The tee shot is over the hillside upon which the green of the hole prior sits. The hillside imparts a good deal of left to right movement to the tee shot, which is pretty much blind. The bunkers just ahead and left of the tee are almost aiming markers more than anything else. The second shot is hopefully some where on the hillside with a maze of bunkers up ahead. They are large, starting on the right side, then center, then right before left. Cunning golfers will figure out how to get around the bunkers for an advantageous approach, which can be had by air and by ground if the contours and terrain movement are used smartly enough. Those opting to lay up short of the bunkers altogether will be faced with an obscured approach a bit longer than preferred. The green site is indeed a natural one on a peninsula as tributaries of the creek border the front and left. What the course does well is have green sites subject to attack from an array of sides, in many cases more than even 180 degrees, which provides so much of its strategy and flexibility in styles of play. The green is below any approach shot area, which amplifies its movement away from the edges. It’s a remarkable hole and among my favorite of the course.
The Fifteenth is a 280 yard par 4. The bunker mountain appears from the horizon even as the golfer is trudging his way towards the approach shot at the hole prior. It’s the scene of the shortest par 4 of the course as the tee shot moves towards it. Many will take it on from the tee and in that case, will need to carry all of the bunkers on the hill and have enough to make it to the top of the hill against any wind whipping around. Others may want to move up the left side, which eventually curves and climbs up to the green from that side. The golfer is then left with a short pitch to the green, which moves back to front in general. The intimidation of the hill against the prairie horizon while the clouds and sun dance in flashy glances amongst the breezy gusts transports the golfer for a spell as he’s up there. It’s a few moments of surreality before coming back down and grinding to the end.
The Sixteenth is a 464 yard par 4. One can decide if the closing sequence starts here or the last hole, or even the hole before that and however he comes out on that, the closing sequence is impressive. Even starting at the par 3 Thirteenth, you you then to a par 5, then a short par 5 to this longer par 4, then to a short par 3 before the final par 5. Panther Creek is lurking along the right while the width is deceiving before us; there’s a swatch of fairway next a bigger swatch of rough. And of course, that could always change to more rough and less fairway or vice versa, another aspect of the course’s versatility. There’s a large mound at the green on the left which obstructs views of thew green that clear up the further one goes right. The green is on the large side, running left to right towards Panther.
The Seventeenth is a 113 yard par 3. The shortest par 3 on the course above the tee area, it’s shallow yet wide with bunkers guarding the front. There’s room to miss in the rear but it’s no where anyone wants to be since the green moves rear to front. This is all distance control, considering the wind and elevation difference.
The Eighteenth is a 517 yard par 5. The final hole certainly does not let up on challenge. The tee shot must gauge the correct angle down the fairway off to the left, as anything too far straight out will up off the right side and into Panther Creek, which manages to run about that side of the hole before crossing the fairway altogether closer to the green. The second shot is likely to set up the third, which will be a forced carry over Panther Creek to the green. The fairway turns right and drop downhill a bit to the creek, so there’s a good bit of latitude in how one goes about the second shot. The creek lurks and getting closer to it is helpful for the approach over. It also runs at an angle, so the left side is a shorter carry then the right. The green is wide yet shallow with bunkers at the rear so getting it over is only half the battle; the ball must then situate itself short of the bunkers. It’s a formidable finish yet is able to do so paces away from the clubhouse.
The back nine uses more of the hills and notable creek banks to focus the holes in a variety of angles and hillsides. The par 5’s continue to shine as do the 4’s, while the 3’s are just a bit behind on this nine. I would rank them 14, 13, 18, 10, 11, 16, 12, 17, 13.
Generally, Fields Ranch East presents a compelling strategic challenge that accentuates the various natural settings. There’s a lot to pick up on here and the challenge is not overbearing or forced upon the golfer with blunt force. Instead, it is more of a situation of a thousand cuts, as the golfer must constantly make good decisions or will be faced with even tougher ones until the scorecard starts crying uncle. I did find it one of those courses where playing for bogey freed things up some what to sneak in for par or better while trying to press seemed to backfire quickly. The other course where I employ such a strategy is Bethpage Black. Here, however, the recoveries are more sophisticated and varied while the greens much more complex. It remains to be seen how it will fare with its future tournament schedule but so far so good. The players concede it is some where that takes study and the challenge is done a variety of ways that can please the amateur with the options. Its recognition that change is always possible is significant as well, and this flexibility could be its most important asset in remaining at the forefront of relevance.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop/Practice Area/Resort/Public: The clubhouse consists of the Ryder Cup Grille and the pro shop. The Grille is a really good balance of casual Nineteenth hole ambiance while still being a great place for dining that even the non-golfer would enjoy. A very good hit. The pro shop and clubhouse in general follow suit with this balance.
Beyond the clubhouse, the entire area has quickly become a wonderful destination for the golfer. Paces from the clubhouse is the acre long putting green open to anyone who wants to play it called the, “Dance Floor.” Music plays while a giant screen is in the distance, showing golf. Retail stores line the area, ranging from an ice cream shop to of course, golf apparel. The Ice House is a great barbecue place at the other end of the Dance Floor from the clubhouse. Then there’s the short course called, “The Swing,” which Gil and Beau worked on together. The greens are worth the price of admission.
The Omni is a few minutes walk from all of this, opening at the same time as everything else. A great hotel full of different bars and restaurants, and pools and in general, various places to hang out. Everything close by and well thought out.
The practice area has everything; a full range, short game area and putting green (use the course putting green instead of the Dance Floor; they run at different speeds).
Short course, “The Swing.”
Putting green, “The Dance Floor.”