6,782 yards, 139 slope from the II tees
A man sits at a bar with his Shiner Bock. Aside from the bartender at the other end talking with staff eating before his shift, the place was empty and just the right amount of quiet. It seemed like a very Texas place to the man. Lots of wood, whiskey, just the right kind of formality in how the bars and rooms were set up, a touch of hipsterness around the edges. The man liked the bar. As he ate his bison burger and eyed the bourbon bottles, the man realized he was fairly tired. Not tired in the sense he needed a nap or something but tired from just how intense the journey had been recently. The unknown bars such as the one he found himself in, they’re all over, along with the hotels, restaurants, airports and yeah . . . the golf courses. All of it, all over. The check ins and rental cars and restaurants where this or that just had to be tried and the starters with their speeches and pro shops with all their stuff I can’t get enough of and hotel rooms, some of them all the same and some of them strange and creepy, and are we walking or riding and caddies, the sunset rounds and those where we’re first out and sitting on the balcony or Ben’s porch or a dock or a bar or a bar or a bar. It had been coming at the man all at once lately. And he loved it. But a man has to rest, take some time to think about all of it. The man doesn’t listen to country music normally but after that bison burger, he decided on a whiskey, turned off his phone and sat on that barstool listening to whatever country was coming through the speakers. Time stood still for a bit. And he was glad. For it all.
Fields Ranch West was one of the courses the man was thinking about. Well, that and the wasp stings on his legs but that story is for another time. These Fields Ranch courses. The West, and then there’s the East. But the East is also a story for another time. The man had to separate it. Back to the West. He shot his personal best round there, an 80, so he was thinking. Yes, he was thinking why that ball didn’t just take another half roll and go in at the Sixteenth, he would have broken 80 for crying out loud. But more importantly, the man really liked Fields Ranch West. He had to separate it though. What if he played poorly, would he still like it. And why. And how powerful are those reasons. Like are they powerful enough to want to travel back down here and play the course again. And why. And of course, how do the West and East compare and contrast. And which course would he play if he could only play one. And why. And was there anything about the West new and different from every where else the man had been. And how. And . . . how in the hell do you stop fucking wasp stings from itching so much. As you can see, the man could think himself in circles if he wanted. Yet in some strange way, he liked the exercise. He sipped his bourbon, and the country music drawled on.
The Fields Ranch courses are part and parcel with the PGA’s recent moving of its headquarters to Frisco, Texas. The two courses are the focal point of a larger, long range plan to put Frisco on the map in terms of command golf destinations in the U.S. While the East is slated to host majors and probably Ryder Cups and pro tournaments along with several amateur tournaments, the West is supposed to be more friendly and fun. Yet beyond the differences between the courses, it should be noted first and foremost that both are unique for their focus on strategy and sophistication. This is impressively rare for such a golf resort with a lot riding on its success. It would be not unexpected if such a place, even now, fell into the standard rote of focusing on conditions and difficulty and amenities but refreshingly, that is not the case here. Instead, both courses seemed intent on character and variety and endlessly engaging golf. The Fields Ranch courses have legacy in mind, all in the right ways. They are in it for the long game.
Fields Ranch West opened a few months ago and was designed by Beau Welling. Most known for his involvement with TGR design, his collaborations there include Bluejack National, El Cardonal at Diamante and Payne’s Valley while his own design company has worked on a number of courses, including Stanford University. Welling relied on some of the more dramatic features on the site such as a bluff that is one of the higher points in the area, which the routing uses smartly a number of times throughout the round, as well as the craggy banks of Panther Creek that takes its time winding through the property. Of course the prairie is dominant throughout, its flatter terrain incorporated with gentle shouldered green complexes hugged by larger short grass flanks. All of this results in a course that is up for whatever the golfer is looking for. If that is a score, then its well contoured greens conspiring with the natural ground movement and strategic fairways are more than ready to challenge. If it’s fun the golfer is after, its width and flank areas do well in keeping most every shot in play and encourage various styles of play throughout. This is all in a routing that takes its cues from the natural surroundings yet moved earth when necessary. The flood plain, as well as logistics considerations all were part of the design as well.
There are golf courses I have played well on and did not enjoy from a design perspective. This is not one of those. As time has passed and after much thought, this is a course I played well because I enjoyed the design so much. I reveled in the questions it kept asking while its continuous stream of strategy flowed. Its variety and its rhythm. There were times you needed to hit the shot or else while most of the time you were able to dictate how to attack. And mind you, there were times its width bailed me out (like at the Fourth) but the recoveries were measured and at the Fourth, my recovery to get back in position meant a fairway wood shot I probably should have hit from the tee anyways. And at the Fifteenth, when my tee shot went into a ravine full of native grass and tumble weed, we were able to find the ball and I had a shot to the green. Indeed, I would have liked the course as much had I walked away with a different score. It’s a course built with such an array of possibilities and was impressive with its structure of play. While the East has always been pegged as the tournament venue, the West is strong enough to be considered a worthy counterpart, with many flat out preferring it to the East. In some ways, the quality of the West elevates and enhances the characteristics of the East. Their complimentary, symbiotic relationship adds to the overall golfing experience.
So the man did what he normally does when he shoots a personal low round. He kept it to himself. He sat at the Nineteenth hole and had lunch with those in his group, talking about the course and then whatever else came to mind at that moment. He then went to his room, relaxed on the balcony, and texted every single contact on his phone to brag about it.
The First is a 571 yard par 5 (from the II tees). The welcome mat is large after the shorter forced carry from the tee with a couple bunkers on the right to avoid. The par 5’s are noticeably long but the ball rolls and length was never a concern. The second shot our first glimpse into how much freedom we have in playing the course. Aside from a few bunkers off to the sides and a center line bunker at the green, we are free to hit the ball low and rolling, high and far, as well as everything in between. It is only when we reach the green, which is also large with a swale on the right, do we need to become much more exact in just how we use those broad stroked contours to our advantage.
The Second is a 424 yard par 4. Curling to the right a bit, there’s a single bunker on this hole. It’s on the right of the fairway. Playing a bit uphill with some large gradual undulations, the green is surrounded by short grass shouldered mounds.
The Third is a 207 yard par 3. Panther Creek seems to be every where. That’s because it branches off and runs all over in its coiled, craggy way. Here it moves between the tee and green, making sure the tee shot is at least well hit. The green tilts to the right while left side bunkers separate it from the short grass area beyond. The right side falls off below and there is some room but the far right is no good. The thick native grass sits there unapologetically. Tempting the left side from the tee without going into the bunkers ensures the ball moves towards center and likely closer to the pin.
The Fourth is a 432 yard par 4. I was personally surprised to see such an elevation change but here it is. The tee shot is at an angle but leaves a good amount of room but there are decisions to make. The green uses the elevation change and is high above us, with a ridge falling off steeply on the left. The center and right paths to the green are more gradual, so some may prefer that while others may want to take on the ridge to ensure their shot doesn’t careen off of it. Of course, one can get away with a shorter approach from the center and right while those coming from the left must unabashedly hit well into the green. Smart and dramatic use of some of the unique terrain features really makes it a solid hole.
The Fifth is a 125 yard par 3. The top of the hill yields great views while Welling resisted the urge to do too much with it early on. Instead, the par 3 stays within the hillside before the next uses one of the longer shoulders for a stretched out descent. The green is among the bunkers that dominate the landscape, moving across and over the one that is front and center. There’s a lot of room to miss short but I wouldn’t want to, as the next shot will be delicately dangerous. Likewise, missing to one side of the green with the pin to the other is tough going; now the golfer must negotiate the undulations and movement with the putter, which is no small feat. A great short par 3 where accuracy wins the day or in the alternative, those who know where to miss best.
The Sixth is a 608 yard par 5. Now it’s time to get back down the hill and once again, the right side signals to us to steer clear with its bunkers. Just as with the First, the second shot is a matter of preference while a little closer to the green is yet another set of bunkers on the right to avoid. The center line bunker is in front of the green, which tells us our second shot should veer to the sides for the approach. The green is modest in size, again making us focus in sharpness as we get closer to the hole.
The Seventh is a 379 yard par 4. The green is set off to the left, which we can see from the tee. We don’t want to go in that direction just yet though. Instead, right center is a good line to set up for the approach, although the green is positioned so that those more to the left have a better head on shot while those more off to the right have a more complex angled approach. The green is pushed up on all sides, so those with too much roll face the reality of falling off.
The Eighth is a 295 yard par 4. Panther Creek makes another appearance, again forcing a carry over it from the tee but also creating the lower wetland areas off to the right that should be avoided. Bunkers frame the fairway at different spots and with the shorter length, figuring out how best to take the tee shot and approach should be done before stepping up. The green falls off on the sides similar to the hole prior, which also rewards those bold enough to favor the left side off the tee while those more to the right are more subject to the falling off of the sides. A great short par 4.
The Ninth is a 537 yard par 5. Moving back up towards that prominent hill, Panther Creek once again insists your tee shot carries it off the tee. Bunkers on the left are in play as well from the tee and as has been custom, the second shot lets the golfer go in an array of directions and styes to get to the green. The fairway cants left to right, which is exactly where a larger bunker before the green saddled up while the green is steeped in height, which is seen on the slopes directly before it. The height is enough to create a lot of blind approaches so just know the green moves from back to front and a little left to right. The green is a fitting end to the front. A thrust of challenge amongst a rhythmic canvas before it. It welcomes you in any way you’d like but you must work for dinner.
The front nine starts the multi direction rotational use of the large hill and incorporates three longer par 5’s to move swiftly about the property and then takes advantage of its better features with par 3’s and par 4’s. A nicely moving engaging nine holes that I would rank 4, 8, 7, 5, 9, 1, 6, 3, 2.
The back nine starts with the 193 yard par 3 Tenth. Midway up the hill, we get a drop shot back down it. The bunker on the right is short of the green so simply clearing it won’t do much. There’s not a whole lot of room for a longer shot to land out side of the green and everything moves left to right.
The Eleventh is a 421 yard par 4. We move back up the hill between the Tenth and Twelfth on our left and Sixth on our right. It’s the most significant climb we have had thus far. The fairway is clear for landing save for the bunkers on the right while the hillside on the left should move things back down for the most part. The approach is blind as the green hides below mounds at the top of the hill. There is lots of room after those mounds so use it and then be prepared to get into some ground game to get close to the pin.
The Twelfth is a 162 yard par 3. On top of the hill, the path from tee to green arches off to the right before coming back again but the tee shot is a carry over the native grass, where the shot needs to either carry or go to the left of the bunkers. There is room on the left but too far over on that side means going down the hillside to the Eleventh fairway.
The Thirteenth is a 465 yard par 4. Back down the hill, by the Ninth. The tee shot looks straightforward enough, concealing just how vital it is to hit the fairway becomes of the upcoming approach. This certainly means avoiding the bunker on the right as well. The approach is one of the times during the round where the shot must be hit and that is all. Panther Creek decides to liven up the party here, dividing the fairway from the green complex. It’s likely a hearty carry, made even more so by a prevalent headwind breezing through. Some may fare best by laying up. On the other side is a deep green with a jagged swale running across it towards the middle, complicating putts for those who will need to traverse it to get to the pin.
The Fourteenth is a 387 yard par 4. We move up the hill one last time, showing just how much it is used in rotating around it clockwise. The tee shot must carry Panther Creek to the widest fairway on the course. Decisions must be made here. The right side is easier to hit but the approach to the green will be tougher in terms of angle, as the green will be running away from you. The left side is a tougher tee shot but brings in a much better approach angle where the entire green acts as a backstop. A ridge separate the two sides of the fairway so on some occasions, the course will pick for you. The green is set to the left a bit and cants right to left, strongly. Falling off the left side and down into the depths of the hill is a very real possibility. It’s a great hole in how it using the multiple contours of the hillside.
The Fifteenth is a 324 yard par 4. A short par 4 made even shorter with the elevated tee shot, the fairway modestly wide for what we have grown to expect, especially at the hole prior. The green is welcoming, but only from the center of the fairway. Any other angle reveals the bunkers surrounding it below and how those getting too frisky around the edges of the green runs the risk of falling into them.
The Sixteenth is a 175 yard par 3. The final par 3 of the round visually encourages a tee shot that moves with left to right or right to left but goodness how the straight shot seems out of place. The bunker arrangement plays into this as the green moves left to right briskly. The movement can get the player into some conundrums too close to that right edge and it’s a nagging thought throughout the round the more the golfer encounters it, which surely is by design. Always mind the pace with shots moving in the direction of the terrain.
The Seventeenth is a 546 yard par 5. Panther Creek demands attention yet again and must be carried. The second shot provides much flexibility with the general decision being whether to carry the bunker up ahead or stay before it. The green complex is after that bunker, set a little off to the right with a lot of short grass to work with, save for two small pot bunkerish bunkers placed on either side of the green. Lots of versatility on how to go about it here. As we have learned by now, mind the edges of the green as well.
The Eighteenth is a 531 yard par 5. Back to back par 5 finish is splendid. Panther Creek sees us off by running along the left side but really shouldn’t come into play unless the shot veers over in that direction with. purpose. The tee shot landing area and second shot territory is besieged by bunkers on either side then the fairway bends to the left towards the green. Bunkers seem to be every where, making their final stand around the green. The green is mellower, some how realizing the work of the course has already been spent and the proper thing to do is to embrace the golfer who has survived the journey.
The back nine has a great collection of par 4’s and the routing smartly uses the prevalent hill to create an avalanche of strategy and variety. I would rank them 14, 11, 13, 15, 10, 17, 16, 18, 12.
Generally, Fields Ranch West showcases the flexibility upon which the two courses seem to be founded upon. The course can be set up in countless ways based on an array of tee and pin positions while the structure of play allows for just about any style to flourish. The routing instills a dancing variety to what is being asked of the golfer while he will rarely face the indignity of a penalty shot. Indeed, a lot of the challenge resides in these recovery shots out of position yet even those who manage to stay on fairways and greens will have their hands full with the sweeping movement of the terrain, made more complex with the broad shouldered mounds and swales. It’s a course the golfer will want to play over and over because it focuses on the more pleasant and virtuous character of the game.
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.”