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Fishers Island

 

 

Fishers wonderful blind punchbowl 4th green

 

Fishers Island is the Holy Grail for many serious golfers. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in the world and features some of the greatest Oceanside holes in America. Throw in a wonderful design by Seth Raynor and some of the more unusual and iconic holes in golf and you have one of golf’s greatest experiences.

 

The opener is a wonderful start playing out towards the Ocean with the beautiful old Coast Guard Station acting as a background. The 2nd is a transition over the interior marshland and out to the cliffs on the north side of the point. Raynor made the transition using a Redan hole which creates a wonderful hole and proves that a clever green can overcome even the most limited piece of ground. The stretch of holes from the 3rd to the 12th is one of the very best in the game. The 3rd hole hugs the cliffs edge and climbs slowly to the very highest point. Raynor built a plateau green at that point and surrounded the sides and back with 20 foot deep bunkers to emphasize the location. The three that follows is one of the best par threes in the world. The 5th is a Biarritz with a true ocean carry like the original and a wild plateau and valley leading to the putting surface. I much prefer the front not cut as green.

 

 

The 210 yard Biarritz 5th

 

The course heads briefly inland and offers a wonderful rollercoaster of a five that is used to get you to a key point in the routing. The 7th plays off a very high ridge and straight down to a point with the ocean behind. You flirt with the wetland on the right to attack the green which angles hard to the left behind a deep bunker. The 8th tees off from the point and plays across a diagonal of small sand dunes finishing up at a super cool Road Hole green site. The 9th plays back over a second major ridge and right back out to a second point with wonderful views of the coastline in the distance.

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The 10th heads back in the opposite direction and back up the coast and finishes on another high elevated green again on the highest point in the area. This places major pressure on the approach since the front is short and the ball could run back 50 yards. The 11th was another major highlight with Raynor’s Eden playing from one high ridge to a second one completely out on another point. The hole is one of the finest threes in with a daunting carry and major exposure to the elements. The run finishes with the rollercoaster12th played back into the island finishing up with a really terrific reverse Redan style green site.

 

 

The incredible Eden with the fog rolling in

 

After that the course lets down. The 13th is fine drive but features a forced carry approach over the wetland. The 14th tee shot is awkward since neither long nor short yielded a different length of approach, both left a long forced carry into the green. The 15th is surprisingly free of bunkers, a nice hole, but not up to the high standards set by the rest. Fortunately the holes pick up again with the incredible short 16th and its wildly interesting and undulating green. I really enjoyed the long 17th and its clever green site and thought the 18th was an ideal finish with one of my very favourite greens of all. Raynor once again finishes on the high point leaving a beautiful view of the ocean beyond.

 

 

 

Yale Golf Course

 

 

 

The famous 9th green with the six foot deep swale running through the middle! (courtesy of George Bahto)

 

Yale Golf Course was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The construction was managed and completed by Charles Banks. It was by far the single biggest surprise that I have had in a very long time. The scale of the course is enormous, the risk taking was incredible, the site was almost too severe for a golf course – and yet the golfing ground is some of the finest the game has to offer. I wish I was a member at Yale.

 

The opening four is a wonderful introduction. The rolls in the fairway are enormous, the corridor is massive, the bunkers at the green are wildly deep and the green is incredibly undulating. Welcome to Yale, because that hole is actually one of the more sedate ones!

The audacity they had to build a 30 foot deep bunker on the left of the second green. The third requires a blind approach into the punchbowl beyond the hill. It begs to question whether convention is the biggest problem with modern architecture.

 

The 4th is definitely one of the finest holes in all of golf with an angled carry around the lake followed by an exacting shot to an outstanding plateau green site. I loved the bunkers surrounded by fairway on the right side. The short 5th was fine, but less than expected due to site lines. The sedate 6th was well placed and should not to be overlooked for its seemingly simple architecture. It was a nice set-up for the wild run that was about to follow.

 

The 7th was a super cool valley hole played up to a high plateau green. The wild lumpy ridge on the right of the landing was a particularly interesting feature with a great elevated green as the focus for the hole. The 8th hole plays back over the rest of that wild and lumpy ridge into a valley leaving a semi-blind approach to a peninsula green with a massive four foot shoulder down the right side. The green is flanked on the left by a 20 foot deep bunker and on the right by a30 foot bunker on the wrong side of the green shoulder. A ball down there is best lost. The finisher to the nine is one of the most unusual and interesting threes in golf. The target 200 yards away across the pond is a Biarritz green with a central swale that is an incredible five feet deep in the centre.

 

 

 

The 8th green was my favourite with a 20 foot deep bunker on the right and a 30 foot deep bunker on the right!

 

The back nine opens with one of the wildest fours I have ever seen. Your option is to play to the top plateau and hit an uphill long iron to an even higher plateau where the green resides, or play over the ridge and down into the valley beyond leaving a short iron played 50 feet up to the same green site. Both options are tough when you consider the 20 foot bunker that sits directly in front of the green!

 

The 11th is a beautiful respite. The short almost drivable four is played off an elevated tee and through a nice valley with an approach leading down onto the green. The contrast that follows with the wild Alps hole is jarring. The uphill four requires a strong tee shot to carry the ridge and then a long uphill iron over the hill in the distance to a blind green beyond. Like the original Alps there is a hidden bunker between you and the green making this one tough hole.

 

 

 

The Redan may not fall off in the left but it is of the better examples in golf

 

The Redan that follows is one of the finer versions with a spectacular high shoulder on the right. The flatter surface made for much easier pin positions and offers me a variation that I think I like to use more than the actually Redan green which slopes out back and left. The 14th was a great driving hole that climaxed at a simple green raised about five feet off of native grade (much more in the back) and played as a plateau with no other features to defend the site. The idea is simple and effective enough that I wondered why it wasn’t done more.

 

The Edan was a gem and good balance for the Redan because the angles of approach ran the opposite to each other. The first five comes at the 16th, which was fine, but was likely a much better long four. The lack of hazards struck me as odd. The 17th was an excellent long four finishing at a double plateau green. The final hole was once the only five and is a wild up and over a small mountain on your way down to a green in the valley beyond. I didn’t dislike the hole as others have, but I did find the hole a little odd. The finish represents where the money ran out during construction and it makes me wonder what the finish would have been like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Trip - Day 2 - Quaker Ridge

 

 

The famous 11th green with the creek that wraps around the green

 

The course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and is considered one of his very best. The course is undergoing a major renovation / restoration under the direction of Gil Hanse who joined our group for the last three holes.

 

The course starts slowly with a solid five and a couple of fours before arriving at the “all world” 4th. The tee shot is out onto a plateau fairway, which is followed by a long iron into a spectacular plateau green with deep bunkering on both sides. This was such a heroic hole and well placed in the round.

 

 

The 4th approach to a cool plateau green

 

The front nine has an outstanding set of fours from the 6th to the 8th that vary in setting, distance, difficulty and appearance. Each demands solid driving in order to set up the approach into a brilliant green site, with the 7th being a stunner. The front nine is capped off by one of the best threes I have seen. The short 9th is a devil because of the green. The green is triangular in shape making for nasty corner pins. Because the hole is short, it compels the player into a much more aggressive line than they should take since the risk of going bunker to bunker is enormous at the front pin.

 

 

The super cool triangular green at the 9th

 

The back nine opens with a wonderful long three which is followed by the most famous hole on the course, the mid length 11th. The 11th par four with a creek and landmark tree on the left, bunkers on the right and a green wrapped on three sides by the creek. The stone wall fronting the green means there is no margin for error and Tillinghast was clever enough to tip the green hard right for emphasis on position off the tee.

 

The 12th and 13th are very strong hole and Gil’s work on the par five 14th will create an additional highlight for the back nine. The 15th is another strong hole, but the back and fourth finishing fours are average and the round comes to a quiet finish after so much strength in the middle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Trip

 

The Biarritz at Fishers Island

 

 

I just got back from New York. While there was some work involved, the visit was mostly about making a golf trip that I always wanted to make. I’ve always had a love affair for Tillinghast and wanted the chance to see and experience more of his work. A few months back I made a visit out to Winged Foot and walked the East and West Course and was thoroughly impressed. This time out I got a chance to play the West Course.

 

The trip also took me over to both Fenway and Quaker Ridge. These are two excellent Tillinghast courses and both had a slightly different approach that I will get into this week coming up as I look at each course. Contrasting the two will be great fun.

 

The rest of the trip was all about Raynor and Banks. I returned to play Knollwood, the course in New York where I work. The green expansions and fairway widening is beginning to breath new life in a pretty cool layout. Jim Easton has got the club heading squarely in the right direction.

 

After that it was Yale and then Fishers Island. I was completely blown away by Yale and thought it was one of the very best courses I had ever seen. The scale is enormous, the risks were massive and the architecture is spectacular. Fishers Island is probably my definition of golfing paradise. The ocean side setting is one of the finest I have seen and the architecture is at times sublime. I’ll share some observations about the course and explain why I think the front nine is the second best in golf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denver Trip – Day Four and Five – Ballyneal Golf Club

 

The trip out from Denver is three hours through some incredibly flat land. You have to get all the way to Holyoke before you notice a break in the terrain south of the town. It was at this point that I saw that the land might be unusual for the area, but it wasn’t until we ventured up the entry road and came to the clubhouse site that I got that first breathtaking view of the massive sand hills.

 

Here is what I saw…

 

 

We went out and walked a few holes till the light was too low. We went back to the clubhouse to have a wonderful dinner hosted by the designer of the course Tom Doak. It was just me, Mike Young, Tom, the owner Rupert and five of his associates at dinner. I’ve been lucky to spend time with the “Renaissance Boys” a few times and I enjoy their company a great deal. Most conversations revolve around architecture, but we talk of family and life on the road too.

 

The course begins with a solid four, followed by a beautiful long five up a wonderful valley. The next hole was my favourite of all the threes, with the green nestled down in the dunes featuring a short iron into a rollercoaster green. Very cool.

 

The opening three from the short tee

 

 

The moment you walk through the dunes and stand on the 4th tee and see the remainder of entire front nine unfolds below you, you are left without appropriate words for the impressive site. The hole is an outstanding drop into rolling land between the dunes. The finish is up to a terrific plateau green.

 

The tee shot on the 4th

 

 

The rest of the nine features some wonderful holes that work there way between the “chop hills” or dunes of the property. The finishing four holes stood out through the diversity and variety of interesting ideas forum in each.

 

The back nine opens with another exceptional long four, but the real stunner was the 12th. You have no idea on what is to come until you finally reach the most undulating green on the course that magically works well because of the scale and spacing between large features. We fed putts there into every area with no issue once we had discovered the proper line of attack.

 

The wild 12th green worthy of three trips out to see the green

 

 

The back nine rambled through the dunes leading to an awesome finishing three. The 16th was one of the better fives I have seen in quite some time. In fact, it would likely make a list of my favourite fives in golf. The tee shot must be carefully placed to attack the hole otherwise the massive mid dune becomes a major issue for the second shot.

 

The awesome final par five playing around the biggest dune on the property

 

 

The finishers are both very long but quite interesting to play since both are set so differently from each other. I think this is one of Tom’s best courses to date and likely the best finish he has offered up.

 

I was lucky enough to play both rounds with Tom and his crew. They were all generous enough to share routing decisions and why they ended up with the course they have. They also showed me where they had to make changes to make the holes work in such severe land.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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