Category Archives: Course Reviews

Time to Dream About Next Year’s Destinations

The end of the season is near.  Time to think back on all the fun from the summer.  I had some great times, but I also started dreaming about next year’s adventures.  Thinking about where to play next year will help motivate me through my winter work.

Last year, I looked at my potential travel destinations and envisioned playing Bethpage Black, Pinehurst, TPC San Antonio, and Buffalo Ridge in Branson.  My best case included 2 top 5 courses and 2 more top 100.  I couldn’t wait.

My year didn’t reach the best case scenario, but I played great courses.  I wasn’t able to play a round in New York, so Bethpage will be later.  I did play TPC San Antonio, Buffalo Ridge, The Club at Sonterra in San Antonio, and Tobacco Road in North Carolina.  3 Top 100 courses, and a year to remember.  Check out my previous posts about the courses.  They are all must play destinations.

Now, I am dreaming of next year.  I may have the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, and Pinehurst again.  The possibilities in each city are interesting.

Los Angeles

I have never visited LA, so I don’t know what to expect (other than the national media narrative).  Of course, I will try every trick I can conjure up to access one of the exclusive private clubs (Riveria, LA CC, Bel-Air, etc.)  I haven’t had success getting on private courses in the past, so I don’t anticipate that working.  From there, I will probably look to Pelican Hill or Trump National LA as the highest rated courses.  I know ratings aren’t everything, but I found the ratings to guide me well so far.

Dallas

Dallas is a tough call because I live reasonably close to Dallas.  The two on top of my list are Dallas National and Colonial, but again, getting access is difficult.  I may have a few contacts that could get a tee time.  After those, Dallas doesn’t have many high rated public courses.  I played Tour 18 a while ago, and it was fun.  The Cowboy Club is interesting since it has the Dallas Cowboy theme.

The Tribute at the Colony is a possibility.  The course is a Scottish links replica course with holes from most of the Open Championship Rota.  I will likely never play all (or many) of those courses, so the replica may be fun.  I enjoyed Tour 18’s replica holes, so The Tribute is a definite possibility.

I enjoy tour courses and the TPC Network, so I may try to get access to the TPC at Las Colinas without staying at the resort.  The Byron Nelson attracts quality fields, and the course will be near tournament conditions since I will be in Dallas in May.

Dallas may not have the highest ranked possibilities, but I like the options.

Austin

I played golf in Austin at Teravista Golf Club about 5 years ago.  That is my only round in Austin.  The course was well maintained, and you needed all your shots.  However, I didn’t find it overly memorable.  Barton Creek is the obvious choice in Austin, but I won’t be staying at the resort.  They wouldn’t let me on the last time I was in Austin, so I will probably still be out of luck.  After that, I honestly don’t know my options.  Post in the comments any great ideas in Austin.

Pinehurst

We will likely head back out to Pinehurst next year.  The possibilities are endless in that area.  I loved Tobacco Road, so Tot Hill Farm, also by Mike Strantz, is on my list.  I know everyone will rave about all the Pinehurst Courses, but we don’t stay at the resort.  I may reserve a time somewhere else and then switch to one of the resort courses the week we are there.

Reading the rankings and literature, Mid Pines Golf Course and Pine Needles look like must plays.  Golf Digest ranks Dormie Club #43.  I could flip a coin, throw a dart, and no matter what happens, I will be happy.  The descriptions of all these courses evoke feelings of serenity and fun golf.

This season isn’t quite over, but playing new courses is always on my mind.  I am sure next year will be similar to this year where not all the opportunities pan out, but if I don’t dream now, what else would I do.  Add your thoughts on those cities in the comments.  Finish the season strong!

My Next Swing Challenge: Tackling Tobacco Road

My new swing traveled to extreme destinations again last week, and much of the sand hills of North Carolina traveled back with me in my golf shoes. However, my last planned golf travel of the year resulted in a huge SUCCESS!

I played Tobacco Road Golf Club in Sanford, North Carolina last week. Tobacco Road’s reviews and terrain looked interesting, so I choose to take my progressing swing to Sanford.  In 2010, ESPN ranked it the #10 hardest course in America.  Many call it Pine Valley on steroids.  I wanted the challenge, and happily endured the humidity to experience it.

The starter provided the best piece of advice for my round. He said most of the holes and greens have collection areas.  The collection areas are conservative targets, but they provide the best path to stress free golf.  I decided to follow the philosophy of conservative target with aggressive swing.

Hole #1
Hole #1

The par 5 1st hole lays the blueprint for the rest of the course.  Not overly long, but constant sand with small windows to hit through.  The visual intimidation alone could persuade golfers to turn their carts around.  The fairway is large, if you want to hit a short drive.  However, a tiny sliver of fairway guarded by natural sand and wire grass right in everyone’s landing area tempts the aggressive.  Going for it could be disastrous or setup a good second shot.  The second shot has the same dilemma.  Great wide fairway in layup area or try a narrow pass to get near the green.  I hit a beautiful drive in the narrow fairway, put my second in some reasonable sand, and hit my third near the green.  Up and down for par.  Great start!

 

Hole #2 illustrates the risk/reward philosophy of Tobacco Road. Straight ahead is nothing but waste area.  Carry is anywhere between 190 and 220 depending on the tee, or the fairway to the right provides an easy target but longer 2nd shot.  The conservative approach provides a blind shot over a hill to the green.  I played conservative right and hit the fairway.  I then struggle through a few approaches in waste areas for a double.  I am sticking to the game plan.  Play to conservative spots.

Hole #5
Hole #5

 

 

My progress is apparent on holes 3-5. I played to the large parts of the fairway and greens.  I hit both fairways (#3 is a par 3) and hit all 3 GIRs.  That is my best stretch of the summer.  My iron shots weren’t perfect, but I shifted my weight well which resulted in decent trajectory.  However, Tobacco Road’s next line of defense crushed me, the greens.  I 3 putted all of them for bogey. The greens’ could only reasonably be described as an Olympic mogul course and blazing fast.  My conservative play led me to 30-50 ft. lag putts that weren’t close.  I thought my plan was perfect.  I failed to anticipate the trickiness of long putting on these greens.

Hole #8
Hole #8

Holes 6-9 continued the onslaught. The fairways were in immaculate condition.  They just aren’t level.  Every approach required stance adjustments and strategic thinking.  However, my ball striking stayed reasonably steady.  I doubled 2 holes and bogeyed the other 2.  Front 9 – 46.  For the difficulty, I loved it.  Not only that, I hit 5/6 fairways and 3 GIRs.  I couldn’t hope for better.

 

 

The back 9 brought more pain. I continued to hit fairways through #14, but I failed to hit any greens on the back 9.  I played from more waste areas than I knew could exist.  As the starter told us, every waste area was different.  I tried unsuccessfully to hit 20 ft. high flop shots from hard sand onto greens, carry gargantuan cliffs to small greens, and hit out of random native grasses.  I left more sand in my shoes than on the course, but I had a blast.  I tired the last couple holes but ended with a 94.

Hole #13
Hole #13

 

The course is amazing. The shots are visually intimidating, but successfully completing the shot feels that much better.  You need every club and shot in the bag, but the course is very fair.  Most holes provide both aggressive and conservative targets.  The greens roll true and are fast.  I completely agree with Golf Digest putting this in the top 100 and ESPN ranking it tough.  Truly amazing experience.   I also finished with a reasonable score on a tough course.  SUCCESS!

Hole #18
Hole #18

My Experience on a Different Kind of Tour Course

Walking in the footsteps of current major champions is awesome. Being humbled by major tour courses provides context and generates even more respect for tour players.  My destinations only followed the PGA Tour though.  I wondered if I would have the same emotions walking in the footsteps of slightly older champions at a Champions Tour stop.  I was not disappointed.

I took a trip to Branson, Missouri over the 4th of July holiday.  My family planned to enjoy Branson’s many attractions, but my main goal was to play Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock.  The 2 courses host the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf Champions Tour event.  Buffalo Ridge is ranked on Golf Digest’s most recent top 100 public course list.  Top of the Rock is the only 9 hole par 3 course to host an event from any of the major tours.  My sights were set on taking my progressing swing to another tour stop.

We had tee times on July 4th at Buffalo Ridge for 9am and Top of the Rock at 3pm.  As we pull in to Buffalo Ridge at 8, lighting illuminates the sky and surrounding Ozark Mountains like a bad 1980s thriller.  When we made it in the pro shop, they pulled everyone off the course.  The lightning delay began.

For the next 3 hours, the sky opened and torrential rain came down. The clubhouse designer did an outstanding job.  The entire back wall is a series of glass doors and windows looking out over the range and first hole.  The first hole is a downhill par 5.  When the rain let up, the fairway had no fewer than 3 independent streams of water running to the drain.  I thought the course would be water logged for days.  I just hoped we could still play both rounds.

The great staff at Buffalo Ridge moved our tee times around for both rounds. They let us warm up at Buffalo Ridge at 12 to begin play quickly thereafter.  They moved our Top of the Rock time to 6.  The courses are a few miles apart, so we built in enough time to pack up, get quick food, and still make it by 6.   The timing ended up being perfect.

After warming up, we headed to #1.

Hole 1

I noted a couple things. First, the rivers down the fairway were gone.  The drainage system worked great.  The course was definitely wet from the multiple inches of rain in the short period of time.  However, I never felt water logged or that it affected my play.  The course was in great shape even with all the rain.

The second thing I noticed on 1, and throughout the course, was the size. The tour courses possess huge brawny fairways and greens.  Buffalo Ridge’s fairways weren’t as big.  The greens didn’t look as huge.  However, players must still possess every shot in the bag.  The bunkering is great tournament bunkering.  Generous landing areas in spots, but if you take a risk to go long, bunkers protect everything.

My swing felt pretty good. I need to be able to repeat it more, but I am confident focusing on weight shift right now.  My contact is improving.  I hit my drive slightly left.  I hit a solid 5 wood to wedge distance.  Wedge on the green and 2 putt for par.  Great way to start.

I hit the fairway on 2 & 3. Green in regulation on 3, so 1 over through 3.  Double on the par 3 4th wasn’t ideal, but still on a good pace.  I then walk to the par 4 5th.  The view is outstanding.

Hole 4

Playing through the terrain is interesting. My vision of mountain golf includes the desert with manufactured greens.  These are lush mountains with great vegetation. The golf course seems to just naturally flow through the landscape.

The elevated tee looks down to a hard to judge fairway going left. Water on the right.  The miss is clearly left, but the large drop makes aiming difficult.  I hit a good drive that missed left, but still playable.  Hit it around a little to need a 1 putt for bogey, and it dropped.  Other than a snowman on 8, the front 9 was on track with a 45.

Hole 14 is a nice par 5. The length felt like a medium par 5.  However, most people can’t reach in 2.  A creek crosses directly in front of the green.  Carrying the creek and staying on the green is tough.  Rock formations border the right with bunkers protecting short and long.  The approach must be perfect.  Mine was not.  Beautiful hole.  Sloppy bogey.

Hole 15 is another elevated tee with a great view. Small waterfalls from a creek are right.  I aimed left to a generous landing area.  I crushed a drive, but it was straight right.  The line was unintentionally aggressive.  My ball barely cleared the creek and ended up in the first cut on the right.  Miss the green and bogey.

Hole 15

The rest of my round followed the same pattern, which I believe is a huge success. We then rushed to Top of the Rock.  I don’t have a hole-by-hole because we were doing our best to get everything in before dark.  While it is a par 3 course, the holes had great variety.  Numerous water holes and an island green.  The bunkering is insane for a par 3, but the Champions Tour can play this course for a reason.  The course feels like a collection of great par 3s from around the country.  Great experience.

Top of the Rock

While my score isn’t what it needs to be, I can see the consistency. On a Champions Tour course, I had 2 doubles and a quad.  The rest were pars and bogeys.  I can handle that for now.  I shot an 89, hit 4 GIRs, and 7/13 fairways.  The GIRs and fairways are gradual improvements.  The process is moving in the right direction, and I am playing great golf courses.  I would definitely recommend Buffalo Creek and Top of the Rock.

Swing Changes on a Tour Course – Exhilarating and Futile

The US Open at Oakmont started today. Oakmont Opens live in infamy for not only who wins, but also the brutal nature of the course.  Tiger once said a 10-handicapper couldn’t break 100 on the course.  I believe this is a hard course, but this is still golf.  The course can’t be that tough, can it?  I love playing tour courses to experience the difficulty to bring me back to reality.  I had that experience again last weekend.

In a twitter interview, Zach Johnson listed TPC San Antonio as one of the hardest courses on tour. The Oaks course at the TPC is rated tough, but I was surprised he listed it as one of the hardest.  After last weekend, I definitely agree the Oaks is a beast.

The JW Marriott and TPC facility are fantastic. If you make it to San Antonio, I highly recommend the resort.  The resort includes a waterpark for kids, numerous outdoor options, and 2 great golf courses.  My kids loved it, and I played a round at the Oaks.

I am blessed to have played multiple great courses over the years, including Whistling Straits and Torrey Pines South right before the 2008 open. TPC San Antonio includes similar challenges.  The only thing it lacked was the ocean/lake views.  You need every shot in your bag, and then some you don’t have.

TPC San Antonio – Oaks Course

The course begins with a reasonable par 4. Drive the ball in the fairway.  Approach a green with a couple bunkers.  One thing I notice at tour courses is everything is bigger.  The fairways are larger.  The greens are bigger.  TPC San Antonio follows that model.  I feel like I can hit every fairway.  I proceed to hit it left into the rough.  The rough isn’t Valero Texas Open length now, but the grass isn’t muni short either.  The ball nestles down with at least half an inch of grass blades above the ball.  Thick rough means tough shot, but I pull out a bogey.

Hole #2 is a reasonable par 5. I pull it left again.  Hack away through some rough a few times.  Tough chips and end with a double.  Hole #3 is a long par 3 over water with a huge bunker right.  You can’t miss short or right.  My first shot, short and right.  I hit again from the tee thinking I just mishit the shot.  I smash a beautiful 5 iron perfectly on line.  I am looking at the ball and the hole, and then is splashes just short in the water.

All my tee shots draw left, so I aim down the right side. I proceed to hit 3 straight fairways on 6, 8, and 9.  I got up and down on 5 and 8, so I am playing reasonably.  As I finish the front 9, I notice something odd about #9.  The hole flyover on the GPS carts (which are great) explains #9 is the only hole without a bunker.  Thinking about it, nearly every landing zone and every green is surrounded by large bunkers.  Bunkers large enough to build sand fortresses to live in.  It would be nearly impossible to play a round on the Oaks without being in at least 1 bunker.

Hole #11 is an outstanding risk-reward hole. A short par 4 with a 50 yard bunker in the middle of the fairway.  The fairway also stops with rough between it and the green to prevent running the ball all the way onto the green.  The left side of the fairway gives a great angle to the green.  The entire right side of the green is protected by sand.  Strategy is a must.  I failed to play strategically.  Double bogey.

TPC11

I was able to get the vast majority of my daily steps on hole # 14. The reasonable par 5 has a long bunker down the entire right side near the green rivaling the sand on the left of 18 at Pebble.  I miss my approach right of the bunker.  I helped my son setup for his shot, and then I walked backwards for what seemed like a mile to get around the bunker to get to my ball.  I should have walked right through the middle.  Exercise is good though.  I pitched it well enough to walk away with bogey.

Hole #16 is fun and nightmarish in the same breath. Great medium par 3.  Grab a 6 iron and go for it.  However, try to stay on the correct side of the green because there is a bunker in the middle of the putting surface.  I pull extra clubs and miss the bunker.  I also miss the green long.  Chip and 2 putt for bogey.

TPC13

The nice par 5 finish is also a great risk-reward. Hitting down the right side will setup for a good 3 shot par.  However, the hole has a creek down the left side with another fairway to go at the green.  Long hitters can challenge the water and go for broke.  I played it down the right, stayed dry, and took a bogey.  Conservative, but decent, finish.

TPC14

Zach definitely knows what he is talking about. TPC San Antonio’s Oaks course is tough.  Tons of bunkers with speedy greens.  Having a good strategy and playing to the right spots gives great options.  However, slight misses are penalized.  I loved playing the course.  My iPhone pics don’t come near doing it justice.  I will take my 95 and tip my cap to the pros.