Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Renaissance Cup Trip Review

In August of 2017 one of my good friends invited me to play in the Renaissance Cup with him.  The Renaissance Cup is an event put on by Tom Doak at courses that he designed.  He picks a different course every year and in 2017 he held the event at a new course that was designed by his associates called Stoatin Brae near Battle Creek, Michigan.  I was honored to be invited to play in the event and we planned a trip around the gathering at Stoatin Brae.  We drove to Michigan and back and made several stops along the way to play some great golf.  What follows is a review of our very enjoyable trip to The Renaissance Cup.

After an eight hour drive our first stop on the trip was Columbus Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.  We started with Columbus' wonderful par 3 course where they are doing something I am a very big fan of.  Every hole features a regulation size hole and a large hole.  I don't know why more courses don't do this.  It was a lot of fun playing to the big holes and playing a game where the winner of the previous hole got to decide which hole we were going for.

big holes are a wonderful idea for a Par 3 course
After a fun warm up on the Par 3 course we proceded to the regulation course at Columbus.  Columbus Country Club has at least nine holes of Donald Ross.  The order of holes has changed over the years, the current 1-3 were 16-18 at one point.  The course was in a state of transition in 2017 with the front nine having already been renovated by Keith Foster with the back nine due to begin in the late fall.  Keith does great work as we will see again on this trip and we were very impressed with the front nine and enjoyed discussing what possible changes he would make to the back nine.
3rd Hole

8th Hole

13th Hole, soon to be renovated
Day 2 of our trip began with possibly the best nine hole course in the country, Culver Academics, in Culver, Indiana.  Culver was lovingly restored to the original Langford/Moreau design by Bobby Weed.  The result is one of the most fun and interesting golf courses I've played.
3rd Hole

4th Hole

9th Hole

Day two of the trip continued at the wonderful Coore & Crenshaw designed Warren Course at Notre Dame.  My buddy and I are both big fans of C&C and were very excited to play Warren.  I was very impressed with how C&C took a very bland, tight site and turned it into a very good golf course.  One funny note about The Warren Course.  We were paired with a woman from the Notre Dame Golf Team.  It was move-in weekend for students, so when she met us she asked if we were here for move-in weekend.  After we got in our cart I asked my buddy "Do we look old enough to have a kid in college?"  To which my buddy responded "Does she think we're a couple?"
7th Hole

9th Hole

15th Hole
Our third round on day two was at Signal Point Club just across the border from Indiana in Niles, Michigan.  Signal Point is a 9 hole course with an interesting setup.  They have two flags on every hole, red & white, and tees that correspond, red & white.  You play the white tees to the white flags for the front nine and the red tees to the red flags on the back nine.  Great idea to make a 9 hole course play and feel like an 18 hole course.
3rd Hole

4th Hole

5th Hole
Day three of our trip began with Battle Creek Country Club in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Battle Creek is a Willie Park Jr design being slowly restored by Bruce Hepner.  Bruce visits the club every year and they are slowly implementing his master plan and restoring the course.  The Willie Park Jr greens make this course a real hidden gem when it comes to golf in Michigan.
4th Hole

8th Hole

17th Hole
After our morning round at Battle Creek we headed over to Stoatin Brae for our practice round for the Renassiance Cup.  Stoatin Brae was designed by Tom Doak's associates Eric Iverson, Don Placek, Brian Slawnik, and Brian Schneider.  I was amazed how humble these guys were when I met them.  None of them like taking credit for anything and are quick to say "that hole was ______'s idea", "______ came up with the routing"  They obviously worked very well together to create a wonderful course that is sure to appear on the various Top 100 public course lists soon.
10th Hole

14th Hole
The format of the Renaissance Cup was single elimination match play, better ball of partners, 9 hole matches.  We won our first match pretty easily but I struggled early on in our second match and my partner did his best to keep us in the match.  We were two down with two holes to play but we still had a chance.  Because of the tight schedule, there was a rule for the tournament that in the event of a tie, the team that won the most recent hole was declared the winner.  Our final charge began on the par 3 17th hole with my partner curling a drawing 7-iron 30 feet behind the flag. I asked him if I perhaps had too much club to which he responded “No, my adrenaline is flowing.” This lead to me hitting it to five feet.  Picture of 17 below:
17th Hole
After I made the birdie putt we went to the par five 18th hole still with a chance to win the match.  The 18th was playing down wind and with the help of two great shots I was able to get to the front of the green in two.  I had about 40 feet for Eagle.  I took longer than anytime in my life to look at this putt,  My partner looked at it, we agreed on a line and I was able to cozy it up to about a foot.  After our opponents missed their birdie putts, we won a dramatic match.  We subsequently lost the third match in a great battle that ended up on the final hole but our long day was a ton of fun.

After a relaxing day playing more golf at Stoatin Brae, we headed back South for what would become a glorious 54 hole day of golf that began with a course that I already loved and was made even better by a great renovation by Keith Foster, Moraine Country Club in Kettering, Ohio.
5th Hole

7th Hole

16th & 17th Holes
Our second round of the day was at a Donald Ross course in Dayton, Miami Valley Golf Club.  Miami Valley obviously hadn't retained as much of the original Ross course as some others, but it still had the trademark great routing and wonderful greens.
5th Hole

9th Hole

14th Hole
Pace of play was so good at Miami Valley we found ourselves with most of the afternoon to kill.  We didn't have a third round planned but since I had teased my buddy when we were at Moraine by having him walk up the hill behind the 5th hole at Moraine to look at the 2nd & 3rd holes at NCR South, it seemed appropriate to give them a call.  We were in luck and were able to play the South course at NCR Country Club.  Both courses at NCR are Dick Wilson designs.  I had last played the South course in 2006 and while I thought it was decent I wasn't particularly impressed.  I am very glad I got another opportunity to play it.  They had clearly done a renovation in the past few years and the results were spectacular.  I loved the course and especially what they did with the bunkers.
6th Hole

10th Hole

14th Hole
The last day of our trip presented us with a favorite course of mine that I hadn't seen in 14 years, Camargo Club in Indian Hill, Ohio.  Camargo was masterfully designed by Seth Raynor and has the best collection of template par 3's(Short, Redan, Eden, Biarritz) that I have ever played.  There is a better example of each somewhere else but as a collection they can't be beat.
Eden, 5th Hole

Biarritz, 8th Hole

Short, 11th Hole

Redan, 15th Hole
The Renaissance Cup was a tremendous experience and I hope to play in another one in the future.  Tom Doak has a very special group of associates that love their work.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Rocky Mountain Trip Review

Sometimes the trips that I take straddle the fine line between relaxing vacation and extremely stressful quest to play golf courses.  The ultimate example of this is the trip my wife and I took in 2016.  We started and finished the trip in Denver, but in between we drove almost 2500 miles, played golf in seven states in seven days, and spent over 40 hours in the car.  See our route below:
I am very lucky to be married to the greatest woman in the world.  She has a tremendous sense of adventure and complete trust in her sometimes insane husband.  When I pitched this trip to her as a once in a lifetime experience, she was happy to do it.  Because she is a saint, she waited until the very end of the trip to tell me that nine hours in the car in one day is not something she wanted to do again (we had two days with 9+ hours in the car.)

After landing in Denver, our adventure began at Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock, Colorado.  Castle Pines was designed in the early 80's by Jack Nicklaus.  I am generally not a fan of Nicklaus designs but wanted to play this course because I had heard about recent renovations undertaken to make the course more playable.  The two assistant professionals I played with did a very good job of pointing out the changes that were made.  I enjoyed the course and applaud it for taking steps to make it more enjoyable for all.
1st Hole

7th Hole
After finishing at Castle Pines, my wife and I undertook a six hour drive in the dark to reach our next destination, The Dismal River Club in Mullen, Nebraska.  I had previously visited Dismal in 2012 when I played in a tournament called The 5th Major set up by a friend.  We played the original Nicklaus course for three days and received a tour of the new Doak course under construction by Tom Doak himself.  I was finally returning to Dismal to see the finished product.  To summarize how I feel about the Doak course at Dismal, I will say that I have played 1400+ courses so far and I have Dismal Red (Doak) as the 13th best golf course I have ever played.
6th Hole

7th Hole

16th Hole
After an early morning round at Dismal, we made the five hour drive to Sutton Bay in Agar, South Dakota.  We made a pit stop along the way for a quick nine holes at Dunes Golf Course in Fort Pierre, South Dakota.  Dunes is an executive course and served as a nice relaxing walk.
1st Hole, first time I've ever had to hit a wedge over a tree on the opening tee shot!
We arrived at Sutton Bay in the late afternoon, giving us enough time to take a trip around the newly built Par 3 course.  The Par 3 course at Sutton was fun and a perfect accompaniment to the big course.

View from our Room at Sutton Bay

After a wonderful dinner at the lodge at Sutton Bay we retired to our room excited to tackle the big course in the morning.











Halfway house of the original course in the middle of the picture
Sutton Bay is a fairly new course that is actually the second course built at the facility.  Sadly, the original course had several holes cave in due to unstable ground near the lake.  A new course designed by the original architect, Graham Marsh, was built on more stable, higher ground, above the original course.







18th Hole at Sunrise

12th Hole
After an enjoyable early morning round at Sutton Bay, we made the three-hour drive to Bismark, North Dakota and a round at Hawktree Golf Club.  Hawktree is a Jim Engh design and is one of his best courses in my opinion.  With that being said you are still left shaking your head on several holes.  My advice when playing any Jim Engh course is don't keep score and have a sense of humor and you'll be fine.
3rd Hole

7th Hole
We headed north after our round and spent the night in New Town, North Dakota.  The following morning we were treated to the biggest surprise of the trip, The Links of North Dakota in Ray, ND.  The Links was designed by Stephen Kay and is widely considered his best course.  The site for the golf course is amazing and Kay did a great job of routing the course over the land.  Links at North Dakota is easily in the Top 50 public courses in the country but because of it's location, it doesn't get the respect or attention it deserves.
2nd Hole

4th & 5th Holes

8th Hole
When we finished our morning round at The Links we embarked on a scenic nine hour drive across the state of Montana where we spent the night in Butte, Montana.  We were in the area to play another Tom Doak course that is one of the best courses in the country, Rock Creek Cattle Company in Deer Lodge, Montana.  Rock Creek is simply perfection for a destination club.  From the eight mile long entrance drive, to the clubhouse and golf shop, to the course, everything is exactly what you want it to be.  The hardest decision I had to make after this trip was deciding whether I liked Dismal Red or Rock Creek better.  I gave the very slight edge to Dismal but Rock Creek is still in my top 30 courses played.
8th Hole

10th Hole
12th Hole


15th Hole
After an amazing morning at Rock Creek, we made the five hour drive to Driggs, Idaho for an afternoon round at Huntsman Springs.  Huntsman was designed by David McLlay Kidd.  Mr. Kidd does something I really wish more modern designs would do, which is that he puts great thought into his forward tees and does a great job at creating tees at shorter yardages that allow the higher handicap player to enjoy the course.  My wife found several par 3's under 100 yards, several par 4's under 250 yards and a par 5 under 350 yard where she could actually hit wedge into the green for her third shot.  I have played other courses where Mr. Kidd does this and I can't thank him enough for allowing the less skilled player an opportunity to play real golf.


11th hole

12th Hole
18th Hole
We spent the night in Victor, Idaho and the next morning we made the short 40 minute drive over the mountain to Jackson Hole hole for a full day of golf and other adventures.  Our first stop of the day was Shooting Star Golf Club designed by Tom Fazio.  I've played almost 100 courses designed by Tom Fazio and I can confidently say the man knows how to build pretty courses.
2nd Hole

10th Hole

12th & 13th Holes
 After our round at Shooting Star we headed across the street to Jackson Hole Resort and took the aerial tram ride for a bird's eye view of Grand Teton:
Grand Teton
Our second round on day six was at 3 Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming.  3 Creek Ranch is a Rees Jones design with his typical style of bunkering.  Even though I'm not fond of his repetitive bunkering, I did enjoy the great variety of par 3's and 4's.
13th Hole

16th Hole

17th Hole
Day seven of the trip brought us to Snake River Sporting Club in Jackson, Wyoming for our final round of golf.  Snake River was expertly designed by Tom Weiskopf and is by far the best golf course in Wyoming.  Snake River sits next to a national forest and the setting along the river is perfect for golf.  The staff is one of the nicest and most welcoming you will ever find at a golf course.
2nd Hole

8th Hole

Me on the 15th Hole

Me holing my Eagle Putt on the Par 5 18th hole to finish one under for the round.  Great way to end the trip!!
After our round we made our second nine hour drive of the trip, back to Denver for our flight home in the morning.  As I sit here almost two years later reflecting on this crazy trip, I am very glad to have experienced it.  We played golf in five new states and I added two courses to my top 30.

Renaissance Cup Trip Review

In August of 2017 one of my good friends invited me to play in the Renaissance Cup with him.  The Renaissance Cup is an event put on by Tom ...