Thursday, February 25, 2021

Texas 2021

 I decided to get my 2021 off to a fast start with a trip to Texas in January.  I will hopefully be returning in November, but more on that later.  I played lots of great courses, reconnected with old friends, and had a wonderful time.  I was very shocked by how easy traveling now is because of Covid.  This was my first time flying since the pandemic began and it was shockingly easy to navigate the airport, airplane, rental car etc.  I now wish I had been more ambitious travelling in 2020.  I'm sure the situation will change this summer and things will be getting back to normal, frustrating air travel.

The brilliant Par five 4th hole at Houston Oaks.  One of four excellent par five's at the course.

My trip began with the highlight of the trip.  Memorial Park golf course in Houston was re-designed by Tom Doak and crew very recently.  The course is now the host of the Houston Open on the PGA Tour.  Astros owner Jim Crane donated millions of dollars to pay for the renovation.  The transformation is amazing.  I was fortunate to play with people who had seen the course before the renovation, and they were able to guide me as to just how much of a transformation took place.  Trees were knocked down, new holes were created, old holes were re-routed, and drainage was improved significantly.  I continue to be impressed with Tom Doak as a jack of all trades.  We all know his skill at building original courses but his ability to take municipal courses and turn them into something architecturally significant is amazing.  I was particularly impressed at Memorial Park how he preserved playability for the high handicap regulars while still providing significant challenge for the tour pros.  That is something that is very difficult to accomplish.

The brilliance of Tom Doak is on full display at the short par three 15th Hole.  A wedge shot for most players, the hole demands a precise shot from those that wish to make birdie, and punishes severely when that shot doesn't happen, with fall offs into the water short and left.  Yet Doak left a bail out long and right for the high handicappers that results in a relatively easy chip.

I am also very excited about the prospect of playing match play at Memorial Park in November.  It's a perfect match play course that provides multiple options, and should make for a delightful event.

The par three 2nd hole at Memorial Park.  One of five exceptional par threes at the course.

After my morning at Memorial Park, I headed to the previous host of the Houston Open, the Golf Club of Houston in Humble.  First up was the Rees Jones designed Tournament course, which hosted the Houston open for about ten years.  The course is classic Rees with big bunkers and big greens.

Golf Club of Houston, Tournament Course. Long par three 9th hole

Next up was the Member course at Golf Club of Houston.  Designed by Jim Hardy, the course hosted the Houston Open previous to the tournament course.  I found the Member course to be more intimate and bunkering to be more varied and creative.

Golf Club of Houston, Member Course, Par five third hole

Day two of the trip began with a round with old friends at their club, Northgate Country Club, in Houston.  Northgate was designed by Robert Von Hagge, a European designer, with many courses in Texas.  Von Hagge definitely thinks outside the box as an architect, and Northgate is an example of him at his quirky best.

Northgate Country Club, Par four 3rd hole


One of the fun things about Northgate is the par five 18th hole.  In order to have the best chance of getting to the green in two you must take the most direct line to cut the dogleg.  The problem is that this line is directly over the tennis courts, obviously added after the hole was built.  So many people have tried to cut the corner resulting in golf balls hitting unaware tennis players, that the club had to put up a sign on the 18th tee!

After the eighteen hole course at Northgate, we played the Fast Five course.  Originally one of the three nines at Northgate, the Fast Five was created after a big storm, the tax day flood, resulted in the loss of several holes on the other side of Cypress Creek.  The fast five features the original first hole of Northgate, voted the hardest opening hole in Texas for several years.

Northgate Fast Five Course, Par four 1st hole.  Voted the most difficult first hole in Texas for many years

I wrapped up day two of the trip with another Von Hagge design, The Tournament Course at The Woodlands.  Formerly TPC at The Woodlands, the course has a long history of hosting tournaments including the Houston Open and most recently the Insperity Classic on the Champions Tour.  Because of the clear goal of hosting tournaments, the course is a more straightforward Von Hagge. with more clearly defined features.

The Woodlands, Tournament Course, par three 14th hole

The third day of the trip kicked off with possibly the best course on the trip, The Clubs at Houston Oaks Championship course.  Located about 45 minutes northwest of Houston in Hockley, the course was designed by Chet Williams, who gave us the wonderful Whispering Pines, perennially ranked as the best course in Texas.  The similarities to Whispering Pines are obvious, and yet the real strength of Houston Oaks was the par fives.  I find that most architects struggle to build four great par fives and yet Williams succeeded big time at Houston Oaks.  Each par five requires precision off the tee, strategy for the second, and an interesting green for the approach.

Houston Oaks, par three 5th hole

We headed over to the nine hole course at Houston Oaks next.  Called The Scrambler, the course features seven par threes and two par fours.  We enjoyed the course but were frustrated because six of the seven par threes featured the same yardage.  When I play a short course, I would really like to hit different clubs off the tees, I hit exactly two on the seven par threes.  Other than that, it was a delightful little course.

Houston Oaks, Scramble course, par four 9th hole

Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond Texas was our final destination on day three.  Designed by Rees Jones and located Southwest of Houston, the club was the home club of former President George H.W. Bush, who struck the opening tee shot.  

Shadow Hawk, par three 7th hole

The course is everything you expect from Rees with water featured on several holes.  I did enjoy the risk-reward finishing par five.

Shadow Hawk, par five 18th hole

Day four brought me closer in to the city for a round at Houston Country Club.  Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 1950's, the course was renovated by Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw in recent years.  

Houston Country Club, par four 10th hole

I really enjoyed the course, particularly the bunkering.  C&C have a knack for creating variety and interest in their bunker presentation around greens.

Houston Country Club, par four 6th hole

I wrapped up day four, and my time in Houston, with a round at Royal Oaks Country Club.  Not to be confused with the Royal Oaks in Dallas, this course was designed by Brian Curley as a Fred Couples signature design in the early 2000's.  It features waterfalls on several holes.  I did like the fact that it gives its members ten different tee box combinations.

Royal Oaks, the "signature" par three 16th hole

The final round of the trip took place in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton before I flew out.  Maridoe Golf Club is a Steve Smyers design that was built on top of the old Honors Golf Club.  I was told by my buddies in Houston that this was the hardest course in Texas.  I am happy to tell you that they were very wrong.  I admit it did look a little intimidating when looking at the aerial, but on the ground it has tons of width.  It does require precision around the greens, but Smyers always gives you a place to miss that will not punish you too severely.  

Maridoe, par three 14th hole

My fore-caddie was shocked by how long it took me to complete the round.  I was taking my time, taking pictures, looking at the surroundings, but I was also very dialed in with the driver that day and didn't have to waste any time looking for balls.  The ninety minutes it took me to play the course was his fastest loop ever by forty minutes.  

Maridoe, par four 18th hole

SCORECARDS

FLAGS

That's a wrap for Texas 2021 or at least for the Winter trip in 2021.  I hope to return in November and play more courses around Houston.  Texas is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to good courses in many different parts of the state.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

2020 Year in Review

2020 was a tough year for all of us.  Covid-19 changed our lives and we all had to adapt to the situation.  I had to cancel trips because of quarantine rules, flights being canceled, and courses only allowing member play during the height of the pandemic.  Overall, I still had a very good year despite the challenges.  The main highlight being my trip to Southern California that I was fortunate to take right before the pandemic made its full impact. 

Bel-Air Country Club.  My favorite experience of 2020

A big theme of the year for me this year was exercising the demon of missed opportunity.  I played golf courses in Southern California and Florida where I was forced to cancel a tee time many years ago and had been living with that regret for several years.  Both courses were worth the wait and were a good reminder that you shouldn't dwell on missed opportunities because you never know when you will have a chance to get it again.

Palma Ceia, one of a few courses where I got a second chance after having to cancel a time many years ago

One of the big things I took from 2020 was the positive impact on golf that the pandemic had.  The golf course where I work had its best year ever in terms of rounds.  Friends of mine that work at public courses had record years for revenue and rounds.  As horrible as the pandemic is, it is nice to see that more people are trying the sport that I love.

This is the sign in the front of the tiny golf shop of a wonderful Mom & Pop course in NC that I played this year.

FLORIDA PANHANDLE TRIP

Camp Creek Golf Club, Short par four 13th hole

My golf year kicked off with a trip to the Florida Panhandle with my wife.  We drove and made stops along the way at some very nice courses in Georgia and Alabama.  Trip profile is here: Panhandle Trip


Kinderlou Forest, par five 3rd hole

Perhaps the best thing to happen on the trip was that I got my second hole in one.  I waited 31 years to get my first, so the eight years to get my second didn't seem so bad.  The bonus this time is that my wife got to see it.  She was having surgery when I got my first and she is actually responsible for it.  I was going to sit in the waiting room and she told me to get out and go play golf.  Thanks Honey! This one came at the 7th Hole at Origins Golf Club.

2nd Hole in One and, before you ask, I'm not a fan of those leaning down while holding up one finger pictures I see all over social media when somebody gets one. So this is what mine looks like

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TRIP

PGA West, the infamous Island green 17th hole

The highlight of 2020 was my amazing trip to Southern California.  I played some bucket list courses along with some great courses in the desert and San Diego.  Profile of this once in a lifetime trip is here: Southern California Trip

The Madison Club, par three 5th hole

ORLANDO/TAMPA TRIP

Bella Collina, par three 11th hole

Right before the virus became a serious problem on the East coast, I headed to Central Florida for my semi-annual visit to Streamsong.  This trip was highlighted by a round at Palma Ceia, a course where I exercised the demon of missed opportunity as referenced earlier.  Profile is here:  Central Florida Trip

Reunion Resort, Palmer course, par four 7th hole

CORONAVIRUS TRAVELS

Cedar Rock, par five 9th hole

As the virus ragged through the country in the middle part of the year, I found myself making day trips to courses in North and South Carolina with my wife.  These trips were very enjoyable and often involved courses I knew very little about.  I decided to do a blog post about these trips and you can read it here:  Virus Travels

Deep Springs, par five 18th hole

MISCELLANEOUS STATISTICS

Now that we're about at the halfway point of my golf year, let's talk about my favorite part of this blog post, the statistics.

New Courses Played:       130
States Played in:               15
9 Hole Courses played:    10

Top 10 Courses by Architect

21   Donald Ross
6     Tom Fazio
6     Jack Nicklaus
5     Davis Love III
5     Jerry Pate
4     Arnold Palmer
4     Bob Cupp
4     Ellis Maples
3     Rees Jones
3     Robert Trent Jones II

Top 10 Courses by State

23    Florida
20    North Carolina
17    Georgia
15    California
11    South Carolina
10    Ohio
10    Michigan
8      Missouri
6      Alabama


Milestones Reached

1.  300 golf courses played in NC
2.  150 golf courses played in PA
3.  150 golf courses played in VA
4.  50 golf courses played in OH

Favorite Course:                 Can't mention favorite on Social Media, runner up was Bel-Air CC
Least Favorite Course:       Dan Valley
Most Overrated:                 PGA West Stadium
Most Underrated:               University of Michigan

Favorite Par 3:  8th Hole-Ozark National
Favorite Par 4:  18th Hole-Bel-Air
Favorite Par 5:  4th Hole-Longue Vue  

What's in a name

A fun breakdown of golf course names from 2020

(37)Landforms: Crest, Dune, Field, Forest, Garden, Hill, Hollow, Island, Knob, Mountain, Park, Plantation, Ranch, Ridge, Rock, Shore, Valley
(24)Water: Beach, Creek, Falls, Lake, River, Sea, Spring
(12)Directions: East, North, South, West
(10)Trees: Cedar, Magnolia, Oak, Pine, Willow
(9)Animals: Bear, Beaver, Buffalo, Crow, Elk, Goat, Raven, Sandpiper, Shark
(7)Object/Man Made: Cobblestone, Limestone, Pebble, Stadium, Tavern, Tooth, Wall 
(3)The word "National"
(2)Colors: Black, Green
(2)The word "Links"
(2)Food: Plum, Pudding
(1)States: Michigan
Alphabet-All letters except J, V, X, Z

Best Scores

63-Dan Valley
64-Goat Hill Park
65-Black Mountain, Highland Park
67-Barnsley Resort, The Fields, The Revival at the Crescent, Sandestin(Raven)
68-Hillcrest, Mohawk, Shepherd's Hollow, Warren Valley(East)

Worst Scores

80-Blessings
79-Cabarrus
 

 DEEP SOUTH ROAD TRIP

Barnsley Resort, par three 13th hole

I was very fortunate during the year to take a few short trips to the Deep South.  I combined these trips into one blog post.  Gil Hanse's wonderful design at Mossy Oak was the highlight.  Read all about it here: Deep South

Mossy Oak, par four 3rd hole in the fog

FAVORITE EXPERIENCE OF 2020

I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about my favorite experience from 2020 which was playing at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.  Playing at Bel-Air is one of the most unique experiences in golf because of the journey you take just to get around the course.  During a round at Bel-Air you will take 4 tunnels, a suspension bridge, and an elevator, all to play 18 holes.  The fact that George Thomas actually routed this course through canyons is a masterful achievement of golf architecture.

The famous Mae West Mounds in front of the 13th hole, restored by Tom Doak.

The first tunnel comes after the 5th hole.   Fun fact about this tunnel is that when the first golf carts were invented for use in Palm Springs, the designer measured the width of this tunnel to determine how wide the carts would be.  Those dimensions are still the standard used today.


The second tunnel is the one that takes you from the ninth green into the clubhouse, where you take an elevator to get up to the 10th tee.  Another fun fact is that Bel-Air recently decided to undertake a substantial renovation of the clubhouse in part because there are over 20 different levels that exist in the clubhouse, a product of adding so many things over time.  The goal is to only have 3 levels post-renovation.

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

The Suspension bridge takes you from the 10th tee to the 10th green.  Amazing views of Los Angeles can be had from this spot.  See the photo at the top of this blog post for said views.

The third tunnel takes you from the 10th green to the 11th tee where you play the next six holes through canyons.

Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

The last tunnel at Bel-Air takes you from the 16th green to the 17th tee.  The tradition here is for everybody in the group to throw a ball down the tunnel to see how far they can get.  The worst throw buys the first round in the clubhouse.
Photo courtesy of Jon Cavalier

 MICHIGAN/OHIO TRIP


University of Michigan, par four 6th hole

My wife and I were going to take a big summer trip this year to Nova Scotia and Maine but with Covid we had to get creative, so instead we took a long road trip to Michigan that featured stops at great Ross courses in Ohio, and a memorable round at the most underrated course in Ohio.  Trip details are here: Michigan Road Trip

Sylvania, par three 9th in foreground, 8th green back left, 3rd green back right

MISSOURI TRIP

Ozark National, par three 8th hole

Another casualty of the virus was my planned trip to Lake Tahoe in September, not because of safety, but because the airline kept canceling my flights and re-routing me to the point there was no way I could get there or back on time.  I was determined to use the time off so my wife generously agreed to help me with a driving trip to Missouri.  The trip included most of the courses at Big Cedar Lodge, including that one guy's first public course design.  My Missouri adventures can be found here: Missouri Trip

Payne's Valley, par three 5th hole

FLORIDA WINTER TRIP

Streamsong Red, Biarritz Par three 16th hole

My year in golf concluded with another trip to Central Florida.  Besides the usual destination of Streamsong, I was able to play the courses at the World Golf Village for the first time and check out a private club in Georgia where lots of tour pros reside. Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was the opportunity to play one of the Streamsong courses by myself for the first time.  Last trip of 2020 is here: Florida Winter Trip

Frederica, par five 18th hole

9 HOLE COURSES

Charlie Yates Golf course, par three 3rd hole in foreground

I was very encouraged this year when Golf Magazine came out with a list of the 50 best 9 Hole courses in the world as well as the 25 best short courses and 25 best courses under 6000 yards.  It is great to see a major publication acknowledge the importance of these courses in the golf world.  I added 10 courses to my total this year, getting me to 78 and within sight of my goal of 100.

CC of Mobile North course, par three 8th hole

ECLECTIC EIGHTEENS
This year's eclectic was much harder to put together than last year.  Sometimes they just come together where you find one hole that is so obviously better, that didn't happen this year.  My main problem this year was "ok so the best hole at course A is the 11th hole which is a par 4, but the best hole at course B is also the 11th hole and of course it's a par 4 as well"  And yes, I am complaining about something that nobody but me cares about.  It's what I do! 

Par 3's 1 to 9
Top L to R: #1-Mountaintop, #2-Pilot Knob, #3-Sylvania, #4-Westwood, #5-Bel-Air, #6-Goat Hill, #7-Denison at Granville, #8-Ozark National, #9-Youngstown

Par 3's 10 to 18
Top L to R, #10-Longue Vue, #11-Manakiki, #12-Western, #13-Palma Ceia, #14-University of Michigan, #15-Torrey Pines North, #16-La Quinta Mountain, #17-PGA West Stadium, #18-Grosse Ille

Par 4's 1 to 9
Top L to R, #1-Troubadour, #2-Saticoy, #3-Shepherd's Hollow, #4-Torrey Pines South, #5-Grosse Ille, #6-University of Michigan, #7-Black Mountain, #8-Country Club of Mobile, #9-Greenville Country Club Riverside

Par 4's 10 to 18
Top L to R, #10-Elks, #11-Tanglewood Reynolds, #12-Sylvania, #13-Lancaster, #14-Brushy Mountain, #15-St. Albans Tavern Creek, #16-Devil's Knob, #17-, #18-Bel-Air

Par 5's 1 to 9

Top L to R, #1-Bel-Air, #2-Blessings, #3-Nevillewood, #4-Longue Vue, #5-Mossy Oak, #6-McLemore, #7-Westbrook, #8-Rancho Santa Fe, #9-Cedar Rock

Par 5's 10 to 18
Top L to R, #10-Barnsley Resort, #11-Mohawk, #12-Manakiki, #13-Shepherd's Hollow, #14-Buffalo Ridge Springs, #15-Western, #16-PGA West Stadium, #17-Black Mountain, #18-Lexington

SCORECARDS
Once again the cats insisted on helping!



FLAGS
White

Red
Yellow
Blue
Checkerboard
Miscellaneous

2021

I am determined to get 2021 started right so I have trips to Houston and Scottsdale on the books for January and February.  March could bring a return trip to Florida if things work out right.  As to the rest of the year, I really don't know yet.  If things progress well with the virus and Canada opens its border we might try Cabot this year, and if not, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park are an attractive alternative. 

Texas 2021

 I decided to get my 2021 off to a fast start with a trip to Texas in January.  I will hopefully be returning in November, but more on that ...