Monday, March 28, 2011

Return to topic, new post about cutting cost in course design to come shortly

Given some of the images I have seen recently of the renovated Pinehurst #2, it occurs to me that perhaps more courses will go along with what I write about here, though I certainly take no credit for them doing so. With this happening on the highest end of resort golf, hopefully more courses will follow suit. This week I will prepare an article on cost savings that come from less irrigated turf area as a result is less labor hours spent on the course. I have put this piece off for too long, I will have it up this week.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Update course reviews and top 25

I wrote a few long overdue course reviews today. And I updated my personal top 25 to reflect some recent course plays.
New Additions to the Top 25
1. Pacific Dunes, Bandon, OR
3. Old Macdonald, Bandon, OR
4. Bandon Trails, Bandon, OR
5. Rustic Canyon, Moorpark, CA
16. Sevillano Links, Corning, CA

New course rankings
Full review can be seen at:

Indian Valley Golf Course, Novato, CA: This course has some really cool holes, but some that really seem forced into the property....

Northwood, Monte Rio, CA: This course is said to have been designed by Alister MacKenzie; if that is the case it has likely fallen far....

Elizabeth Manor, Portsmouth, VA: This course seems to have been stuffed into a space that is slightly smaller than it needs to be....

Cypress Lakes, Travis AFB, CA: This course is built over very flat land and likely did not have the budget to do significant earth moving in order to make it more interesting....

Links at Bodega Harbour, Bodega Bay, CA: If ever a golf course has been blessed with such an exceptional site, I have not seen or heard of it. Yet this course comes in as so average as to be mind blowing....

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pacific Dunes vs. Links at Bodega Harbour: A study in the good and bad of ocean front design

In the past week I have had the pleasure (and displeasure) of playing two oceanfront golf courses in back to back rounds. Last Sunday I played Pacific Dunes in Bandon, OR. Today I played the Links at Bodega Harbour.  I should note from the start that Links at Bodega Harbour doesn't try to market themselves as being better than Pacific Dunes, however, given their website marketing saying they are "one of Northern California's most impressive golf courses" and "a true Scottish style links course" I feel that the comparisons are fair. I suppose the best way to start is a general comparison of the two courses:

Both courses have three holes that play very close to the ocean

Both courses occupy exceptional sites with varied terrain, wind, and incredible views of the Pacific Ocean

At Pacific Dunes, Tom Doak uses the ocean and the views of it the same way a great chef uses a fine wine to accentuate the taste of an exceptional Filet. At Bodega Harbour the ocean is used much the same way as the backyard griller uses beer to mask out an otherwise tasteless and burnt hamburger.

Pacific is built on land that drains very well, allowing for the course to be playable almost all the time. Bodega, even though it is built on a mountain directly above the ocean, somehow retains massive amounts of water in the fairways, making walking difficult.

Pacific Dunes has no houses on the property, while Bodega has houses on several holes that are so close to the playing areas, and running side-by-side down the entire length of the hole on both sides, as to make the course nearly unplayable in high winds (which are certain to occur given the location)

At Pacific Dunes, you have three holes that play directly by the ocean, 4, 11 and 13; there are also a few greens that overlook the ocean, but those are the three holes that in my mind play directly on the ocean/cliffs. Links at Bodega Harbour plays on the ocean for holes 16, 17 and 18. That is where the similarity ends however. At Pacific Dunes, these ocean front holes merely amplify the interior holes before and after them. Indeed, in my opinion, the 4th at Pacific Dunes may be the weakest hole on the course, and I say that in a most praiseworthy way. At Bodega Harbour, it is as if some form of drama is built through out the round towards a "big finish" by having teaser views of the ocean on the first 15 holes, yet after walking off the 16th tee and into the fairway, the ocean is not at all visible in spite of being only 50 yards away due to a row of dunes (and given how 'perfect' the dune line is, I suspect these were man-made). The same is the case with the other ocean front holes, if 17 can really be considered an ocean front hole given that it plays away from the 16th green back inland a ways, but I am being slightly generous today, so I'll give them the benefit and say the course has three holes on the ocean. 18 is much the same given that the ocean is in view from the tee and on the second shot, but again, at the green the ocean is 50 yards away and yet nowhere to be seen. At Pacific Dunes, not only is the sound of the surf below you somewhat distracting, the view of the cliffs and the ocean below really give the player a lot to think about standing over the three tee shots. What it really comes down to is that when the ocean is used at Pacific Dunes as a hazard, it adds to the natural beauty and strategy of the course; at Bodega Harbour, when given the chance to excel and use the ocean as part of a dramatic finish, falls woefully short and winds up with no real views of the ocean and the ocean never coming into play.

In dealing with the site similarities, I am quite frankly inclined to say that Bodega Harbour has a better site than does Pacific Dunes. The site has more movement and elevation change, yet is not so extreme as to prevent a course from being built on it. However, it is in the execution where the similarities end.

As I stated before, Pacific Dunes uses the ocean somewhat sparingly in order to keep your attention on the other, more substantial and important features of the course. At Bodega, it is as if the ocean is intentionally placed within your view on every hole in order to take your mind and eyes off the actual hole and the golf course. Otherwise, people might understand how poor this course really is. In spite of my listing houses and the ocean as two separate differences, it is impossible to address the weaknesses of the course and the ocean views without addressing the housing problem. It is rare that I am distracted by houses on a golf course. However, at Bodega, the homes are so close to the fairways in some cases that I actually feel the golf course is unsafe, not for the golfers, but for the home owners. Played in high winds like today, it is nearly impossible not to, in fact, aim FOR houses on some holes, 1, 2, and 9 come to mind as the worst offenders. With a strong cross-wind it is basically impossible to keep your ball out of the houses to the right of the 9th fairway without aiming over the houses on the left. 1 and 2 are not quite as bad, but they are very tight and generally not appealing in any way. After arriving on the 5th tee, golfers are treated to what would be one of the most spectacular views in all of golf, however, it is quite encumbered by views of a few hundred roof's and then the hole that proceeds from there is quite frankly one of the worst holes I have ever seen.

I think in the end what I am trying to say here is that Pacific Dunes was blessed with a spectacular site and had an exceptional designer and owner come in with enough skill to not let it be destroyed. At Bodega Harbour, they were blessed with certainly the best site I have ever seen, and frankly the best I have ever heard of, better than what I have seen of Pebble Beach, Turnberry and the rest. Yet for whatever reason, the potential course was so devastated by a housing development and a likely substandard original designer (Robert Trent Jones, II is listed as the designer, I have to believe is the Renovation designer and not the original designer given other work I have seen from him, therefore I do not hold him responsible for the original routing and without changing the routing, there is only so much polish one can place on a pile of manure) that I can honestly say that Bodega is the biggest letdown of a golf course I have ever played. Given what could have/should have been here, I am actually incline to say it is the worst golf course I have ever played and is the first course I have ever said is a Zero on a scale of 1-10; I doubt there has ever been a golf course fall so far below its potential. (Pacific Dunes is a 10, by the way)