Monday, November 13, 2006

Wolfpack Golf Course Description

NC State University has been planning for about 20 years to build a golf course on the University's Centennial Campus. You can read more about that effort in NC Golfer by going to NCSU Tries to Build a Golf Course. It's the posting immediately after this one.

However, here's a description of the proposed golf course. For guidance, take a look at the scorecard and the most recent course layout. You may want to print the scorecard and the layout.

The front side, par 35, has three par 3s, two par 5s and four par 4s and is a mix of short and long holes. The par 5s—the 1st and 7th holes—are 555 and 585 yards. The par 3s—holes 2, 6 and 8—are 170, 180 and 220 yards from the tips. (Architect Erik Larsen would like to move the tees for the 2nd and 8th holes back and extend the yardages, but that would call for a shot across a stream and the cutting down of a handful of trees, both not allowed.)

Though a tributary of Walnut Creek which is fed by Lake Raleigh runs through the front side, water only comes into play on the short 3rd hole, a 380-yard, dogleg left that will have a small pond in front of the green. The other par fours are the 395-yard 4th, the 450-yard 5th, and the 455-yard 9th. Just imaging finishing the front nine with these: 450-yard par 4, 180-yard par 3, 585-yard par 5, 220-yard par 3 and 455-yard par four.

It gets no easier on the back which is shown on the scorecard as a typical par 36 nine with two par 3s, two par 5s and five par 4s. But the 11th hole, which is a 610-yard par 5, can and will be played as a 410-yard par 4. This hole is located at the end of the driving range (also a problem for Larsen) which sits between the 10th and 18th holes. The teeing area on the 11th hole is designed to be 200-yards long and will be where the NC State golf teams will practice. So, when the team is there, the tees for the 11th hole will be moved forward, converting the hole from a 610-yard, par 5 to a 410-yard par 4, reducing the inward nine to a par 35.

Larsen, the architect, says the driving range, even with the use of the 11th tee, is too short. “Those college golfers will hit it over the clubhouse from there. It’s just too short for today’s young golfers. We’re giving them a place to practice but it’s just not going to be long enough,” said Larsen.

The back nine is also a mix of short and long holes with the two par 3s—the 14th and 17th holes—measuring 140 and 205 yards. In addition to the 610-yard, 11th hole, the other par 5, the 18th hole, is 585 yards. The par 4s are projected to be 355 yards (10th), 395 yards (12th), 405 yards (13th), 445 yards (15th) and 385 yards (16th). Sort of like finishing the front nine, the back’s final four holes include: 445-yard par 4, 385-yard par 4, 205-yard par 3, and 585-yard par 5.

You comments about the layout and description are welcome.

NCSU Tries to Build a Golf Course

Becky Bumgardner is looking for money which is required before construction of Erik Larsen’s design for an area “slight in space” can begin. NC State University wants to build a championship golf course along the southern edge of the University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh, and while Larsen, the project architect, is ready to move ahead with the limited land area, Bumgardner’s limited effort on behalf of the University drags along. It’s a project that’s been on NC State’s drawing board for about 20 years, and it’s long over due.

Bumgardner is executive director of NCSU University Development and has been trying to raise money for this project for a number of years. She says a $3 million donation is the major missing money required to start construction of the layout Larsen, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, and Senior Golf Course Architect of Palmer Course Design Company, put on paper. Getting the $3 million, an amount recently reduced from $5 million for course naming rights, has been a low priority item for the University, but recently Bumgardner and others have accelerated the effort and have some good possibilities including a donation which might name the course for former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano.

The idea of the golf course for NC State University has changed a lot since it was first just an idea at the tip of a land-planner’s pencil. Shortly after then Governor James B. Hunt, NC State ’59 (BS, Agricultural Education), NC State ’62 (MS, Agricultural Education), in 1984 was instrumental in giving part of the
Dorothea Dix Hospital land to his alma mater a drawing for a University golf course appeared on an overlay of the property. That idea had the course circling Lake Raleigh. It was either one big dogleg right or one big dogleg left. It was just an idea, using wetlands instead of other prime real estate. However, environmental studies shelved that idea along with other ideas of building within a certain proximity to the water.

Initially, renowned golf course architect
Tom Fazio was asked to submit plans for a course. His group came up with several options, but none fit into the land area, and usage of the land area was not going to change. According to several high-ranking NC State University officials, Fazio submitted several layouts but all were rejected because Fazio wanted to ask for variances to use some of the stream buffers. Fazio eventually withdrew from the project which was fine with the University because, by then, Fazio had been hired to redesign the Finley Golf Course in Chapel Hill, and heaven forbid…

The University turned to two well-know golf architects:
Arthur Hills and Arnold Palmer. The two companies bid on the project, and Palmer Course Design Company won for various reasons including cost but also because of Erik Larsen is a 1977 graduate of NC State.

With the land strapped tight, Larsen says he designed an Arnold Palmer Signature Course, a 6,915-yard par 71 layout. All in all, Larsen likes the design in the space but says it may not be long enough, saying that new golf courses these days are being built for 7,400 yards plus. In other words, he likes what he did for the space but, in the same thinking as Fazio, the University would be getting a much better course with more land “We can tweak it here and there and get another 10 yards per hole,” said Larsen. “But that puts it just over 7,000 yards. A 7,500 yard layout is a minimum of what they need. But we’re working with a small space here. It’s definitely core golf. It’s slight in area. We would like to use all of the property—like where the (proposed) road cuts through and where there’s running water running—but that’s not being allowed. The University would have to get a variance but that’s not happened.”

Nor is it going to happen. The University is happy with what’s in place now. Questions to University officials about limiting the use went unanswered. “It’s just what we want to do,” said one high level University executive who said the University didn’t want to ask the State for a variance.

On paper, Larsen has put together an intriguing course. Take a look at the
scorecard and the most recent course layout. Read a layman's description of the course in NC Golfer: See Wolfpack Golf Course Description, one posting above this one.

According to Larsen, there is only a 50-foot elevation change throughout the course. “We have very few flat holes, maybe one or two,” Larsen said in a telephone call from his office in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. “You’ll get deep roll through the course. Though we are limited in space, we are not fighting the property with this design. There will not be a lot of manufactured sloping or mounding. We want to enhance the natural topography of the land. When the golf teams learn the nuances of the shots, learn the reason for hitting it down the right side of the first hole to get the ball to the middle of the fairway, those players will have an advantage when playing tournaments there.”

When it’s time to plant grass or lay sod, Larsen’s preference for the fairways is Zoysia. “I prefer it to Bermuda, and it’s usually the architects preference that’s selected, but we will consult with the (NC State University) Turfgrass Management Department, the Agronomy Department, to determine what’s best for the area, what they feel they can best maintain,” said Larsen. “The greens will be a type of bent grass.”

But before any grass can be planted, there’s the matter of the money which is needed to start bulldozers to build what will be a public facility and the home of the Wolfpack’s men’s and women’s golf teams. It will also be a laboratory for NC State’s Professional Golf Management
(PGM) program and the University’s Turfgrass Management curriculum. The course is expected to see lots of play by students, faculty, staff, alumni, Raleigh area golfers and Capital City visitors. When completed, it will be the only “inside the beltline” public golf course in Raleigh. It will be only one of three course inside Interstate 440 that wraps around the Capital City proper with the other two—Carolina Country Club and Raleigh Country Club—private.

In mid-October, Bumgardner felt the University was close to getting the naming donation. “If it works out, we could start building in November,” Bumgardner overstated during lunch at the newly-opened State Club dinning facility in the luxurious Dorothy and Roy Park
Alumni Center, the front door of which sits within a wedge of the proposed golf course’s location. The Center’s back door overlooks Lake Raleigh which at one time was a primary water source for Raleigh. The Park Center appears to sit closer to the Lake than any part of the golf course will be to any stream.

Initially, the entire project which includes golf course construction, a research and training facility and a clubhouse was pegged at $16 million. However, with Larsen’s expertise and in discussions with course builders, it was determined, according to Bumgardner, that the course could be built for a lot less than the original estimate of $9.6 million. The exact figure is not known but it’s in the $5 million range.

While the course will be part of the University and even though it will be an integral part of at least two academic programs, the course and its support facilities will be funded through donations. Thus the need for $3 million, but that’s just for the naming rights. Initially, it was a $5 million donation requirement, but with the lower cost, that amount has been reduced to $3 million. The remaining money will come from other donations including hole-naming contributions. For $150,000, you can have your name on the 1st, 10th or 18th holes. For holes 2 through 9 and 11 through 17, the price is $100,000 each. The practice range has a $500,000 naming price tag.

According to Bumgardner, the response for holes has been very good. “We’ve still got a few left, but we’re close to finalizing that part of it,” said Bumgardner, who noted that one contributor wanted to name the easiest hole on the course. “He didn’t want to take pot luck and possibly get the hardest hole. He didn’t want people telling him his hole was too hard to play.”

In return for contributions, the donors will be rewarded in various ways. The $3 million donor gets to play the opening round of golf on the (insert your name here) Golf Course with none other than Arnold Palmer himself, no-charge Life Centennial Pass for a foursome at anytime, priority tee times, a photo taken with Palmer, and other stuff. The hole-sponsors get a four-year no-charge pass. The
naming opportunities and benefits go on and on.

So does Bumgardner’s search for money. When she gets there, Larsen will see his design take shape. Until recently, the University has not put much of a priority on this project which started too many years ago to get only to this point, and that’s a shame. Until recently, there has been no real urgency put on fundraising for the course, and land limitations slowed the process. But, the project seems to have picked up steam and is headed to conclusion after 20 years on the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Carolina Country Club is definitely a gem!

If you're looking for a throw-back of a golf course, one that takes you back to a style before railroad timbers, target fairways and greens, seaside marshes, and residences that border fairways, one that takes you back to the inner city where land area is tight yet the results are huge, you need to play the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh NC. Unfortunately for the golfing public, it's private, very private.

Located just a few miles west from the heart of North Carolina's Capital City and inside the proverbial (as well as the actual) highway belt line surrounding Raleigh, the Carolina Country Club (golf course), a prestigious old-Raleigh facility, was built in 1910 but today should win the hearts of golfers of all abilities. It sits next to busy Glenwood Avenue which for years was the primary East-West travel route through Raleigh and is surrounded on three sides by Country Club Hills, primarily developed in the 1950s. (It's somewhat of an exclusive neighborhood but not gated. Former US Senator John Edwards lived there until he decided to build a new home outside of Carrboro/Chapel Hill NC.)

There's not a lot of public information on Carolina Country Club, and that's the way the membership wants it, or so it seems. Even the website offers only a few photos of the elegant and stately clubhouse. More information can be found on other golf sites, but not a lot of details. One of the unique things about Carolina Country Club is that no one seems to know the name of the original golf course architect. Many years ago, two fires on two different occasions took out two clubhouses and lots of the course records, including original drawings of the neat, hilly layout. A most recent renovation was handled by
John LaFoy.

It's just a guess, but after playing the course and after studying a course layout, the initial nine was constructed first by itself with the second nine coming a few years later. This theory is supported with the front nine located in the center of the property and close to the clubhouse and with the second nine wrapping itself around the first nine and primarily along the outer property line. And, every hole, with the exception of a couple of par 3s, have changes in elevation from tee to green.

A study of the card and one playing round will easily tell you why Carolina Country Club is known as the "toughest short course you'll ever play." There are three sets of men's tees on the par 71 course. (The ladies have one set and play it as a par 72.) The longest course is from the Black tee markers and is only 6,304 yards long. So, based on total yardage, one might think of Carolina Country Club as short and easy. But, it doesn't take long to realize it's 70.8 rating and 133 slope is a bit tougher than it seems.

There are five par 5 holes, starting with the first hole, the only par 5 under 500 yards long. The 475-yard opening hole is downhill and bends very slightly to the left with a creek running across the fairway less than 100 yards from the green. A good drive gives the long hitter a chance to make it home in two, but the green is elevated with a small opening to the green between a sand bunker in front and to the right of the green. The average player will hit short of the creek. The other par fives are lengths of 542 yards (6th hole), 515 yards (10th hole), 506 yards (12th hole) and 516 yards (18th hole). Maybe on a dry, hot summer day when the Bermuda fairways are giving plenty of roll, longer hitters could get home in two on the downhill No. 10, or on the others with two big shots, but approaches to these par 5s also are well-guarded with sand bunkers around elevated and multi-tiered greens. Every green on the course is that way: multi-tiered with lots of sand bunkers. Because of the length of the par fives, a good tee shot is required. There's ample room in the landing areas, but I was erratic from the tee on the par 5s and was three over par on those five holes totaling 2,554 yards of the course's 6,304 yards.

There are the six par 3s with lengths of 192 yards (2nd hole), 228 yards (4th hole), 182 yards (8th hole), 158 yards (11th hole), 196 yards (13th hole) and 190 yards (17th hole). Standing on the tee of each par 3 gives you a false sense of length. They seem shorter in some ways but play awfully long. With considerable length, I hit a strong 5-iron on the 2nd hole, a solid and well struck 4-wood on the 4th, a good 7-iron on the downhill 8th, an 8-iron on the 11th (considered the signature hole with its island green), a 5-iron on the 13th, and a 6-iron on the 17th. In each case, with the exception of the 13th where I nearly shanked the tee shot, I was pin high or slightly past the pin, but poor putting placed me three-over par on the par 3s which total 1,146 yards in length.

There are seven par 4s and only two of those are over 400 yards: the 414-yard, 9th hole which is uphill and plays more as if it is 430 yards long, and the 450-yard, 16th hole, the No. 2 handicap hole on the course. (The 228-yard, par 3, 4th hole is considered the toughest.) The remaining par 4s--308 yards, 334 yards, 360 yards, 382 yards, and 356 yards--need little more than a 4-wood off from the tee, but a driver can be used with accuracy. Each has well placed sand bunkers in the fairway. I was five over on the par 4s and 11 over for the day. 82.

A neat characteristic of this throw-back style course is where various tees and green come together. For instance, the 2nd green, 3rd tee, 17th green and 18th tee are within a few yards of each other. The 3rd hole and the 18th hole actually share a teeing area. The same type of complex brings together the 3rd, 5th and 15th greens with the 4th and 6th teeing areas. The designer of the course also placed tees somewhat behind previous greens. For instance, after putting out on the 15th green, the Black tee players find the 16th tee even with a spot about 40 back down the 15th fairway. There's no chance of a ball hit from the 16th tee finding the 15th green. This happens several times throughout the course.

Time of year has a lot to do with opinion of a course. This time of year, the standard Bermuda fairways and tees are over seeded with rye grass, but the excellent maintenance crew keeps it tightly cropped. The bent gress greens are soft and very receptive to approach shots. The four-wood I hit on the 228 yard par 3, 4th hole, hit pin high and stopped about 10 feet past the hole. I didn't mind the course condition whatsoever though I would enjoy playing it in the summer when the Bermuda is dominant and the greens are probably a bit firmer. By the way, the sign in the golf shop said the greens were at 9 on the Stimp meter, but just as Carolina Country Club is known as the "toughest short course you'll ever play," those 9s were running about 11 or 12, or so it seemed. Very smooth and very fast, just as greens should be.

While the architect is unknown, there are a lot of Donald Ross characteristics as the course uses the natural terrain but similarities stop with the multi-tiered greens. Most have a front shelf which is lower than the back of the green with a sudden elevation change in between, and some greens have three tiers with the middle tier actually lower than the front and back. However, unlike typical Ross greens, there are no false fronts, and putts rolling from the higher level to lower level will remain on the putting surface.

On the
North Carolina Golf Panel's list of Top 100 Courses, Carolina Country Club does not show up. It's only because very few, if any, of the Panel's members, until this week, have played the course. My guess is it will make the 2007 list and debut very high. I know I'll give it a good rating. It's a gem of a course, one I definitely would play every day.

Friday, September 29, 2006

You've Got To Like Sergio

After Tiger Woods fired an opening round, 8-under par 63 to lead the American Express Championship in Chandler’s Cross, England, he got a little defensive about his Ryder Cup performance. He pointed out that if the event had been individual stroke play for five rounds, he would have finished no worse the 15th.

WOW! Fifteenth out of, what, 24? For the world’s best golfer, competing against a field that was nowhere close to including the overall top 24 in the world, 15th would be dismal. But, he defended his performance.

“I only had one bad day, which was Saturday morning,” he said. “Other than that, I actually played pretty darn good. I’m only in control of five points, and I got three of five. I did the best I could. I could have holed more putts, certainly, but overall, I thought I played pretty solid.”

While I would never boot Tiger from my Ryder Cup team, his point total combined serious play and lots of grinding. His on-the-course personality is always stoic, unlike that of European cheerleader Sergio Garcia. While the latter’s fun-loving, have-a-good-time-demeanor is contagious, Woods’ staid approach to competition doesn’t encourage his partners to join in the fun of good play and winning. Even when he makes a spectacular putt and shows us his fist pump, he’s all business, and being all business seems to spread to his teammates. The only benefit I see to that is to the Euros because when Ryder Cup competition is all business and no play, the United States team gets tight and misses opportunities to take control and command.

To his credit, Woods wants for younger Americans to step up and qualify for the Ryder Cup in two years. He wants the same type of enthusiasm Garcia shows to be ingrained in the Americans. Unfortunately, what Tiger doesn’t get is that he, as the best player on the team, can be the catalyst for fun on the links, the example for his teammates, but that’s just not his style.

Speaking of Garcia, while some people do not like his smugness and temper tantrum style especially when he’s actually losing a hole in Ryder Cup competition, he does have an impressive record in the once-every-two-years event. He’s 14-4-2 overall, 13-1-2 in team events including 8-0 in alternate shot. If you do the math, (I’ll do it for you anyway), you’ll see he’s just 1-3 in singles matches.

And, he has never won a Major golf tournament, not a Masters, a US Open, a (British) Open, or a PGA Championship. This is most recently pointed out in a column by Bob Harig of the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, who asks the question, “Why is Garcia so good in the Ryder Cup and so shaky in the game’s biggest individual tournaments?”

Harig never answers the question, but he has an interesting quote from Garcia: “I can’t live without it (Ryder Cup). It makes for an unbelievable week. It is special because it is difficult to get into the team. Winning is definitely more satisfying than winning an individual event. The more fun I have, the better I play. My swing is looser. My thoughts are better.”

In his column, Harig comments: “Garcia’s infectious enthusiasm rubs off, although it still is a mystery why this kind of play does not translate into majors. As much as the Europeans like to indict American golf because of the Ryder Cup, the fact remains that they have not won a major since 1999. And golf, after all, is an individual sport, one that turns into a team affair on rare occasions.”

That last comment, Mr. Harig, is one with which I respectfully disagree. I’d say with the exception of the professional tours, most golfers play team, match-play competition 99% of the time. Member-Member tournaments; Member-Guest events; Superball/Captain’s Choice charity events; even the Saturday morning scrambles pitting one foursome against another; and, within the foursomes, there are various competitions two of which are six-six-six and Nassau. Every day, thousands and thousands of golfers compete in team competition, and usually it’s match-play. That’s why the regular-guy golfer out there gets upset when the United States professionals are just doing their job and stinking-up the Ryder Cup.

Let’s face it. Tiger Woods is an excellent player. And who am I to say something so obvious? But, he’s a grinder who enjoys the soft core team bets at Isleworth Country Club but is a better competitor when it’s just Tiger against the world over four straight days of individual, stroke play.

While I’m not a Sergio faithful, I do enjoy watching him play golf. He takes it just serious enough to compete at a high level despite his lack of a Major championship. However, in reality, it seems he’s always just enjoying a good walk, not one spoiled.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Time to change US Ryder Cup selection

Bottom line: the final result of the Ryder Cup matches is not all that important, even if you are an avid golfer and a flag waving American, which I am. It's just a game, and apparently, most of the members of Team USA (or whatever you want to call it) approached it just that way: not important. They might have looked serious and interested on the ridiculous tape delay coverage of the first two days and, the live broadcast of the final round singles competition on Sunday but the final results were laughable.

It's not a life or death situation to those millionaires citizens of the United States who made up the 2006 team. It's just a game. However, golfers like to watch good golf, and this year, for us to do that, we had to concentrate primarily on the European team. The final tally points to that, but, if you watched just a little of the matches held last Friday-Sunday, you saw the Euros with a little more bounce in their steps and a little more fun in their game.

I could hash and re-hash the matches but there's no need for that. What I'd like to propose is a new selection system for assembling the Yankee contingent, one that gives more of the selection process to the Captain and his assistants but requires the players to practice the format as part of the selection process.

Right off the bat, with the exception of Johnny Miller, there are few possible captains who would want to select all 12 members for fear of losing many friends along the way. Right now, the captain picks two from less than two handfuls of possibilities, and those not chosen probably understand why they were left off the team. Miller, I think, needs to be captain for life, because he knows more about the game and more about the players that anyone on this planet and all of the Universe. If you don't believe me, just ask Miller. He'll tell you the same. Unfortunately, I think, if Miller had his way, he would try to get dual citizenship for several Euros and Aussies and New Zealanders and Africans so he could complete the squad with his top choices.

Instead of having a two-year-points-earned-in-tournaments-qualifying system, I'd like to see a squad of 32 players selected right now. Over the next two years, any of the 32 could be dropped from active status and players from outside the original 32 could be added. But by six months to the day prior the competition, the 32 shall be chosen. From that point until two weeks prior to the Ryder Cup, those 32 players will have to practice as a team at least once every two weeks but only in Ryder Cup style practices, using the various competition methods in the actual Ryder Cup. Practice would include two days of four ball and two days of foursomes and four days of singles matches, at a minimum.

During the practice rounds, every player would be available to help another player, even if on the opposing practice team. They would be able to discuss strategy, putting, club selection, dinner reservations and family stuff. The captain and several assistants would watch, take notes, and give pointers when necessary. Each night, the captain and assistants would discuss each player in an effort to assemble the very best TEAM.

Now, if the PGA and the players want to have any automatic qualifiers, that's fine, but no more than four, maybe six, but if the captain has good reason to leave off one of the automatic qualifiers, the captain would make his case to a PGA Ryder Cup committee which would rule either in favor of the automatic qualifier or the captain.

The final results would be a team that's a team, one that knows how to compete in Ryder Cup competition. I contend that players such as Phil Mickelson is not a good match play competitor. He might have been at one time, but he's more of a stroke play, four-round grinding competitor. The final hole of the US Open is a prime example. His wild tee shot and subsequent attempts to get the ball in the hole is typical of stroke competition. If he had played that hole as if it were match play, knowing a four would win and a five would tie, he would have hit four-wood off the tee and played to the middle of the green. Phil, though, was trying to post a number, not win a hole. In the Ryder Cup, I would rather have had a poor playing Davis Love III than Mickelson.

In this year's Cup, Tiger Woods scored three points, more than any other US player. Stewart Cink, a captain's pick, had 2.5 points. All other Americans had less than 2.5 points. Seven Euros congtributed 2.5 points or more out of a possible five. No one contributed five points, but three Euros contributed all they could. For a review of the points earned by the US and the Euros, go to the
Ryder Cup web site.

My suggestion can use some tweaking, but if the Ryder Cup is important to the PGA, if it is important to the PGA to win, then the PGA needs to come up with a way to select a better team, and not to base the selection on the most recent playing abilities or a hot streak from a year earlier that stood during the second year of qualifying. Pros are known to get hot and rattle off a few hot rounds at just the right time, but that doesn't make them the best Ryder Cup players.

Bottom line: It's really not that important, but if you want a good team, let's get serious about the selection process.

JUST WONDERING: If the US broadcasts on Friday and Saturday were tape delay, then if an announcer, just before showing a shot or putt, said, "Just moments ago..." then were we watching a tape delay of a tape delay? Next time it's in Europe or Ireland or Great Britain, show the afternoon matches live, tell us what happened in the morning matches, and then show us highlights of the morning matches.

What do you think. Leave your comment here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gaston Country Club, Gastonia NC

If you read my review of Old Town, you know that one criteria I use for rating a golf course is the repeat play factor. During and following the round on any course, I present myself with this question: Is this a course I would play every day?"

The answer as related to the Gaston County Club in Gastonia NC is an emphatic "YES!"

About 40 members of the North Carolina Golf Panel accepted an invitation to play there Monday, and the Ellis Maples design, which was re-design/renovated in 2004 by Chris Spence of Greensboro NC, passed the initial litmus test, at least with me and I'm very sure by the others being overly pampered by the Club members and staff of Gaston.

We found a course in wonderful condition from tee through green on every hole. The A4 Bent grass greens (rebuilt as part of that 2004 renovation) were running at 11 on the Stimp meter. However, different from Old Town Club (see previous post) with its mounds in the middle of many greens, Maples and Spence gave Gaston two-tiered beauties which allow for a variety of pin positions which in turn can easily change the course from calm and simple to extremely challenging and very tough to score well.

In the dawn of his career as a course designer, Maples worked for Donald Ross and Spence is considered an expert on Ross renovation, so the combination of the two designers gives the course Ross-tendencies on the greens with false fronts and other areas around the greens where a slight mistake on your approach will result in your ball rolling off an edge into a closely mowed fringe. This also allows for use of your putter from well off the green. And, the false fronts are nothing like pure Ross greens where a shot hitting on the front of a green might roll as much as 50 yards back into the fairway. These fronts are slight and give the average golfer a chance to easily get up and down, if one is able to manage the speed of the green.

In our foursome, three of us regularly putted from up to 10 yards off the green while one player used a 52-degree wedge from as close as six inches from the green's edge. He was as accurate, probably more so, than the rest of us. The greens gave us some interesting and exciting moments throughout the round. After two holes, each of us had experienced approach putts that rolled four or five feet past the hole. Some made the return effort; some missed. On our third hole, the par-3, 11th, we all hit the green but no one was very close. One partner was standing over a five footer for par when I said, "It's apparent that making five foot putts will be very important today." About to start his stroke, that member stopped his effort, looked up, sort of laughed and said, "Thanks a lot." But he gathered himself quickly and stroked his par effort into the cup's center.

My score of 82 included three birdies and four double bogeys, three due to penalty shots from hitting into water hazards. I had 35 putts, hitting just 11 greens and only three 3-putts along with four 1-putt efforts. The greens were very true to the reading. But there were some interesting moments in the round.

I birdied the second toughest hole on the course, the 422-yard, par 4 15th hole which starts from an elevated tee, is a slight dogleg left down a hill and then back up a hill to an elevated green. My drive was well struck but caught the branch of tree along the left side. It stayed in the fairway but left me with an up-hill 8-iron to a front, left pin position. I landed the ball short of pin-high near the left edge of the green, and it stopped nearly immediately. I actually misread the putt, not seeing as much break, but I miss hit the attempt at birdie, sort of stabbing it left. The result was a roll that actually caught the right line and end up six-inches below the green's surface.

I also birdied the 395-yard, par 4 16th hole, but it only tied my buddy, Johnny Moore who made a putt from off the front of the green. The pin was about 15 feet onto the green, and I hit my approach shot two-feet under the hole. In making his birdie putt, Johnny's attempt actually rolled about 16 feet. He stroked it well but just left of the hole and about six-inches beyond the cup. It tried to stop, but just when everyone thought Johnny would have par, the ball started a reverse course and rolled back into the hole. Johnny had a very nice 77, five over par.

When you're playing a course with greens such as these, sometimes your thoughts of the course itself take a back seat, but at Gaston Country Club, which originally built in 1958, the routing of the holes, the variety of shots, the beautiful tall trees throughout, give you pause to enjoy the overall course while it offers a challenge for the day. The par-72 course has five sets of tees with the longest set listed at 7,042 yards with a course rating of 74.2 and a slope of 135. Our foursome played the 6,615 yard layout with its 72.1 rating and 131 slope. The fairways and tees are sewn with 419 Bermuda grass which offers terrific fairway lies and tough shots from thick rough.

What Spence did two years ago in his redesign was to change the greens complexes, specifically re-contouring the greens, taking out some of the surface slope and giving them more flat areas to allow for the speed of bent grass (originally, the greens were bermuda) and to give more pin placements, and the reshaping of the bunkers, softening the severity of the lips, bringing the fairway grass down into the edges. He also lengthened a couple of holes and made a few more interesting changes to a total of seven holes.

The course is fair. The long hitters have a chance to reach each of the four par 5s in two though two of those holes are guarded by creeks just a few yards in front of the greens. And, the four par 3s are not gimmicky with club selection from wedge to six iron for me. The par 4s call for accurate long drives or the use of a four-wood to avoid well placed creeks and other penalizing areas. The longest par 4 we played was the 439-yard, dogleg right 3rd-hole with a well placed creek along the right side. The shortest par 4s had lengths of 376, 373, 387, 367 and 362 yards.

The 18th hole is a wonderful par-5, 497 yard finishing hole, from an elevated tee with a lake along the entire right hand side. The green is well-bunkered to help prevent a two-shot assault. However, the most spectacular scene on the entire course, as far as I'm concerned, is the approach to the 17th hole, a short (362 yards) par four. The green is the highest point on the property and sits alone except for one tall oak tree at its back. Walking down the 17th fairway, you see the green in front of you and then the tree. However, beyond that, you see the beautiful white (painted) brick, sprawling clubhouse and the wonderfully green grass surrounding it. There's a hole and a half to go in your round, but to the casual visitor, no matter your score, there can't be but one thought:

"I've got to come back to Gaston Country Club. I could play here every day."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Old Town Club, Winston-Salem NC

As a member of the North Carolina Golf Panel, I rate North Carolina golf courses. Sounds like fun and easy work, but it takes a lot of thought. There are several golf panels around the United States and the world, and each seems to have a different way of rating courses. Who's to say which way is the best?

In North Carolina, we use the "Top 50" method. Each member of the 130+ member panel submits in December his/her list of top 50 courses in the Tar Heel State. Other than a panelist must have played the courses on his/her list, there is no set criteria. Pinehurst No. 2, site of two United States Open Championships, has always been at the top of the list since the group was formed a few years ago.

One of my criteria includes my desire to return. I usually ask myself, "Would I play the course every day?" In other words, would I return and return and return to play the course just as if it were my home course. (I'm a member of MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary NC and have invested a lot of money and time in it which I wouldn't have done if I didn't want to play it nearly every day.) Wanting to play and replay a course means to me it's a good layout, calls for different shots from the tees and fairways, is fair without being too easy, is a challenge, is usually in good, playable shape or at least obviously has that characteristic most of the year, and other stuff related to appearance of the grounds and friendliness of the staff.

Old Town Club (Winston-Salem NC), which I was fortunate to play this week, is a course I'd play time and time again. It's a Perry Maxwell design, and this was the third time for me in two years I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of playing it.

Primary reasons I enjoyed it and will return is that the layout allows for long, free-swinging but accurate drivers to be hit from most of the tees, but it is a layout that calls for very accurate approach shots to small greens with unusual shapes and contours. Maxwell obviously moved little or no dirt in drawing and building this wonderful course. From the tips, it's a 6831-yard, par 70 with a course rating of 73.2 and a slope of 132. My friend, Johnny Moore, and I played it from the 6564-yard blue markers and each shot 82, not very good for a couple of five handicappers, but not bad considering the greens, especially since we only play the course about once a year and have a tough time remembering the unique flow of the greens. The more often one plays a course, the easier it is to play and that's primarily due to knowledge of the greens.

We're certain the original greens did not include one strand of bent grass. In all likelihood, Bermuda (or maybe sand) was the original choice which would have made approach shots and putting not as difficult as it is today. Quoting from the book, The Midwest Associate, The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell, "When one takes a tour of the Old Town course many recurring themes appear," wrote author Christopher Clouser. "Proceeding backwards from green to tee you can easily see the strategic value that Maxwell placed on all of his holes at Old Town. The green complexes at Old Town are almost situated on areas of the course that are elevated on little knolls. The greens themselves contain several undulations, bumps, swales and dips."

Johnny likes to say that Maxwell buried his wives under several greens at Old Town, though we're not sure he had more than one wife if any. We didn't have the luxury of touring the course backwards to view the greens first though we tried to remember them from previous rounds there. We knew though that to be above the hole was to be in the wrong position, especially since they were running about 12 on the Stimp Meter. That's as fast or faster than most of the PGA tournament greens. As we drove up to the course that day around 12 noon, we noticed the greens were being cut. Not only were they fast, the usual mowing effort of early morning had been delayed that day just to give the NC Golf Panel the smoothest surfaces possible. I'm not sure how many putts my partner had, but I counted 41 on my scorecard, half of my strokes.

If you do not know Perry Maxwell, you might known a couple of his designs. He was the original course architect for Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth TX and Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa OK, two of the most notable golf courses in the United States. With all due respect to his abilities, Old Town reminded me of a typical Donald Ross design.

At Old Town, he used the lay of the land and a meandering creek to give the course a lot of character and careful shot making. The first hole is a 414-yard par 4 with a creek about 260 out at the bottom of the downward slope that starts at the tee area. Using my 4+ wood, I nearly drove it into the creek. The second shot is up-hill to a two level green.

I used my driver (without reservation) on 12 holes, though on two of the holes I could have used my 4+ again for accuracy. My approach shots needed anything from a six iron to a 56 degree wedge on the par fours. The par fives--526 yards and 590 yards--are not reachable in two at all due to that creek system. The par threes called for my nine iron, seven iron and five iron twice.

At its length, the a par 70 course doesn't seem too tough, but the greens make it so. According to the staff, the average size of the greens is only 5,000 square feet. At MacGregor Downs, I'm used to hitting to greens of 7,500 square feet, one and a half times the size at Old Town.

If one hole is a good indicator for the whole course, I think it's number 10, a 406 yard par four which is laid out straight away from the tee to a green considerably beyond the crest of a hill about halfway there. You cannot see the green from the tee. The drive, though must be hit along the left side of the fairway which slopes considerably to the right. I placed my drive where it should be, just on the edge of the left side of the fairway and only about 110 yards down the hill to the green. The pin was in the middle (front to back) of the green but on the right third of the surface. From my position, the green looked larger than it is, much less than the 5,000 square feet average green there. I remembered something funky about the green but not exactly what that funk is. I hit a nice shot which landed on the green about pin high and rolled about a foot left before it came to rest. Walking onto the green, I knew I was in trouble. Maxwell had buried one of his wives in the middle of the green, Johnny said. My putt had to travel up one side and down the other to get to the hole. I barely touched the ball and for a moment thought it would stop at the top of that wife, but it slowly continued toward the hole, picking up speed on that 12 Stimp Meter green. It waved at the hole as it passed by going at what seemed like a zillion miles an hour and eventually came to rest just off the right edge of the green about 10 feet beyond the hole. I missed coming back and gave kudos to Maxwell for his postage stamp design and the contour which required a much more accurate approach to the right side of the green.

That was just my third hole of the day because, with a shotgun start, we originated the round on number 8 tee. As I approached the tee on number 11, I knew it would be a long day on the greens, as it was. I made some return putts for par and missed a few as well. When all was said and done, I was looking for the invitation to return. If often invited, I'd play Old Town as often as possible.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

So, what's in your bag?

It was an interesting scene Saturday in the WCG-Bridgestone Invitational. The last pairing of the day was Tiger Woods and Davis Love III. The last group of the day, the twosome was teeing off of the first hole. Tiger hit first. Love followed, striking a metal head that was something less than his driver, probably a 3-wood-metal (or whatever you wish to call it. I prefer to say 3-wood.)

Hitting it cleanly and straight down the middle, Love picked up his peg and walked straight off the tee toward the fairway. He was carrying his club. Tiger, who the public perceives as very serious and a minimal conversationalist during his competitive rounds, quickly caught up to Love and obviously asked about the club. Love plays Titleist, which Woods endorsed until Nike came along with lots of money. Love handed the club to Tiger who gripped it and waggled it in front of him without losing stride as the twosome proceeded down the runway from tee to fairway. Woods' possession of the club lasted just seconds, but, basically, he was asking Love, "So, what's in your bag?"

Either Woods was obviously curious about Love's clubs or he was trying to thrown Love off his game early. The latter didn't work until the final nine that day, so the former is assumed to be the case. Most golfers like to peak into their opponents golf bag at the very least to take inventory of the brand names of the clubs as well as the different lofts, shafts, and unique selections.

I'm no different than most and usually look with envy into the bags of those who score better than I. If I had my way, the 14-club limit would be excused, and I would have a variety of weapons. But, as it is, there are 14 clubs in my bag, a burgundy Titleist double-strapped carry-bag with extending legs for resting it at a 45-degree angle at each stop. The MacGregor Downs Country Club logo is embroidered on one side.

My clubs and my game start with my driver. Today, I use the Titleist 983K with a 9.5 degree loft. It has a red Grafalloy shaft. I bought it on sale from the MDCC Pro Shop. Previously, I hit a an 8.5 degree 975. It was a scientific search for the new club followed by the sale. I tried several demos of various degrees and shafts, all the 983K. I was about to order just what I wanted when I saw the bag of drivers on sale, asked a couple of questions and picked one. I made a good choice. At 54-years old, my length off the tee is longer than ever and somewhat accurate most of the time.

The only other wood I carry is a rather old Big Bertha War Bird Strong Four, a.k.a. 4+ with a Callaway RCH 96 firm flex shaft. I bought it back when I was using a Big Bertha War Bird Driver and got it at a local off-course golf equipment shop. I was asking for a matching 3-wood when the 4+ showed up on a trade-in deal. Brand new, this club would have been around $260. I got it for $135, and it was not more than two months old. Some of the regulars in my group suggest I hit it more and more off the tee. With it, the ball travels far, nearly as long as it does with my driver, and I usually hit it straighter than the driver. But, there's something about the power of a driver that keeps me going to it. The 4+, it was explained to me, has a 3-wood loft, a 4-wood shaft and a 5-wood size head. Great club as far as I'm concerned.

My irons...3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, E and F...are Hogan Apex Plus with True Temper Dynamic Gold S-300 shafts. These were purchased about five years ago and replaced a nice set of Hogan Directors bought in 1974. Please don't lecture me about changing technologies. Probably the only reason I don't use the Hogan woods that came with the Director set is because I cracked every head hitting balls either on the practice range or during a round. I love the irons. The E is a 46-degree club, not the usual 48-degree wedge. The F is a fairway wedge and is 50 degrees. In all likelihood, I'll soon get rid of the 3-iron and replace it with a hybrid of some type. This said, Ii only use the 3-iron, choked down, for low shots coming out tight places in the woods.

I carry two other wedges, a Titleist 56-degree Vokey (SM56-14) which was recently acquired to replace one of my all time favorites, a very heavy Haig Ultra Sand Wedge with an aluminum shaft given to me by some close friends (thanks to Greg and Chico) in 1969 to match the rest of a full set of the same. That sand wedge had no grooves on it at lifes end, but it was excellent for getting through heavy Bermuda rough. The Vokey was a gift to me as well, but from the MDCC professional staff for serving five years as the Club's Golf Committee Chairman. This club is used in various ways such as hitting from sand bunkers, or hitting a slap, pinched, knock-down shot from the fairway no more than 75 yards away from the green, or a full 100 yard shot.

The other wedge is an American Standard Golf Lob Wedge with a cam sole. It was also a gift, one of the many given to all players in a 100 holes of golf fundraiser for the local YMCA. This is also a good club for me from about 100 to 110 yards from a tight fairway lie. It's not good from Bermuda rough because no matter how hard I grip it, the Bermuda tends to grab the head and cause the ball to travel in multiple directions.

The putter in my bag is a Ping 60i. Not sure it would matter what the flat stick is. I'm considered a terrible putter, though I've tried other putters with somewhat better results.

Also in my bag, you'll find an assortment of balls. I'm definitely a Titleist guy, usually playing the ProV1-392, but recently I've been playing the NXT-Tour with my nickname--POM POM--printed on the side. There must be some truth to the commercials that say this ball gets more yardage. I seem to have picked up a few yards since I made the switch. But then I don't remember the last time I played the ProV1.

I have a pocket of tees, both short and long, a few pencils and scorecards from MDCC and other courses. My gloves are usually FootJoy WeatherSof (Men's Medium Large if you want to send me one). There's a USGA rule book, a towel that's either from another course I've played or from my NC State Wolfpack collection of towels. I have two or three Sharpie Markers, a water bottle, a sand bottle and the cover for the clubs in case it rains. I carry a MDCC Tartan 2000 (member-guest) umbrella. And, there's a nice clock hanging from a strap along with my MDCC bag tag and 2006-2007 USGA Member tag.

While this is a carry-bag, I'm now one of the push cart brigade. My wife thought it would help my back so she bought me a very nice Sun Mountain model. It seems to be the push cart of choice at MDCC. It's also very doubtful that Tiger will ever ask me about it. Or about my clubs.

So, what's in your bag? Please, do tell.