Monday, July 16, 2012

Crail Golf Club, Fife, Scotland

Of all the golf courses I visited in Scotland, Crail's Balcomie course was the most underwhelming.  Even considering the importance of the club as the 7th oldest in the world, the golf course where it sits today lacks the excitement and variety for 18 holes of great golf.

Opening tee shot down to the left of the shed.

The routing opens up strongly from a high plateau down to the small first green, tucked between an old farm shed and a burn to the ocean.  The course continues along rolling dunes, tracking uphill along the sea.  

Climbing the dunes toward the 2nd green.
Next a semi-blind par 3 followed by back to back cape holes arching to the right along the bay.  

Crail really has an interesting start to any golf course, however from here the golf moves back to the center of the property, in a featureless field, where the final half of the front nine finish back up the plateau.  

From a presentation stand point I believe Crail would benefit from more defined areas of tall fescue rough between the parallel fairways that finish the front nine.  

To understand the other side of the coin from a maintenance perspective, gang mowing these holes is most cost effective and productive considering the limited number of staff used to maintain the course.  
The back nine climaxes on the downhill par 3 14th, overlooking the ocean, Crails best hole. 
There is another modern course here, designed by American architect Gil Hanse, which might lend a good contrast to Balcomie and a complete golf experience.  However, when you visit Crail try to put yourself back in time when considering the strategies of the golf holes.  The course might even be better enjoyed with a set of hickories or a half-set  instead of the modern weaponry we have today.  The location is clearly special but Crail falls victim to technology and as a result loses a little excitement.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mercer Oaks East, West Windsor, NJ

The small NJ commuter town of West Windsor,  NJ must enjoy some of the best municipal facilities in the Northeast.  Members of the community play for just $24 mid week, have access to a lightly used grass driving range (half are mats for colder months), and two thought provoking 18's.
Attempt a drive over the bunkers, for a chance to reach
this par 5, or tack your way to the right off the tee.
Now you have just seen me write affordable, thought provoking, and NJ all in the same sentence!  It is a first for me but this is what public golf is all about in West Windsor and could be seen as a great example of how best to grow the game one community at a time.  The latest and greatest remote destination course builds excitement in the world of golf but it will not create the type of ground swell needed to grow the game from the roots up.  Mercer Oaks is the type of golf facility which should be applauded for its accessability and overall quality of experience.  Junior play is also supported here with green fees of just $15.  
More options abound off the tee...
Also to the point of accessibility and enjoyment are the 5 sets of tees ranging from 5400-7000+.  That is a tremendous range of options for all levels of golfers from children and seniors to top level amateur play.  The fairways are also wider than average to create some strategic options and alternate routes to the hole.   I always enjoy coming to Mercer Oaks because you get the most for your money here.  The staff clearly care about maintaining the best product possible and my last visit justifies this praise once again.

A precise approach is required to find the putting surface here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

1st Tee and 18th green behind
When I stepped on to the first tee at the Old Course I was legitimately shaking.  I’d like to say it was the ghost of Old Tom Morris or even the decade of anticipation I was feeling at the moment, but the truth is that I had been waiting in line with my brother since 4am to get a tee time, and yes, I was a wee bit hungry.  In addition to my delirious, yet alert, state of exhaustion I was also experiencing first tee jitters in my hands and butterflies in my stomach.  It wouldn't have been hard to guess, but I nearly missed the 100 yard wide fairway to the slicers right, bounced my second shot in the burn short of the green and scampered off with a cool double bogey.  Just as I had imagined...I actually played quite well, but score is the last thing to focus on when visiting such a special course. 

Mysterious, incredible, unique, unpredictable, natural, beautiful, astounding.  These are some superlatives which streamed through my mind as I walked in the kingdom of golf.  There have been many attempts by the best architects in the world to reproduce the elements of the Old Course and I have seen some.  But as I walked the course, happily chasing my golf ball, I kept saying, “wow, I have never seen that before.”  
11th and 7th green

The Old Course has 11 massive double greens, with some holes crossing each other to navigate the "out and in" routing pioneered in St. Andrews by Old Tom Morris.  Have you ever seen that on a "modern" golf course?  The variety of mounds, swales and hollows will also make you scratch your head when negotiating the many tricky approaches to the greens.   Make sure you take a caddy to fully appreciate the nuances of the Old, especially if you only have one round to play, you may hit towards the wrong flag stick once or twice.

An incredible fact to consider is that the Old Course has hosted the British Open 28 times in the 144 year history of the tournament.  This is a testament to the quality and integrity of the course as it sits today, challenging professionals and amateurs alike.  Scotland's wet and windy conditions also play a role in keeping the game interesting, on a golf course which demands an inventive short game.

I can think of no other place in the world where golf feels so much at home as it does in St. Andrews.  The geography of the town literally embraces it, coming right up to the 18th green warmly awaiting intrepid golfers returning from their adventure on the links.
The home hole, 18
If you have a passion for golf, go to St. Andrews, I believe it will fulfill your golfing soul as it has for 
Proudly standing in the Strath Bunker!