The Best of 2017--Part 3: The Golf by Brett Hochstein

  I was welcomed back to the Home of Golf with a full rainbow.  Not sure how much I believe in "signs," but this sure felt like one.

I was welcomed back to the Home of Golf with a full rainbow.  Not sure how much I believe in "signs," but this sure felt like one.

In early July, I was lamenting probably not taking a golf study trip later that month, figuring I just didn't leave myself enough time to organize an itinerary and make enough advance contacts.  While sipping my morning tea and watching the final holes of the Scottish Open, I thought to myself, why don't I just go back there?  Quickly dismissing it as kind of a crazy and unrealistic idea, I kept thinking about it, and the idea eventually got to the point where it ceased being crazy.  This was doable.  I knew the country, I knew that Scottish courses were easy to access, and I knew that even if I couldn't get on to play, I would still be able to walk those courses in the evenings after play died down.  So, exactly one week later from that idea genesis, I was in the airport watching Jordan Spieth wrap up his dramatic Open title while holding a ticket bound for Edinburgh.  

This was a big chance to see most of the courses on the West Coast that I had missed during my year spent studying at Elmwood in 2010, and it would it would also give me an opportunity to reconnect with a number of people I had gotten to know while there, especially those around St Andrews.  The courses and the scenery on the west were wonderful, and the architectural value of Prestwick alone made the whole trip worthwhile.  Coming back to Fife and St Andrews for the second leg of the trip was going to be interesting though and perhaps even a bit emotional, as it was an area I loved but one that I had sort of left on quick and bittersweet terms with feelings of regret for what I didn't (or couldn't) do during those previous 8 months. 

On the way back across the country following my ferry ride from the Isle of Arran, I stopped off in Cupar, the place I called home while living in Scotland, to walk around its old stone streets and reminisce about the blue collar, Central Fife town.  Most of my days spent here were dark and cold (and perhaps a bit lonely), but on this day the bright blue skies were warm enough to force losing the sweater.  Perhaps it was the summer weather, but I couldn't help letting my thoughts drift back to those earliest days in August 2009 and all the sheer excitement I had in fulfilling that lifelong dream of finally making it to Scotland.  I remembered that first walk down to the bus stop and the subsequent ride into St Andrews, face pressed on the glass as the links and the town came into view.  As I got back into my car to head east down the A-91, it felt just like that moment all over again. 

After checking into the B&B in town, I did what made most sense and immediately headed straight over to the Jigger to grab a pint and watch the day's final players come in down the Road Hole.  A bit of rain arrived and kept the patrons more indoors, but it eventually started to break with a bit of sun trying to come out.  With some of the town's buildings catching the glowing sun and what looked like a rainbow maybe starting to form, this felt like a good time to hop the wall and walk back down toward the tee and 16th green.  Just as I arrived at the corner of the famous rail sheds where you peek around to check for players teeing off, I first took a look back toward town.  What I saw was unexpected and most impressive--the "Grey Auld Toon" was fully aglow and sitting perfectly underneath a fully arched rainbow.  

I don't necessarily believe in "signs" or that things are always "meant to be," but this felt different.  It felt like something, or even someone, speaking to me.  Perhaps it was just St Andrews itself simply welcoming me back.  I'm not sure, but in that instant, any  thoughts of cold nights in Cupar or my bittersweet 2010 farewell from Fife were absolved.  I was Home again, and I couldn't have been happier.


This year I am trying something new and breaking up this annual review post into three parts.  This first one focused on the work that we did both out in the field and back in the office.  The second part was about all the other complementing pieces that contributed to the year, from music to places to things experienced.  This final segment is back to being all about golf, and it was a very good year for it.  In addition to the trip to Scotland noted above, I got to see a number of courses in Central Florida while at the Golf Industry Show, a few courses in Upstate New York while on an RFP visit, and some local Bay Area tracks that I had yet to get to.  I learned a lot from some of the places seen, but I also learned at least something from every other new place that I saw. 

I've taken a lot more time with this final segment than originally expected, adding extra commentary and imagery, which will hopefully give you a better idea of how I view golf architecture.  That said, let's get into it and start with the best courses seen this past year.

Best New-to-Me Golf Courses Seen in 2017

  The proper line of play at Streamsong Blue is often unclear and determined by your own abilities and level of agression, and that is what I loved most about it.  This is the tee shot on the 8th.

The proper line of play at Streamsong Blue is often unclear and determined by your own abilities and level of agression, and that is what I loved most about it.  This is the tee shot on the 8th.

Let's start by noting that this list is just a casual indicator of how good I feel a course is.  It is a combination of how I think it holds up for a range of players as well as just how much I personally like it.  This is why the odd, 12-hole Shiskine sits so high on the list.  I think it is a blast to play and sits in an amazing setting, even if players who are a lot better than I am may find parts of it easy or boring (though there's no way they could find the 3rd or 6th holes boring--maybe just weird and "unfair!").  

The brackets [ ] indicate a "Doak Scale" rating.  It should be understood that I didn't spend the same amount of time on every place and that they were all first time visits.  These rankings and ratings are somewhat arbitrary and based on what I saw, understood, and felt about each course.  I also get admittedly swayed by firm conditions and links golf in particular; a true links course generally gets boosted by 1 or even 2 "Doak points" whenever I rate it.  So don't get too worried if something seems too high or low--these are good golf courses that are largely interchangeable.

1. Prestwick GC, Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland; Old Tom Morris, with revisions by James Braid and John Stutt*  [10]   This place might have been the biggest reason I made the trip back to Scotland, and it did not disappoint.  Full of rollercoaster ground shots, heroic carries over blind ridges and dunes, strategic angling, and a set of wild and wacky greens, this is golf at maximum fun.  Some criticism gets levied at the "newer" holes out at the far end of the property, which is much flatter and expansive.  I however found these holes to present different challenges individually within, and as a whole these longer holes presented a different type of challenge compared to the compact, rollicking, older part of the course.  I liked that bit of variety, especially coming at the middle point of the round. 

2. Streamsong (Blue), Streamsong/Bowling Green, FL; Tom Doak  [9]  Many who have seen or played the Red and Blue courses at Streamsong tend to be neutral or prefer the Red course.  I however gravitated toward the Blue.  Whereas the strategy at the Red felt more apparent and the holes more framed, the Blue left me constantly asking myself questions on where to play both off the tee and in the fairway. It felt a little like the Old Course in that respect, which I like.  I also liked the width, variety, and boldness of some of the greens.  I look forward to the next go around and again trying to figure some things out.

3. Streamsong (Red) Streamsong/Bowling Green, FL; Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw  [8/9]  Don't let the previous description put down the Red, because I loved this course.  There is some great strategic golf here, and the stretch of holes 7-9 is probably the best of such on the property (6 is a great par 3 too).  7 is brilliant in having the entire strategy of the par 5 based on one small spoils mound next to the green, 8 is a tiny par 3 tucked in a grove with a huge and diverse green, and 9 has a vexing, domed green that is a fun challenge to attack.  There is an extra level of peace and intimacy found on some of the holes here as well, as the routing for the Red is more on the perimeter of the Red/Blue site.  You aren't ever alone though in Central Florida--keep an eye out on that wildlife!

  Glens Falls is a rollicking Upstate NY Ross course.

Glens Falls is a rollicking Upstate NY Ross course.

4. Glens Falls CC, Queensbury, NY; Donald Ross  [8]  A "hidden gem" that has recently been brought more to light, this is probably the best Ross course I've seen to date. (I don't count seeing just a couple of holes at Pinehurst No.2 pre-restoration).  There are two main types of landforms on the property here--rollicking hills and valleys and a large but tilted upper plateau.  As he usually does, Ross finds a way to route the holes in and out of these two different landscapes.  He also finds a way to match the interest of the flatter holes to the more dramatic land with bold bunkering and having some of the most wild and funky green sites I've seen of his.  4, 5, and 6 are particular standouts, and the 13th broke completely the opposite way that I was expecting. 

5. Bel-Air, Los Angeles, CA; George Thomas [Inc.; in reconstruction]  This was my first time seeing the course, and it solidified the thought that the Thomas LA Triumvirate is a very diverse set amongst itself.  Here, it was most impressive what Thomas was able to get out of the routing through its many tight valleys. He used tunnels, a bridge, and even an elevator in addition to perfect placements and offsets of holes sharing valleys.  I'm looking forward to seeing the finished work of Tom Doak's team of Eric Iverson, Kye Goalby, and Blake Conant, as they are off to a great start restoring greens, bunkers, and washes and returning the course to its original glory.

6. Carnoustie Golf Links (Championship), Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland; James Braid  [7/8]  I had a chance to walk Carnoustie late one evening and was maybe a bit more impressed than I thought I would be.  The greens, starting with the blind, bowled first, are much more bold and interesting than I would have thought.  I also really liked the inland part of the course.  Some criticize it as "not links."  I'd rather praise it for its unique landscape value and change of pace in the middle of the round. 

7.  Turnberry (Ailsa), Turnberry, Ayrshire, Scotland; Willie Fernie, Restored by Phillip Mackenzie Ross,* Recent modifications by Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie   [7/8]  Turnberry's setting is as impressive and beautiful as they say.  It's big, the lighthouse is awesome, and the views out across the shimmering sea toward the Ailsa Craig are like living in a postcard.  The land is a bit different from other links though.  Instead of the smaller rumples that are more common, the Ailsa plays along big, smooth, sweeping slopes as well as atop a few cliffs.  The recent work by Ebert & Mackenzie brings the sea more into view, engages the lighthouse with the all new 9th, and has some good natural contouring on the greens.   

8. Shiskine GC, Blackwaterfoot, Arran, Scotland, Willie Park*  [7]   The definition of a Doak 7 talks about a course being worth driving 100 miles to play.  I didn't quite drive 100 miles to get to Shiskine from Troon, but it did require an hour long ferry ride to the Isle of Arran, which surely counts for something.  Either way, I would find it worthwhile for any golfer to make the trek out to western Arran and play what will surely be one of the wildest and funkiest golf courses that they've ever encountered.  Set on a craggy piece of linksland full of views to the sea, a uniquely striated rock formation, and a distant cave that supposedly once sheltered King Robert the Bruce, Shiskine is a beautiful spot to take in a game or two.  Its twelve holes also pack a solid punch and feature some holes that you just don't find anywhere else.  The short par 3 3rd "Crow's Nest" plays uphill to a blind green set in a bowl atop a cliff.  It is the shortest hole I have ever seen that has an alternate route that gets frequently used, as there is a maintained patch of fairway to the right that allows shorter hitters a chance to get higher and closer to the green before having to inevitably pitch over the gorse and rocks to get to the surface.  Holes like this, along with the rollicking, sometimes drivable 6th and the Himalayas 7th, harken back to a simpler time when golf was just an adventure not taken too seriously.  Instead of worrying about par numbers or yardage or how "fair" something might be, Shiskine has the feel of a couple bored shepherds knocking rocks around and saying, "hey, why don't we see if we can hit it up over there."  I wish that spirited attitude was more common among golfers as well as architects in the way they approach golf design.

  Shiskine is both a load of fun and a wonderful place to play a game.  This is looking back down the par 5 9th hole, which is noted later in the 2nd "Favorite Holes" section.

Shiskine is both a load of fun and a wonderful place to play a game.  This is looking back down the par 5 9th hole, which is noted later in the 2nd "Favorite Holes" section.

9. Royal Troon (Old), Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland,  Willie Fernie, with modifications by James Braid*  [7]  As is the case in most instances of visiting golf courses, the contours at Troon were much more impressive to see in person.  In addition to it being very rumply, it moves up and down much more than I had anticipated.  The 7th, one of the few wide holes, was neat to see, and the first sight of the Postage Stamp was something to behold.  What might be most impressive was the view from some of The Open tees and how far and impossible it seemed to find to find the fairway.  The most extreme example of that is the 11th, "Railway," which hits over an endless sea of gorse with out of bounds right.  All one can make of the golf hole is the tiny upper half of the white flag on the green waving way out in the distance.  Might as well wave your own white flag.  Thanks to greenkeeper Scott Corrigan for providing a tour and sharing insights on recent work and their management of the course.

  The Postage Stamp in golden late evening lighting

The Postage Stamp in golden late evening lighting

10. Western Gailes, Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland; Willie Park Jr., with modifications by Fred Hawtree* [7]  As can readily be seen on the entry drive, this is prime links land with golf scale dunes and a variety of texture and color covering them.  The front nine plays through the best section of them and includes the best hole on the course, the par 5 6th that twists up and through a set of dunes and finishes with a long skinny green tucked in a dell.  There is some cool strategy on the holes at the turn that relate to some long skinny sand ridges, but the middle of the back nine is a bit of a weak stretch before getting to the 17th, which has a blind second shot playing over a dune ridge to a green set before a cross "t" marking post.  

11. "Innerleven Links," Lundin and Leven, Fife, Scotland; Old Tom Morris [7]  So, this isn't a course that technically exists in modern times, but I had a chance to walk almost the entirety of the original 18 holes that joined the towns of Leven and Lundin Links.  The Lundin side has the more dramatic land and holes like the 16th, which was C.B. MacDonald's inspiration for the "Leven" template, but the Leven side also has some really interesting parts, especially in the first few holes that play at slight angles up and over some really long and straight ridges.  It would be great if they offered the old combo course like this to visitors a few days a year.  I would definitely try and make the trip for that.

12. Aetna Springs, Pope Valley, CA, Tom Doak Redesign  [7]  Undoubtedly now my favorite public course in Northern California, Aetna Springs, which sits at the far Northeast end of wine country and well away from any hustle and bustle, is a study in a golf course maximizing its sense of place.  First of all, the 9 holes adhere tightly to the land, cleverly using hills, ancient valley oaks, and natural drainage ditches to dictate strategy and interest.  Some interesting greens shaping and timely bunkering round out the quality of the golf.  The non golf aspects also "feel" right, as wood was used in any fencing or bridging, and the cart barn is actually and old existing barn that was repurposed.  This is a special place that I would recommend making the day trip to play and enjoy.

13. Irvine Golf Club ("Bogside") Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, James Braid  [6/7]  This was a recommendation by Clyde Johnson, and I'm glad that he mentioned it.  The first two holes make great use of singular landforms in the fairways.  The first has a ridge to try and drive on or over off the very first shot of the day, and the second hole features a big domed mound short of the green to mess with your long second shot.  The next 3 holes are a wild set of short par 4s.  The first plays across a deep valley shorting the green, the second plays to a green perched on a ledge next to an out of bounds wall and railway line, and the 3rd plays to a drivable fallaway green set high on a ridge and fronted by a deep bunker.  The rest of the course mixes holes high on the bluff and down low near the bog.  The upper holes, which there are more of, are covered in gorse, broom, and heather and afford long views out to the distant sea.  The "spectacles" green tucked in a bowl behind two eye-like bunkers and the 17th green, which feels like a green at High Point (Tom Doak's NLE first design), are highlights toward the end of the round.  

  The 4th Hole at Scotscraig may be the precursor to the "Knoll" template.

The 4th Hole at Scotscraig may be the precursor to the "Knoll" template.

14. Scotscraig GC, Tayport, Fife, Scotland, James Braid   [6/7]  Similar to Bogside, Scotscraig's landscape lies somewhere between links and heathland.  Not even a mile from the coast, it is a mix of rumpled ground as well as pines and heather.  The best land and holes are ironically found on the western part of the property away from the water, which encompasses all of the front nine but only parts of the back.  A number of holes are broken up by landforms, rough, and heather and force decisions on where to play your ball.  The 4th is one of such and is likely the inspiration for C.B. MacDonald's "Knoll" template.

15. Winter Park GC, Winter Park, FL, Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb Redesign [6/7]  Finally, the potential of a municipal course has been properly maximized.  Instead of falling in line with the disassociated way that cities typically approach these things, the town of Winter Park took at chance on a couple of young architects and Don Mahaffey's sensible approach to irrigation/construction to build a fun course and not break the bank doing so.  There is no way the city can doubt their choice, as Winter Park is a really fun course that is even more tightly knit with the community than ever before.

16. McGregor Links, Wilton, NY, Devereaux Emmet  [6]  I rant a bit later on this course in the "Restoration Opportunities" section, but this is a very cool Emmet design that has been encroached upon by perimeter development while also losing some luster within.  There are some neat, old school features and greens though, and the course plays over sandy soil.  It could be very fun to freshen it up with a restoration, though it won't quite ever be able to get compared to Pine Valley again, which it once was.  

17. Saratoga Golf & Polo, Saratoga Springs, NY, R.C.B. Anderson  [6]  There is a lot more going on at this Victorian Era 9 holer than first meets the eye.  The routing takes you along and over 3 key ridges that run across the property, and the end result is 9 holes that all have a different feel and character to them.  Outside of the 1st hole, the greens are very subtle in appearance but contain more overall slope than first appears as well as a bunch of subtle movement.  One round and anecdotal evidence says that they are very tough to figure out and putt on.  The course and club have a very historic feel with the proximity to downtown Saratoga, and hopefully that will be enhanced in coming years with further restoration efforts.

18. Prestwick St Nicholas, Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland John Allan and Charlie Hunter  [6]  I had a walk around this place one morning before heading to Troon, and I was pleasantly surprised, especially with the very linksy ground nearer the club house.  The holes earlier in the back nine are a bit more benign in character, but there are still many pleasant views to be had out across the Firth of Clyde.

Above: Prestwick St Nicholas.  Click images to enlarge.

19. World Woods (Pine Barrens), Brooksville, FL, Tom Fazio [6, but probably a 7 if not soggy and overseeded]  Disappointing conditions and a bad golf swing are probably clouding my judgment a bit here because there are some cool holes with different playing options.  The 15th hole with its alternate fairway up near the green gets most of the attention, but I found the preceding par 5 14th hole to be more interesting and ask more questions, especially for a wider range of players.

20. Shingle Creek, Orlando, FL, Arnold Palmer Design Group Redesign [6]  Thad Layton and Brandon Johnson did a great job making a cart only, resort course fun.  They were mostly locked in by the routing and excessive ponds found throughout the original course, but within those limitations, they were able to come up with some fun, varied holes that play to a bold set of interesting greens.  Watching (much more skilled) players bounce long shots into the par 5 13th green was a highlight.

H.M. Plum Hollow CC, Southfield, MI, C.H. Alison, Wilfrid Reid, Jerry Matthews Dollar GC, Dollar, Scotland Unknown; Lake Chabot, Oakland, CA Willie Lock;  Sequoyah, Oakland, CA  Local membership with construction supervision by Willie Lock;  Sonoma Golf Club, Sonoma, CA Sam Whiting, Robert Muir Graves

*Cited from The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Volume 1; Doak, Morrissett, Nishijima, and Oliver.

BONUS: Best Not New-to-me Golf Courses Seen in 2017

Because I just feel like highlighting some things...

1. St Andrews Links (Old), St Andrews, Fife, Scotland Natural, with modifications by Old Tom Morris and Allan Robertson  [11!]  Yes, this one goes up to 11.  This last visit and playing round reinforced this as my favorite course in the world, and therefore it gets a special designation in the numbers.  The playing corridors are so odd, the greens so large, and the rumpled ground so varied that there are multiple ways to play any given shot.  You are constantly thinking and navigating your way around the course, wondering where the next best position is or wondering if it is worth it to take on a bunker or possible funny bounce.  The mental engagement required to find your means of play is unlike anything else, and when you imagine a shot and then execute it, there is no greater satisfaction.  It can be tough at times to figure out, but not as hard as trying to figure out why there aren't more courses that strive for these ideals. 

  It doesn't get any better than the rumply ground at The Old Course.

It doesn't get any better than the rumply ground at The Old Course.

2. North Berwick GC, North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland;  Evolved from nature with guidance from David Strath, Tom Dunn, and Sir Guy Campbell*  [9]  Along the same lines as the Old at St Andrews, North Berwick is loaded with the unusual and encourages you to think your way around its quirks.  Even the holes on the far end, which often get criticized as being boring or lesser, have a number of deep bunkers that always seem to be just in the right position.  Hitting a light fade on the blind Redan that I thought could be really good and racing up to confirm that it was close indeed was a thrilling highlight.  Of course, I proceeded to miss the putt badly.  There's a lot of tilt in that thing.  

3. Orinda CC, Orinda, CA; William Watson with modifications by Todd Eckenrode  [7]  I'm really not trying to toot the horn of a course I have worked on as recently this year, but the more time I spend out there, the more I am really coming to appreciate the design and routing of this course.  Every hole has a feature that really challenges, and it is often based on the land.  A prime example is the really long, dogleg left par 5 6th, which may seem long and boring with only one bunker on the left greenside.  The tee shot plays downhill at an angle left, with Miner Road and a bunch of oaks guarding the inside corner.  It is really important to take on this corner though to position yourself well to be able to get to a ridge much further down the fairway on your second shot.  If that ridge cannot be reached, a long blind shot makes getting to the green on your 3rd a very difficult proposition.  The right side of the green is protected by a large arm of shortgrass and makes long approaches both fun and difficult.  It's a hole that requires bravery and execution as well as skill at the green.  Other instances of landforms dictating play appear at the long ninth, which requires reaching a hill to have a chance to reach the green, and the 11th, which needs a long drive to straddle the inside of the dogleg (but not be so greedy as to kick left out of bounds) in order to clear the creek and reach the green on the second shot.  I've really appreciated the short game options at OCC since the work has been done there, but I am really coming to love the long game strategies and demands as well.

Best New Holes Seen - Heavyweights Category

  The par 5 3rd at Prestwick challenges both the aerial and ground game while being as unique and fun a hole you will find anywhere.  Yes, that is my ball after not taking my own advice to lay safely back of the Cardinal Bunker.

The par 5 3rd at Prestwick challenges both the aerial and ground game while being as unique and fun a hole you will find anywhere.  Yes, that is my ball after not taking my own advice to lay safely back of the Cardinal Bunker.

1. Prestwick 3rd "Cardinal"  It's a very unusual hole and fits basically no modern conventions.  This wild par 5 is all about restraint and positioning off the tee.  Let your shot run out too far, and you will end up in the Cardinal Bunker, a massive sand and turf pit guarded on both sides by sleeper walls.  The further into Cardinal you venture, the more difficult the recovery.  The blind second shot over the Cardinal is all about feel and confidence--how much of the corner do you want to cut off in an effort to get closer to the green?  The shot must be well-judged anyway since the next section of fairway is incredibly rumply and tilts away or right to left depending on how aggressive your line is.  Those contours will then have to be navigated again en route to the green or if you miss it.  It is just a really fun hole to play, and it tests both the aerial and ground games at different times.  Not many holes do that.  

2. Streamsong (Red) 7th   A par 5 designed entirely around a spoils pile next to a long pond, this hole shows just how clever design can be based on a single small feature.  If the hole is in the middle of the long skinny green and next to the mound, then it will be important to lay back your second shot as close to the bunkers and pond on the left to set up an angle that allows you to attack.  If it is front or back, and you want to be safely aggressive hitting a long shot to the fairway right of the green, then distance judgement is key so as not to be stymied by the mound.  The strategy here is just brilliant.

3. Prestwick 1st "Railway"  A short par 4 that tests both your decision making and your nerves at the same time.  The hole is hard against the out-of-bounds railway wall the entire time, and the fairway pinches in tightly at just over 200 yards.  You can play left, but the longer you go the deeper the rough gets and the worse the angle to the green is.  The best angle is as close to the wall as you can get, but the further you lay back, the more that same wall is going to be in play on your second shot.  No matter what, you will have a testy shot at some point.

  The closer to the railway, the better the angle into the green.  The red flag at the green can just be seen in the center behind a dune.

The closer to the railway, the better the angle into the green.  The red flag at the green can just be seen in the center behind a dune.

4. Streamsong (Blue) 13th  Tom Doak says he doesn't necessarily take the driver out of your hands, he just makes it a very risky/dumb play to do so.  This is certainly evident on the short par 4 13th at Streamsong.  The narrow green lies straight away and sits up on a promenade.  Very deep bunkers sit left of the green, and a falloff rolls away on the right.  The fairway is really wide with a high narrow-ish ridge running down the right side of the fairway, and then everything else falls down low into the massive left side.  The best play is a controlled tee shot that finds that upper right section of fairway and lines you up with the green.  If you play either safely or aggressively down the left, a very difficult second shot will remain to a narrow green guarded in front by deep bunkers and falling away at the rear.  It is very easy to make a mess of this little hole, especially if you aren't paying attention. 

Looking back down the twisting, tumbling 6th hole at Western Gailes

5. Western Gailes 6th "Lappock"  This par 5 is no doubt the star of Western Gailes as it twists up, over, through, and around a dune ridge to a green offset left in a dell.  The goal is to try and hit two good shots to clear the ridge and set up a short 3rd shot with a view of the green.  The short grass slopes at the right of the green can either help or hurt you depending if you land right on them or if you intentionally play off them on the ground.  Its a great hole based entirely on landforms.  

6. Carnoustie 16th  This long par 3 has a multi-leveled, propped up green that sheds balls away to its short grass surrounds.  If a perfect running tee shot isn't played, then your short game will be put to a great test.

7. Prestwick 13th "Sea Headrig"  This is sort of the par 4 version of Carnoustie's 16th, where long shots into a wild green are likely to be shed away.  Even if the green can't be reached in two though, it is still very hard to get close or even on in 3.  The green has a subtle knob guarding it's upper plateau, and everything slightly left will roll back down the 7-8 foot false front on the left half of the green.  It is a very fun and challenging ground game situation on and around this green.  

8. Turnberry 10th   The new 9th has the lighthouse, but this is a better hole.  The famous and recently redone donut bunker confounds the second shot, often forcing decision to lay up short of it or carry it over for a short pitch 3rd.  The setting is incredible as well, with the rocky coast to the left the whole time as well as a horizon green set against the sea.

  Turnberry was often criticized for the course not matching the dramatic setting, but after the renovation work by Mackenzie and Ebert, the 10th hole is certainly worthy.

Turnberry was often criticized for the course not matching the dramatic setting, but after the renovation work by Mackenzie and Ebert, the 10th hole is certainly worthy.

9. Streamsong (Blue) 5th  With a long view out to the distant hotel, this extremely deep (70 yards) green also falls away from you, especially back right where it drops down well below the right side bunker.  I recommend playing the ground and allowing for some rollout.  I took off a couple of clubs and played a 3 quarter swing, but Kyle stepped onto the tee and played a putter.  That looked like enough fun that I too then had to play a putter and try it out.  I need to get back and see what the hole is like when it is down in the back right.  

10. Streamsong (Red) 8th  I don't know why exactly I am so fascinated with the huge greens on short par 3s at Streamsong, but I am.   This one has 50 yard long, angled green from the regular tees and depending on the hole location is either a really short little par 3 or just a moderately short one.  I didn't realize all of the left portion of green existed at first, probably because it ran against intuition to have green over there.  I think it is really cool that it is there though, and I would love to get to play to all the different pin positions on this artfully built green.

Other Holes of Note (Alphabetical):  Bel-Air 9th, 12th "Mae West";  Glens Falls 1st, 5th, 6th, 9th, 14th;  Prestwick 4th, 5th, 10th, 14th, 16th, and 17th "Alps";  Royal Troon 7th, 8th "Postage Stamp";  Streamsong (Blue) 1st, 6th, 8th, 17th;  Streamsong (Red) 4th, 6th, 9th, 13th, 16th;  Turnberry 9th, 11th;  Western Gailes 2nd, 9th, 11th, 17th;  World Woods (Pine Barrens) 4th, 14th  

  The ramped green on the "Alps" at Prestwick was my favorite part of this great famous hole.

The ramped green on the "Alps" at Prestwick was my favorite part of this great famous hole.

Best New Holes Seen - Lesser Known Category

1. Leven 2nd  My favorite hole of both the Lundin and Leven courses, this hole takes wonderful advantage of an angled linear dune formation to maximize strategy.  There are two options off the tee--play safely low and right and have a blind second shot over the long ridge, or take on a pair of bunkers and a facing slope to get a straight and visible shot at the green, which is long and falling away slightly.  There is a real reward in terms of both angle and comfort by taking on the aggressive line down the left.  Brilliant use of the land to create strategy.  

2. Shiskine 6th  As much as I've raved about the "Crow's Nest," I'm going with the 6th at Shiskine as my favorite of the course.  It is drivable if you are long and aggressive, but trouble awaits with a pull or a push.  The contours of the hole are the most rumpled on the course, and the green sits blindly down in a dell.  Only longer drives provide full visibility, providing extra incentive to get greedy with the big stick.  I'd love to stand back on the ridge behind the green and watch better players shots bounce and carom their way toward the green.

3. McGregor Links 3rd  The long par 3 with a well-bunkered diagonal ridge fronting the green forces the shorter hitter to make decisions.  Clear the bunkers on the right to gain a view, or play down and left safely but be blind?  The saddle green sits perfectly on the ground and must be difficult to hold for most long shots.

4. Shiskine 3rd "Crows Nest"  I don't usually love do-or-die par 3s this much, but this one is just so cool and unusual.  Plus, it has alternate routes short as well as halfway up out to the right.  Eventually though, you will have to clear some craggy rock and gorse if you are ever to find the surface.  It's a throwback to a time when golf was more adventurous and worries about stroke play didn't exist.  

5. Irvine Bogside 3rd, 4th, and 5th  I'm looping all these short par 4s together because I couldn't pick a favorite.  The 3rd has a narrow green defended by a (mowed) deep gully fronting it.  The 4th has a green propped up hard against the railway wall, and the 5th is short enough to tempt even my length to try and clear the giant ridge and bunker in attempt to reach the green.  Be careful though--everything after the top of the ridge, including the green, falls away from you.

6. Shiskine 9th  The only par 5 on the course is a formidable one.  If a tee shot is not well struck, it will be difficult to carry the deep valley and burn on the second shot.  If laying up, a choice has to be made with regard to where exactly to do so.  Stay further back but higher up, or flirt with the burn for a shorter but more uphill 3rd shot.  A large left to right falloff splits the elevated green in front and makes long shots into it very difficult.  Either a sharp draw has to be played into the slope, or a moderate fade has to be played off the plateau to the left to reach the naturally saddled green.

7. Aetna Springs 7th  A ridiculously simple but effective concept on this very wide dogleg right hole.  Hug the big right-to-left sloping hill and oaks on the right in order to cut distance and get and open angle into the green, which is defended by two front left bunkers but helped by a slope on the right.  Any conservative or pulled tee shots will kick down into the low left side of the fairway and be largely blocked out with their long 2nd into the green.  Extra credit goes to this hole for how natural it feels and how well it ties into the pastoral plain across the road from the course.  

8. Aetna Springs 3rd  Strategy again is dictated working backwards from the green, which has a front right kicker slope that feeds balls left and away toward a bunker or lateral hazard behind the green.  The play off the tee is down the left, which requires taking on a bunker and deep rough down the left.  The green itself is in a really nice spot with views across the main part of the course and a peek up into the oak-laden gully where the little par 3 4th hole lies.

9. McGregor Links 7th  If it weren't for encroaching housing, the tumbling double dogleg 6th would be in this spot on the list.  Instead, it's the long par 4 7th, which plays over a bunch of rumply, links-like ground itself and is guarded by numerous hazards along the way to make it interesting for both the long and short hitter.  Not too many holes do that.

  The land at McGregor Links tumbles as if it were a British seaside links.  This is the view from the green looking back down the hole, which doesn't show the numerous center line hazards that are to also be dealt with along the way.

The land at McGregor Links tumbles as if it were a British seaside links.  This is the view from the green looking back down the hole, which doesn't show the numerous center line hazards that are to also be dealt with along the way.

10. Lundin Links 16th  The inspiration for C.B. MacDonald's "Leven" template is actually on the Lundin side of the towns' connecting links.  The hole is quite short, but control of the tee shot is still important.  A player must negotiate the burn, rough, and bunkers down the right side to gain the ideal angle into the green, which is tucked behind a dune on the left.  A further evaluation of the hole's intricacies can be found here

Other Holes of Note (Alphabetical):  Aetna Springs 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th;  Dollar 1st, 17th, 18th  Irvine Bogside 2nd, 10th, 13th, 17th;        Lake Chabot 8th, 15th, 16th, 18th;  Leven 1st, 13th, 14th;  Lundin Links 1st, 15th, 18th;  McGregor Links 6th, 16th, 17th;  Plum Hollow 7th, 11th, 13th, 14th;  Prestwick St Nicholas 3rd, 6th, 16th, 18th;  Saratoga Golf & Polo 4th, 5th, 7th;  Scotscraig 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th;  Sequoyah 1st, 4th, 11th  Shingle Creek 4th, 12th, 13th

Best Greens: Design, Interest, and Sensibility

  The green on Sea Headrig at Prestwick is one of many strongly contoured but very fun greens encountered at Prestwick.

The green on Sea Headrig at Prestwick is one of many strongly contoured but very fun greens encountered at Prestwick.

1.  Prestwick   The most varied and severe set witnessed in 2017, Prestwick might also be the wildest set of links greens in all of Scotland.  If you can forget about any sort of so called "conventions" in modern golf design, you will have a blast attacking and putting on these surfaces, which also happen to fit their setting beautifully.

2. Streamsong (Blue)  A Doak course is always going to have interesting greens, and these are no exception.  Their overall bolder contours and dictation upon strategy are what gave me the slight nod over the neighboring Red.

3. Glens Falls  Donald Ross funk and variety on a level I haven't quite seen yet.  The stretch of holes 4-6 is a highlight, as is the severely canted 8th, which is a supposedly controversial green that I see no reason to alter or soften.

4.  Streamsong (Red)  These greens have a number of slight rolls and bumps in them that make them very interesting for both putting and approaching.  The surfaces on the par 3s are a lot bolder with the tiered 6th tucked behind a dune, the large and snaking 8th that can play wildly different day to day, the 14th sitting on a plateau with bunkers eating into it, and the giant rollercoaster Biarritz at the 16th.  The 9th (a par 4) might have been my favorite of all though.  Its crowned surface had a naturally random feel and seemed very tough to score low on while not being so extreme that you could make a big mess of it.

  Rear view of Streamsong Red's take on the Biarritz

Rear view of Streamsong Red's take on the Biarritz

5. Turnberry (Ailsa)  I couldn't quite figure out the story if all the greens at the Ailsa had been redone or just some of them.  Even on ones that seemed like they weren't part of the redesign plan, it looked like there were lines from re-sodding.  Either way it is probably a testament to the work that it is hard to tell which is which, and there is some nice, natural-appearing contouring throughout.

6. Carnoustie  These were a lot more interesting and bold than I imagined, though many have a feeling of being reconstructed 20-30 years ago or so.  (Someone with more information please feel free to reach out and provide the real story).  After seeing the difficult 16th in person and watching balls get shed away from its surface, I am really excited and interested in seeing the how the pros attack it in this coming Open Championship.  I have a feeling I will be even more impressed with their abilities.

7. Shingle Creek  There are some interesting and bold greens out here, which is what was needed to bring interest to a project working within the limited corridors of an old Central Florida resort course.

8. Winter Park  The tight corridors of the Winter Park course meant that there was little room to create strategy and interest through bunker placement.  It would have to come at the greens, which is good anyway since this is a course meant for all, and contoured short grass is the great equalizer in golf design.

9. Aetna Springs  These aren't the craziest of Doak greens, but they fit the landscape well and still provide interest and strategy through tilts and simple moves.  

10. Saratoga Golf & Polo  This is a really subtle but challenging set of greens. Many have a slight crown, and a number have strong tilts that are difficult to detect upon first glance.  They also have a lot of slight interior movement that is tough to read.  Glens Falls pro Tom Haggerty says he always struggles with the greens at Golf & Polo, and he isn't the only one I've heard say that.

H.M. "Innerleven Links," Scotscraig, Irvine Bogside, Plum Hollow, McGregor Links

  Irvine Bogside also had a couple of really cool greens.  The one that stood out most to me was this saddle green at the 17th.  It reminds me a lot of some of the greens at High Pointe the way it sweeps and fits with the land.

Irvine Bogside also had a couple of really cool greens.  The one that stood out most to me was this saddle green at the 17th.  It reminds me a lot of some of the greens at High Pointe the way it sweeps and fits with the land.

 

Best Bunkering: Playing Importance, Aesthetics, and Context

1.  Streamsong (Blue)

2. Streamsong (Red)

3. Prestwick

4. Glens Falls

5. Shingle Creek

H.M. Aetna Springs, Winter Park, McGregor Links

  The Red Course's bunkering is varied and beautiful in how it fits the unique landscape of Streamsong.

The Red Course's bunkering is varied and beautiful in how it fits the unique landscape of Streamsong.

Best Routings:  Making the Most of the Available Land

1.  Glens Falls

2.  Streamsong (Blue) 

3.  Bel-Air

4.  Prestwick

5.  Shiskine

6.  Plum Hollow

7.  Irvine Bogside

8.  Aetna Springs  

9.  Saratoga Golf & Polo

10.  Turnberry  

H.M.  Streamsong (Red),  Carnoustie,  Scotscraig, Sequoyah

Champions of Fast and Firm--Best Turf + Conditions

  Irvine Bogside had the fastest and driest conditions of all the courses I played last year.  And no wonder--they don't irrigate the fairways!

Irvine Bogside had the fastest and driest conditions of all the courses I played last year.  And no wonder--they don't irrigate the fairways!

1. Irvine (Bogside)  

2. Western Gailes  

3. Royal Troon  

4. Scotscraig  

5. Turnberry  

6. Carnoustie

7. Streamsong (Red and Blue)  

8. Winter Park

  A muni with great conditions?!  Winter Park has it with wall-to-wall short bermudagrass and greens that roll smoothly at a proper speed.

A muni with great conditions?!  Winter Park has it with wall-to-wall short bermudagrass and greens that roll smoothly at a proper speed.

9. Glens Falls

10. Prestwick  

H.M.  Plum Hollow, Saratoga Golf & Polo, Shiskine, Lundin/Leven Links

Best Playing Experiences

  Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb sporting the eclipse glasses at Stoatin Brae

Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb sporting the eclipse glasses at Stoatin Brae

1. Day 1 at the Renaissance Cup at Stoatin Brae.  I partnered up with Jay Blasi again this Ren Cup, and the second round match against Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb took place during the solar eclipse.  Thankfully, the clouds parted enough for us to fully enjoy one of the weirdest settings/lightings that we'll ever play golf in.  I also don't think I've had a round where I laughed that much.  Re-match next eclipse?

2. A combination of my two go-rounds at Prestwick.  The first was with Matthew Galloway, currently on the bag for Michelle Wie on the LPGA, and the second was a solitary round where I spent as much time trying different shots and taking photos as I did playing actual golf.  And the weather was fantastic--calm, warm, and full of ever-changing lighting.

3. Old Course.  You know, I never get too caught up with pin sheets, probably because I haven't been good enough lately to really consider that level of detail.  But one place it really matters, especially when you know the course well, is the Old Course.  A day's location can completely change your route of attack to the hole.  So, I have to say I had an absolute blast coordinating my play and figuring out whether to try and carry a feature like the deep gully fronting the 5th green or run my shot through it.  Pin sheet says: 6 paces off the right, 67 off the front.  That should be enough yardage to safely fly it and run out, I think... ;) 

It was also extra cool this time to linger around the fairly crowded 18th green afterward and watch the rest of play come in, which was mostly LPGA players and their caddies who were all in town that week for the Women's British Open down the road at Kingsbarns.  In a role reversal, Sandra Gal carried the bag for her caddie, which was pretty cool to see.  Very good vibes and smiles all around, and some pretty loud roars and laughs echoing off the old buildings as putts were made or almost made.

4. 36 with Kyle Harris at Streamsong.  This couldn't have been much of a better introduction to a set of courses I had wanted to see for a long time.  One, we got out early and played with no interruptions.  Two, I got to learn about both construction of the courses and their current maintenance practices from the guy who is there every day taking care of it.  Three, Kyle is a very smart guy and fun to play a round with.  

5. Taking a day off after a busy couple weeks traveling and finishing an RFP to drive up to Aetna Springs to play a couple of peaceful 9 hole rounds, reconnecting with the game I love.  The quiet countryside is pure bliss, and the golf is a load of fun.  If this was only a half hour from my house instead of an hour and a half, I would be much better about making time to play golf.  

6. North Berwick with local Edinburgh-based member Michael Graham.  With a pleasant day, sporty breeze, and pretty close to even action on our match, this was a perfect capper to my whirlwind trip.

7. My second round at the 12 hole Shiskine.  It started wet, but it cleared up by the time I got to the best part of the course--the 3rd to the 7th.  The 4th green is where the bizarre, straight-lined cliff near the far end of the golf course first comes into view.  When I arrived there, the rain and breeze had completely died, and no one else was around.  Very cool moment in time.  

8. An isolated round with the last tee time at Western Gailes.  The course was basically mine, especially as I took my time checking it out.  

9. Again having the course mostly to myself at Irvine Bogside and its pleasant heath/links landscape.

10. Hosting friends out at Orinda for a game and tour.  I had design/build architect Riley Johns out in February, and Andy Johnson of The Fried Egg came out in November, where we might have spent more time playing with his new drone than actually golfing.

H.M.  Walking Winter Park with a huge group including Don Mahaffey, Adam Lawrence, Brian Palmer, Joe Hancock, Guy Cipriano, and more;  Quiet early evening round at Scotscraig.  

BONUS Non-Playing Mentions

1. Having lunch and a lengthy chat about old-school greenkeeping with Gordon Irvine and Alistair Philp.  If you ever want to take a step back from the industrialization of golf and get back to the basics--like, Old Tom Morris basics--then these are the guys to talk to.  I felt quite refreshed after our talk.   

2. The non-golf portion of the Renaissance Cup is quite possibly just as fun as the golf itself.  Always fun to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones.

Cool Curiosities, Awesome Oddities: The Most Enjoyable Unusual Features

  The back tee on the 5th at Shiskine provides amazing 180 degree views as well as a more interesting angle toward the hole

The back tee on the 5th at Shiskine provides amazing 180 degree views as well as a more interesting angle toward the hole

This is a feature where I like to highlight the wonderfully strange, almost humorous things you sometimes find in golf but just about never find in anything built over the last 40 years. (Let's bring back the quirk!) 

1.  The first hole and green at Prestwick lying hard against the wall and railway.  The rest of the hole plays perfectly off of this and dares a player to stay as close as they can to the out of bounds wall.  It might be the shortest, most terrifying, and strategic opening hole there is.

2. The underground rope pulley system at the Himalayas hole at Shiskine to indicate whether play is clear.  This is the most original solution I've seen for blindness yet.  You push it down when you walk up to the green to turn the "hold" signal up, and the connected rope then pulls up the other lever located on the green's walkoff point 40 yards away.  When you walk off, push the other lever down, and it pulls the original lever back up to the "all clear" position.  Very clever.

3.  Bridges, tunnels, and elevators that connect the routing at Bel-Air

4.  Clubhouse and portal-like stairs to the first tee at Dollar.  The course is up on a hill, but the clubhouse sits down in the urban fabric of the town.  So, to get up to the course, you go through a gate and concrete walkway with stairs reach the first tee as well as get back from the 18th green.  You would never realize there was a golf course here just driving by.

  The clubhouse and walkway to the first tee at Dollar is as urban as I've ever seen.

The clubhouse and walkway to the first tee at Dollar is as urban as I've ever seen.

5.  "Crow's Nest" - The wild little par 3 3rd at Shiskine. (See course and hole descriptions above)

6.  The Cardinal Bunker at Prestwick.  The size is impressive, the sleepers are cool, and the strategy is sound.  But what really makes this bunker cool is the way that it also ties into the 16th green and 17th tees.

7.  4th green against the railway wall, Irvine Bogside.  A bunch of greens at different courses along the Ayrshire coast touch up against this same railway wall, but this one might be the closest to it.  I especially know from being right up against it and having the serious decision of whether or not to play the ricochet shot.

  Bank shot, left handed, or way behind stance?  The 4th green at Bogside gets closer to the railway wall than any other hole (that I know of) in Ayrshire.

Bank shot, left handed, or way behind stance?  The 4th green at Bogside gets closer to the railway wall than any other hole (that I know of) in Ayrshire.

8.  The 2nd Hole, "Brae," at Dollar.  It's 79 yards from the member's tee but about 60 feet uphill over a cliff.  It's an impossible hole for some golfers, unfortunately, but for everyone else it is a bit of wacky fun that gets the golfer up to the big field where the rest of the course lies.

9.  Marking systems for blindness at Prestwick.  On the par 3 Himalayas, color coded disks scattered on the dune relate to the color of the tee markers you are playing.  On the Alps Hole, a rotating left-right-center sign at the tee lets you know which of the 3 posts to generally aim over on your second shot.

10. The bridge crossing Round Pond to reach the first tee at Glens Falls.  This is both a clever routing solution by Ross to increase the interest of the first hole as well as just a neat way to engage the water and start the round.

H.M.  The deck tee on the 5th hole at Shiskine;  The cross shaped marking post on the 17th at Western Gailes;  Railway hole at Troon;  The massive downhill finish on the 18th at Lake Chabot;  Repurposed cart barn at Aetna Springs;  World War tank blocks along the shore at Lundin and Leven

Best Logos

1. McGregor Links  I don't know the backstory of the logo (nor did anyone that I asked about it), but the Dagger and Tree is really cool and original.  It is also a fitting suggestion for what they should do to many of the trees on the course...

2. Shiskine  This is a beautiful, simple logo that uses a 2 divided by a flagstick, which also acts as a "1," designating the unique number of holes at the course, which is 12.  S,G,T,C are interlaced around the 2 and represent "Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club."  

3. Western Gailes  According to the Club's history section on its website, this unique logo is taken from a small portion the Portland Coat of Arms after the Duke of Portland leased the Club its land in 1920.  

4. Glens Falls  This logo falls firmly in the generally overused "crest" category, but it is a good example of how to highlight the key characteristics of a club or site.  The upper left has the standard crossed club and flag, but the lower right is blue with an evergreen tree and waves depicting water, which is the famous scene at the first tee box.  I can't verify the intent of this or not, but the diagonal bisector of the two areas looks like the railing on the bridge to get to the first tee.  Pretty cool and well done if so.

5. Sequoyah  It is simply a sequoia tree with the founding date and name at the bottom, and I really like the font of both.  There can be a lot of beauty in simplicity, especially when it comes to logos.

H.M.  Prestwick, Streamsong

  Logos of the year.  The McGregor logo (top right) is typically shown without text, which makes it even better to me.

Logos of the year.  The McGregor logo (top right) is typically shown without text, which makes it even better to me.

Best Restoration Opportunities

Because I can never just relax and play golf...

1. St Andrews Old (!!!)  If there was one thing disappointing about my return to the Home of Golf, it was confirmation of how much I disliked the recent changes made to the Old Course.  The bunkers on the second hole ruin one of the greatest natural green sites in the world, the left arm of the Road Bunker is way too bulky and aesthetically awkward, the 11th green certainly felt different in the corner, and the tinkering with micro contours around different greens is excessive and unnecessary.  The greenkeepers, as I expected, did a finely crafted job, but it shouldn't have been one that they were tasked with in the first place.  Fortunately there is a lot of documentation of the course (including hundreds of my own photos and a laser survey before the work happened), so hopefully one day it can all be put back to place.  This would be a dream of mine to grab a sandpro and rake and help bring it back.

2.  McGregor Links (Even despite the housing encroachment issue)  This sandy site and course was once compared to Pine Valley, and the pictures of its original incarnation are truly impressive.  Unfortunately, housing developments have encroached upon its edges, especially at the double dogleg 6th, and tree overgrowth has tightened play and taken away all of the great long range views.  That said, there is still a lot of opportunity to return Emmet's greens back to original size, restore bunkering, thin out some trees, and reintroduce some sandy scrub throughout the course.  It won't ever be what it was, but it could still be pretty special.

3. Plum Hollow  Originally laid out by Hugh Alison, this course plays over a series of deep valleys formed by the Rouge River and a couple of tributaries.  The sequencing and interaction with these valleys is very good, but all the bunkers and seemingly some greens have been tinkered with in more recent decades, taking away some of the Golden Age feel of the 1921 course.  Some TLC, tree removal, and bunker work could really do some wonders for both the playing quality and aesthetics of a course that once hosted the PGA Championship.

4. Sonoma  Much like Plum Hollow, this is a Golden Age course that has been tinkered with in more modern times.  This would also be a fun one to restore bunkers, analyze the greens, widen corridors, and remove some trees to bring back great distant views.

5. Lake Chabot  I don't know what it was originally like exactly and haven't seen any documentation, but surely it could use a touchup.  Greens are strangely tiny, and bunkers are irrelevant.  Though when a property moves up and down as much as Chabot does, you hardly need bunkers anyway.  

(Somewhat Realistic) Wishlist for 2018...

1.  Long Island

2.  Philadelphia

3.  Oregon Coast

4.  LACC South

5.  Anything Walter Travis/Devereaux Emmet

...and a final Moment of Zen from 2017

  Always take the opportunity to cross the Swilcan Bridge.

Always take the opportunity to cross the Swilcan Bridge.

Thank you everyone for reading and being interested--hopefully some of this inspires you to tee it up in some new places.  Feel free to get in touch with any questions or comments or if you want to get together on a site or the golf course.  You can always find me at hochsteindesign@gmail.com.  

Cheers

Brett

The Best of 2017: Part 2--The Sights and Sounds by Brett Hochstein

  The 6000 year old standing stones of the Machrie Moor were one of the coolest things I encountered this year.  The sheep were fun to hangout with, too.

The 6000 year old standing stones of the Machrie Moor were one of the coolest things I encountered this year.  The sheep were fun to hangout with, too.

This year I am trying something new and breaking up this annual post into three parts.  This first one focused on the work that we did both out in the field and back in the office.  The third part will be a commentary and analysis of all the new courses that we studied and played in 2017.   This second part though is a bit of fun diversion from just golf.  This segment is all about the complementary pieces that help make the year what it was, from the culture of the places we visited to the music listened to while digging a bunker to other non-golf things that we find passion in.  Let's begin with a look at our favorite towns we visited this year...

Favorite Cities

1. St Andrews, Scotland  The Home of Golf might be my favorite place in the world, and it was amazing to return after being away for 7 years.  This was my first time there in summer, so it was fun to mingle and connect with other travelers from around the world, including the caddies from the LPGA tour and some golfers who just happened to be from the area that I grew up in Michigan.  

2. Edinburgh, Scotland  Edinburgh is a great old city and also one of my favorite places.  In many parts, it feels like stepping into a movie or storybook with its old stone alleyways, church spires, and Castle set up on a giant outcropping.  This time around I had the fortune of checking out the Bruntsfield Links, one of the earliest commons where golf was played.  Today it is a park as well as a pitch and putt still enjoyed by many people.

3. Saratoga Springs, NY  The famous horse racing town north of Albany is full of charm with myriad shops, restaurants, and bars.  I'd love to come back and check out a race sometime, as the track and grandstand look as if from a different era.

4. Huntington Beach, CA  I usually like to stay in Huntington Beach while working at Santa Ana, as the beach, restaurants, and Tuesday Market Night provide fun options for the evenings.

5. (Tie) Sylva, NC  An old mill town 45 minutes west of Asheville, this is a pretty cool enclave in southern Appalachia.  The vibe of the place is very much about enjoying the outdoors, and Innovation Brewing, which is set right on top of the river running through town, is a great spot to try a wide variety of experimental beers as well as enjoy live music.

5. (Tie) Lakeland, FL  Lakeland has a nice downtown with an older feel not found much around Florida.  The lakes and ponds nearby add another element and provide for some nice walks.

Favorite food by Place

Sylva, NC - North Carolina BBQ

Huntington Beach, CA - Barbacoa Street Quesadilla

Cockeysville, MD - House meal with the client

Redlands, CA - Steak Colorado Burrito from El Burrito.  Fresh home-made tortillas are the way to be.

Scotland - Haggis! Always haggis...

Favorite Sights Seen

This is a bit lighter this year, as I made the most of my time on the road this year, spending it on the job site, golf course, or meeting place.  There was little time for extracurricular sight-seeing, but I managed to squeeze in a few pretty good ones.

1. The Machrie Moor Standing Stones. Shiskine, Arran, Scotland.  This was cool beyond words.  The trail to get here goes through a few sheep farms and up and over a hill and through the ever-increasing moorland.  When I got to a grassy opening, there were some sheep grazing in the middle of some ancient stones embedded into the earth.  This was cool in itself, but when I looked a bit further past a couple of trees and into the open moor, I could see the giant stones out there, isolated and sticking straight up in the vast landscape.  Just then, the sun dipped beneath the clouds, first lighting up the 6000 year old stones and then forming a rainbow over top of them, as if on cue.  Amazing.

2. The Rose Bowl. Pasadena, CA.  Go ahead and insert your joke about Michigan football here, but I had never been, so I thought I would make a pit stop on the way to Redlands and check it out.  What a cool setting, and a very lively active neighborhood as well with hundreds of people walking, jogging, and biking.

  The color and texture of Bok Tower is much more impressive when viewed up close.

The color and texture of Bok Tower is much more impressive when viewed up close.

3. Bok Tower and Gardens. Lake Wales, FL.  On my way from Lakeland to Orlando, I checked out some old public courses at Kyle Harris's suggestion and hoped to sneak a peak at Mountain Lake, the Raynor course restored by Brian Silva.  I found out it was totally gated, so I decided to go check out the Bok Tower and Gardens instead.  That turned out to be a good decision.  The gardens are a neat piece of landscape architecture, and the tower, which sits on one of the highest points in Florida, is much more colorful and elegant when viewed up close, especially in the late day golden light.

 

 

 

MUSIC

Anyone in this business who spends a lot of time in a machine out in the field knows how valuable a companion the art of music is.  It is easy as well to draw parallels between the two, a great golf course acting as a great album with the component pieces--the holes and songs--standing individually while contributing to the work as a whole.  

This year was a return to some really great music discovery.  Like favorite courses and holes you will see in Part 3, many of these albums and songs below could be interchangeable, but they give a general idea of what I really loved and had resonate within me.  Here are some of my favorites while making it all happen from the dozer seat or, moreso this year, the office chair or car/plane/train seat.

Best Albums

1.  Age of the Sun - The Sunshine Fix

2.  God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies

3.  New Magnetic Wonder - The Apples in Stereo

4.  Bigfoot - Cayucas

5.  Teens of Denial - Car Seat Headrest

6.  Whiteout Conditions - The New Pornographers

7.  Venus and Mars - Wings

8.  Antisocialites - Alvvays

9.  Hit the Highway - The Proclaimers

10.  Heartworms - The Shins  

H.M.  Alvvays - Alvvays;  Human Ceremony - Sunflower Bean;  Lola vs. Powerman - The Kinks;  Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons - Dressy Bessy;  The Life Pursuit - Belle & Sebastian  

Best Songs

1.  "God Shuffled His Feet" - Crash Test Dummies

2.  "7 Stars" - The Apples in Stereo

3.  "Fantasy Island" - The Shins

4.  "Digging to China" - The Sunshine Fix

5.  "In Undertow" - Alvvays

6.  "Magneto and Titanium Man" - Wings

7.  "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" - Crash Test Dummies

8.  "Age of the Sun" - The Sunshine Fix

9.  "Clockwise" - The New Pornographers

10.  "Skyway" - The Apples in Stereo

11.  "Cayucos" - Cayucas

12.  "Fly" - Meadowlark

13.  "Destroyed by Hippie Powers" - Car Seat Headrest

14.  "Whiteout Conditions" - The New Pornographers

15.  "Drugs with Friends" - Car Seat Headrest  

16.  "Dress up in You" - Belle & Sebastian

17.  "Cherry Hearts" - The Shins

18.  "Archie, Marry Me" - Alvvays

19.  "I Got You" - Split Enz

20.  "In a Drawer" - Band of Horses

H.M.  "Postcards" - Meadowlark,  "The More I Believe" - The Proclaimers,  "Lost in a Crowd" - Woods,  "Witchi-Tai-To" - Brewer & Shipley,  "Holding On" - The War on Drugs,  "Creature Comfort" - Arcade Fire,  "High School Lover" - Cayucas,  "The Agency Group" - Alvvays,  "Easier Said" - Sunflower Bean,  "Ma Blonde est Partie" - Amadee Breaux

Bonus New Podcasts Section

Since I have participated on one of these, I am refraining from numerical rankings this year and instead an alphabetic listing.

- The Allusionist

- Attack Each Day: The Harbaughs' Podcast

- Criminal

- The Fried Egg

- Ways of Hearing, a Showcase by Radiotopia

And a special shoutout to the "Club Pro Guy" episode on No Laying Up.  Anyone who lived through the heart of late 90s/early 00s golf needs to listen to this.

Non-Golf Experiences of the Year

If you can believe it, golf isn't the only important thing in life.  Visits to special places, once-in a lifetime events, and time spent with your best people is a huge part of the picture.  These moments contribute to personal happiness and indirectly serve as inspiration to what we do out on the golf course site.  

  A hockey arena, first and foremost.

A hockey arena, first and foremost.

1.  The Final Game at Joe Louis Arena, spent with my dad.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a die-hard Red Wings fan, even as their level of play slides downward.  I was also a die-hard fan of their long-time home, Joe Louis Arena.  As a kid who instantly fell in love with the Red Wings once I started watching in 1994, I was fascinated with their arena.  The noise of the crowd, the white steel bars that gave it a ware-house-y feel, the endless banners, the blue rafters, the echoing voice of P.A. Budd Lynch, and the seats that went uninterrupted all the way to the top.  It was pure hockey and pure sport.  As other arenas around the league and other sports changed, ditching their older and more intimate digs for more spacious and expensive places full of "comfort and amenities," I began to love The Joe even more.  I recognized it as a dying breed of stadia where going to the game and focusing on the action was the reason for attending.  I liken it to golf and the shift away from simple, golf-only courses toward the "country club for a day" experience, which is more costly and often loses sight of the golf at hand.  When I go to play golf, I just want to play golf.  When I go to a hockey game, I want to focus on the hockey game.  Besides the long bathroom and beer lines (which provided an experience unto itself, as it encouraged lively banter among the fans), The Joe was all about the main purpose of the day--watching hockey.  Close seats with great sightlines, few frills, hockey-only decor, and a unique acoustic that would grow and wane unlike any other are what made Joe Louis Arena special.  

There were many detractors of the place throughout recent years, calling it a "dump" and whatever else.  But as the strong attendance and hoopla of the final season came to its climax on the final weekend and final night, the love that people had for this place and what the Red Wings achieved in it was utterly palpable.  People spent all day around the arena that Sunday and mingled inside many hours before puck drop.  It had the energy of a Stanley Cup Final game.  This aspect is maybe what made me most emotional--the connection I had to the collective fanbase and their shared emotions on that day.  And spending it all with my dad, whom I attended more games with than anyone, made it that much more special.  It's a night I will never forget.  Thanks for the memories, Joe.

2. Stopping off in Cupar, the town I lived in while at Elmwood, on my way to St Andrews.  Not everything was positive while I lived there, especially as I left it. So it was great to take a long, sunny walk around and through all the streets and alleys, remember all the good things that I loved about this old stone-laden European town, and get a fish supper from Libo's, which is still my favorite chip shop in all of Scotland.  Stop off at Libo's next time going through Cupar and get the fish or the haggis.  Or both.  I'd go with both.

3. Machrie Moor walk (see above)

4. Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time with my wife.  Much like golf courses, you really need to see it in person to appreciate this awe-striking space.  We caught the last bit of sunset upon arrival, and the colors were unreal.  Reds, oranges, purples, blues, and dark greens are all part of the palette in late day light.  We awoke before sunrise to see the same thing in reverse direction, and this might have been an even better experience as we saw more elk on our walk out than people.  

  Just like great golf courses, the Grand Canyon is much more impressive to see in person.  Also more fun when your partner in exploration gets to join you.

Just like great golf courses, the Grand Canyon is much more impressive to see in person.  Also more fun when your partner in exploration gets to join you.

5. Seeing the Warriors bring home the Title in person with my father-in-law.  Yes, I am a Warriors fan, and yes I have no shame about that.  As someone who didn't care much about the Pistons or NBA in general when moving west 7 years ago, the "Dubs" were really the only team that had a shot at converting my fandom from Michigan-based teams.  They did just that, as I attended a number of games with my father-in-law, who has been a long-time season ticket holder.  My two main knocks on the NBA were that the crowds were fake and bandwagon-y and that nobody played a team style of basketball.  Well, Oracle Arena has been a rocking atmosphere since well before the arrival of the Splash Brothers, and Steve Kerr has them playing a pass-first style of basketball that is an absolute joy to watch.  Even if I hadn't moved to the Bay Area, this team would still be getting my attention and love for the way that they play as a unit.  

Seeing it all come together the past couple of years has been a lot of fun, and the battles with Lebron and the Ohio-based Cavaliers have fueled the intensity.  After seeing game 7 blown in person the year before and having nightmare flashbacks of Ohio State fans celebrating in Michigan Stadium, watching the clincher over the Cavs and end of maybe the most dominant postseason run ever was incredibly fun and satisfying.  It was the first championship of the major sports that I've even seen won live by a team I've supported.  I certainly hope to do it again sometime.

  Dubs win!

Dubs win!

Next part will be all about what we really love--golf courses!  As I am currently on a family vacation, this may wait until after the new year.  Stay tuned...

The Best of 2017--Part 1: The Work, In and Out of the Field by Brett Hochstein

  Hole 3 at Redlands just after sand installation.

Hole 3 at Redlands just after sand installation.

This year I am trying something new and breaking up this annual post into three parts.  This first one will focus on the work that we did both out in the field and back in the office.  The second part will be all about the complementary pieces that made the year what it was, from the culture of the places we visited to the music listened to while digging a bunker to other non-golf things that we find passion in.  The third and final segment will be what may be most interesting to the bulk of you--the golf courses that we studied and played.  So let's have some fun and get into it--here's part 1...   


The Work

This was a bit of a different year for us at Hochstein Design.  Instead of taking on a number of longer term projects helping out shaping, we spent more time working on potential leads to projects of our own, creating practice area schematic designs for a local course, and participating in some fun features on other great golf design sites like American GolferThe Fried Egg, and Geeked on Golf.  We also took our first ever trip to the Golf Industry Show in Orlando, which provided the opportunity to catch up with friends, meet new ones, and put faces to the social media name.   

There were still a few fun things that we got to work on in the dirt though, including a spring trip to the Carolina mountains for Thad Layton and APDC, a week trying out artificial greens construction near Baltimore with Back Nine Greens, detailing bunkers and natural areas at Orinda, and return trips to both Redlands and Santa Ana for Todd Eckenrode and Jay Blasi, respectively.  Here are some of my favorite things we got to work on, both out in the field and back in the office.

Favorite Features of the Field

We had the opportunity this summer to go back and touch up this natural area on the 15th at Orinda, which used to be an ivy-covered fence and jungle.

1.  Hole 3 at Redlands  It's hard to single out one feature here, as I loved working on every part of this reverse Redan-ish par 3.  For one, I love working in a spot that has a beautiful view, and this one does, especially after tree removal restored those views.  The hole itself is very cool as well.  Based on an aerial that we had, architect Todd Eckenrode and I had the opportunity to restore the very large pair of angled MacKenzie bunkers that sit in ridge below and short of the green.  Spoils from that operation and the new left bunker were used to increase the left to right tilt of the landing area as well as extend a helping/hurting ridge from that bunker to the green.  If playing your shot on the ground, that contour will be a helping one.  If flying it to the green and pulling it well left, it keeps you over that way.  Green expansion has also added more holes closer to the rear MacKenzie mounds and the dangerous far right promontory.  The hole has a decided angle to shape a shot now and should offer some very fun approach shots, especially for the short and medium-length hitters.  

Click the images of hole 3 in construction in the gallery above to enlarge

2.  Hole 2 at Redlands  Again I am just going to lump together the entirety of the works on this hole.  The green is a very cool but very steep MacKenzie green with a dividing hump up in the middle and strong back-right to front-left tilt.  There were two small areas where they could place a pin, even in summertime when they roll much more slowly.  While I am usually hesitant to tear into Golden Age greens to "soften" them, I was on board with Todd's plan to rebuild it with the same overall ideas but increase both the size and the pinnable areas.  

Now, this is a process that is much more difficult compared to starting from scratch and building a new green.  We had to strip the old top layer off while not disturbing too much of the original green.  We then made our expansions and alterations carefully, checking grades and preserving general landforms along the way.  The excess spoils went out to the front to make the transition smoother as well as the left to help build up the backside of the bunker.  The overall result was successful in that the green still largely resembles its previous self while offering a whole lot more area where a hole can be placed, including one tucked behind the restored long skinny left greenside bunker.  The green still has its "teeth" but is much more dynamic in how it plays.  

A new approach bunker was also added 50 yards short and right and guards the ideal angle into a left hole location for people playing the long par 4 as a 3-shot hole.  The right greenside bunker, which didn't seem to originally exist (hard to tell exactly on the aerial. It was very small if anything, which is unlike California MacKenzie) was also removed and replaced with contouring.  

3.  Extended bunker on 6 at Santa Ana  Some key tree removal early this year opened up the left side of the very short par 4 6th at Santa Ana.  Architect Jay Blasi's intent was always for a player to think about taking on the left fairway bunker and running one up onto the green.  For someone who predominantly hits a fade though, this was very difficult with the trees.  That corridor is much more open now though.  In doing that, it visually and functionally made sense to extend the bunker left to accommodate the new open-ness.  Everything feels a lot better to this hole now, and going for it is much more tempting.  

4.  Bunker and natural area touch-ups at Orinda  The grassing process for the bunkers at Orinda involved rolling the fescue turf all the way over the edge to the floor.  In doing this, there is usually some excess as well a little bit of loss for the detailing.  Because we were spending a lot more time locally this year, there were some opportunities to go back into a few of the most overgrown bunkers at Orinda and detail the edges.  This is hard physical work, but the instant gratification of a fresh new edge greatly outweighs a few blisters and sore muscles.  

Above: Before and after touching up the right hand greenside bunker on the 14th at Orinda

5.  Santa Ana Large Wash, Take II  For various reasons, the drainage in the big restored sandy wash at Santa Ana did not work as well as hoped.  A re-engineering project would solve that but also cause a lot of damage to almost everything in the interior.  This operation was used as an opportunity to do a few things.  One was extend the land bridge to give the shorter hitters a more feasible route to the second half of the par 5  15th hole.  Another was to extend a different wash between 15 and 13 and create a new "don't go here" bunker for the long hitters bombing it to the second half of hole 15.  Another opportunity yet was to improve the wash crossing path and get carts and players on 16 tee out of harm's way from trailing golfers on 15.  The last and final opportunity was to improve the interior aesthetics of the wash itself, reshaping the islands and wash-ways to something with more 3-D definition and natural aesthetic.  I've spent way more time in this area than I ever imagined, but I enjoyed the opportunity to work on mimicking a different type of landscape and enjoy the SoCal climate while doing so.

 

Favorite Features off the Field

1. American Golfer Interview  Rob Thomas is a prolific golf blogger and has had a number of great design interviews on his site.  I was very excited to be one of them early this year.  I enjoyed tackling questions about negative design trends, approaches to design, dream sites, and growing the game, among others.  Read the full interview at American Golfer.

2. Leven Hole writeup for Geeked on Golf  After getting back from Scotland, Jason Way of Geeked on Golf asked if I would be interested in contributing to a post about Charles Blair MacDonald's "Leven" template, which, of course I was interested.  My task would be for covering the "inspiration" side, which is the current 16th hole at Lundin Links in southern Fife.  Jon Cavalier (@linksgems) and his amazing photos and travels would cover the Macdonald and Raynor templates.  It was a fun exercise and turned out pretty well.  Go ahead and read it here.

  This diagram above was a part of my description for the original "Leven" hole in Jason Way's "My Favorite Template" piece on geekedongolf.com

This diagram above was a part of my description for the original "Leven" hole in Jason Way's "My Favorite Template" piece on geekedongolf.com

3. Fried Egg Architecture Roundtable  After reading these over the last year or so, it was exciting when Andy asked me to finally contribute.  His questions were great, too, including thoughts on pro venues, rules, favorite holes, and what we wished the common golfer understood more about golf architecture.  Check out the responses Parts 1 and 2 both here and here.

4. Fried Egg Podcast  I had never done a podcast or live interview, but doing one with both Andy and Jay Blasi was a great way to get the feet wet.  We discuss the "Dark Ages" of design as well as answer reader questions and participate in the infamous "overrated/underrated."  Check it on The Fried Egg or iTunes (episode 56). 

5. Design Opportunities  They have come and gone in different forms, but the process has been great to build upon.  Plus, we still have some potential opportunities in the works, which is very exciting.

Best Experiences

1.  The smoggy haze clearing one Saturday while working on the 3rd at Redlands, which sits high on a ridge with a beautiful view across to the San Bernardino Mountains.  After a week or so of thick haze, all the details were visible this day, and somehow my music sounded better.

  The haze cleared, and all felt good...as long as I kept the door shut and the AC going.  The clear air also brought 100+ degree temperatures

The haze cleared, and all felt good...as long as I kept the door shut and the AC going.  The clear air also brought 100+ degree temperatures

2.  Evenings with open windows at Redlands, pick one.

3.  Working in the peaceful mountain valley at Balsam Mountain with warm spring weather and the trees just starting to bud and flower.

  Mornings at Balsam Mountain were pleasant indeed.

Mornings at Balsam Mountain were pleasant indeed.

4.  Pleasant December weather in The O.C. working at Santa Ana.

5.  Finishing early enough on my last day at Santa Ana to catch the very last rays of the day on Huntington Beach

Accolades (!?)

  Surprised and flattered to see the last name on there

Surprised and flattered to see the last name on there

I had the surprising distinction of being named one of Matt Ginella's (Golf Channel's Architecture Correspondent) "Top Architects Under 40."  I didn't realize it until getting a few texts and seeing others post it on instagram and twitter.  It is very flattering and exciting to be mentioned among such talent, and I full-heartedly believe that we can do top quality work that can compare with some of the best.  However, I have to take this time to acknowledge all those architects who I have worked with and learned from.  Tom Doak, Todd Eckenrode, Jay Blasi, Frank Pont, Patrice Boissonnas, Mike McCartin, Forrest Richardson, and Mike DeVries have all been great in opportunities to contribute to their work as well as teach me about the business.  

I'd also like to shout out and acknowledge all the other talented young people who could have just as easily been on that list.  It doesn't feel fair to name them, but there is a large crew of talented and motivated young designers and shapers out there that are doing very good work.  I fully believe we are stronger together than individually, and I wish everyone success both now and in the future. 


  Hole 3 approach at Redlands after grassing and sand

Hole 3 approach at Redlands after grassing and sand

Drone Footage and Stills of Sallandsche Bunkering by Brett Hochstein

  The 9th hole bunkering at Sallandsche looks much different from above.

The 9th hole bunkering at Sallandsche looks much different from above.

If you are like me at all, you like to check out the view of things above.  For me, this is especially true of any golf course work I have done--bunkers in particular.

The golf club at Sallandsche, located in the east of the Netherlands and where local architect Frank Pont and I completed a bunker renovation 2 years ago, has added drone flyovers in its hole-by-hole section on its website (which you can find here, and, if you can read Dutch, navigate around for more).  The direct youtube links can be found here, where other holes should automatically load or be found on the sidebar. They aren't HD quality, but they still give a good idea of the edge styling and overall form of the bunkers.

Below is a series of some of my favorite holes and bunkering as seen from above.  Click on the youtube videos to play the loop and the galleries to see larger still images.

Hole 5

This medium-short par 3 has a visually pleasing set of imbalanced bunkering, but it also features the removal of "hold-up" mounding surrounding the back half section of the green, which is narrower, crowned and raised.  It is a tough but fun hole location to take on, and it can be seen profiled against the dark shadowing in the earlier part of the video.


Hole 7

The 7th hole, seen in the images below, really gives a good idea of the offset of the bunkers.  The hole is a short par 5, and the left bunker nicely guards the ideal angle into the right-to-left-sloped green.

hochstein-design-sallandsche-drones-hole-7
Hochstein-Design-Sallandsche-drone-hole-7-b

Hole 8

The 8th hole features one of my favorite bunkers from the project--the long greenside bunker guarding the right side.  The true length and size of the bunker is not necessarily that apparent on the ground, but as the drone gets closer to it, that length starts to show itself.

Hole 9

The 9th hole is a medium long par 3 and one of the nicer settings on the property after Frank and the club took on heather restoration and tree removal.  We needed bunkering that fit the scale and scene of the hole, and decided on a big one.  An irrigation line, however, ran through the area that was laid out.  Instead of using time and resources to move the line, we decided just to split the bunker in two, which turned out to be a blessing in making the arrangement look much more dynamic.  After visiting the Melbourne Sand Belt a year prior and studying Alex Russell's brilliant bunkering, I learned how to better profile capes, bays, and separate bunkers against each other and create a unique 3-dimensional feel.  In this case, the pair below actually looks like 3 bunkers of varying sizes instead of 2.  The video from above though shows that they certainly are not a set of 3.  Take a look:

  The 9th hole from the ground.  Note the flag you see is a winter hole in the approach area; the green is behind and left of the bunkers.

The 9th hole from the ground.  Note the flag you see is a winter hole in the approach area; the green is behind and left of the bunkers.

 

Hole 11

The 11th hole is similar to the 7th in that they are both par 5s and both have an angled bunker arrangement up near the green.  The 11th is different though in that the pair of bunkers is out at in the approach instead of at the green.  The pair looks like it is very close together (which is intentional and achieved in the field), but in actuality there is some spacing between them, which the drone footage shows.  

  The first two bunkers near the 11th green relate strongly to each other and appear to be "stacked."

The first two bunkers near the 11th green relate strongly to each other and appear to be "stacked."

  Here you can actually see there is a decent amount of space between the two bunkers as well as see how the overall set is placed on an angle.

Here you can actually see there is a decent amount of space between the two bunkers as well as see how the overall set is placed on an angle.

Hole 12

The 12th hole has two outside bunkers guarding the ideal angle into the green, which is guarded by a greenside bunker on the right.  These were created on perhaps the flattest hole on the course, but they turned out nicely, especially the one at the green.

hochstein-design-sallandsche-drones-hole-12

Hole 13

The greenside bunker on 13 is another favorite.  On the ground it has many different looks as you move around it.  From the air, is has a sort of reverse 'S' shape, which is what helps it look different from opposing angles on the ground.  

hochstein-design-sallandsche-drones-hole-13
Hochstein-Design-Sallandsche-drone-hole-13-c

Hole 17

The 17th is one of the original holes on the golf course and the place where we started the project.  The cross bunkers in the fairway are profiled low against the subtle ground, keeping view of the green and the greenside bunker.  From the air, they take on a bit of a different look.

hochstein-design-sallandsche-drones-hole-17

The Best of the Rest...

Here are a few other ground level/drone comparison images that I liked.  It's amazing how simple something can look in the air (see the first bunker on the 4th hole fairway, which looks like a potato from above) but look much more interesting on the ground, or vice-versa.  This is why you can't just design in plan view--you have to shape and figure it out in the field. 

Click on the gallery below to check out some different comparisons.  The ground level photos precede the drone captures.

Orinda Country Club Renovation: Before and After Images by Brett Hochstein

hochstein-design-orinda-cc-before-after-cover-photo-hole-15

This is a two part series reviewing Hochstein Design's involvement with the restoration/renovation project at Orinda Country Club.  Part I is a review of the construction and creative process during the project, while this part focuses more on just the visual changes.

PROJECT FAST FACTS

Architect: Todd Eckenrode (William Watson original, 1924)

Shapers: Brett Hochstein and George Waters

Superintendent: Josh Smith

Project Type: Bunker and selected greens renovation/restoration

Location: Orinda, CA (San Francisco East Bay Area)

With simple design moves and an agronomic shift of philosophy (firmer, faster surfaces + more short grass everywhere), the golf course at Orinda Country Club has really transformed from a difficult, one-dimensional target test to a fun, dynamic round filled with different shot options and types.  The construction and design processes were discussed in Part I.  This second part though is all about comparing and contrasting the pre-construction state of the course to the new post-2016 version.  These are a selection of favorite transformations shown in a series of before/after images.  Enjoy!


The first hole to highlight is the 2nd, a medium-short par 4 playing up a hill to a green that drops off on the right side and back.  That dramatic effect was hidden though by containment mounding and a forest of trees behind the green.  The trees were removed before starting "Project Watson," and the mounding was removed during it.  As the dirt disappeared, wonderful views opened up, including a direct shot to the 4th hole green and bunkers across the deep bowl that separates the 2nd, 4th, and 11th.  With the extra space, the green was expanded back and right to engage both the dropoffs and the front right greenside bunker.  The overall space at the green has been transformed from that of an enclosed room to one with commanding views to the surrounding holes and a stronger connection to the gnarly old oaks nearby the green.  It may be my favorite spot on the whole course.

hochstein-design-orinda-before-after-hole-2-1
  Tree and mound removal have not only cleaned up the nice view lines, they've made the green more interesting and opened up views to the 4th green and bunkers.

Tree and mound removal have not only cleaned up the nice view lines, they've made the green more interesting and opened up views to the 4th green and bunkers.

Click the above gallery to see larger images of the 2nd hole before and after.  The first three "before" images are courtesy of architect Todd Eckenrode.


The 3rd hole is a long downhill par 3 where most everyone will be hitting a running shot into the green and trying to judge the speed correctly to get the ball to stop on the putting surface.  Before, the strategy was simple: hit it straight between the two flanking bunkers.  During the renovation though, the right bunker was removed, and two approach bunkers were added by Todd and George and set at an angle short of the hole.  The best play now is either a draw around the set or a higher shot that just clears the first bunker, where the ball should bound and roll its way onto the putting surface.  An enhanced bump on the right will either help or hurt you, depending how on-line your shot is.  

Also of note is the removal of trees on the right between the 3rd and 4th holes and the joining of the two fairways with mowed shortgrass.  The look is pleasantly open and more in line with the original landscape of the course.

Above is a sampling of before-afters of the 3rd hole.  Click to enlarge the images.


The 4th hole has one of the more striking visual changes as the previous bunkers were the most out of character with the new style we were building.  This was due to a more recent rebuild of them to reduce the amount of washouts that were frequent with the previous arrangement.  A better aesthetic alternative could be had though while still reducing the amount of washouts:

  Superintendent Josh Smith referred to these as "disoriented Pac Man bunkers."

Superintendent Josh Smith referred to these as "disoriented Pac Man bunkers."

  The new bunker style is much more complementary to the course and Northern California golf in general.

The new bunker style is much more complementary to the course and Northern California golf in general.

This was a rare case where I knew what I wanted the bunkers to look like well before the project even started.  I called "shotgun" on getting to work on this hole, and thankfully my request was granted.

Above: some more images of the changes on the 4th.  In addition to the bunkers, the left side green tie-in was reworked, and the left landing area for layups in the fairway was reshaped to be more receptive.  Before, everything kicked down into the deep right bowl.


The 7th hole had one of the more penal and "80s-looking" bunker arrangements before, with a stack of 3 similarly sized traps guarding the right side of the fairway.  The slope of the hole is strong from left to right, and many shots would kick into one of these bunkers.  What we did to add some space and variety is pinch the first two closer together and push the first one further out right, then move the 3rd one up to the next ridge and keep it smaller.  There is now some more space for the tee shot, and the overall arrangement is much less repetitious in appearance.

Above: The bunkers at the tough short 7th were reworked to open up more room in the steep left to right fairway.  The first was rotated 90 degrees, gaining about 8 yards of width, and the third was shrunken and shifted about 30 yards forward to the next ridge.


The 8th hole is one of the most worthy of highlighting.  This short drop shot par 3 is a terrifying menace and one of my favorites anywhere.  It is also an example showing that subtle changes can have a big impact on the quality of a hole, even when it is already great.

  Watson's excellent short 8th was still excellent, but there were no doubts restoration and redwood removal would make it that much better.

Watson's excellent short 8th was still excellent, but there were no doubts restoration and redwood removal would make it that much better.

  The 8th following tree removal, bunker restoration, short grass addition, and a rebuilding and expansion of the green.

The 8th following tree removal, bunker restoration, short grass addition, and a rebuilding and expansion of the green.

  A look at the 8th hole historically, pre-restoration, and post-restoration.

A look at the 8th hole historically, pre-restoration, and post-restoration.

Looking above, one can see how the hole had evolved over time.  The bunkers changed character, new ones popped up in the left and back, the green shrunk and changed size, and redwoods were planted, blocking airflow, sunlight, and the view to the hills across the way.  The first task was amending these items to get it back to how Watson had first designed it.  The second task was reworking the green, as sand buildup on the right had made it too steep and fast for recovery shots from the bunkers on the right.  We were very careful to not lose the character of the green and only enhance what was there.  In doing so, we refined the wings on the left and right, added slight internal contour, and expanded the size out to the limits of the pad on which it sits. The results are a green that is now playable from the right bunkers, but it also requires a more exacting tee shot placing a premium not just on accuracy but also on distance control, even if you miss to the left or the right, due to the flanking internal bumps that can be seen in the gallery below. 


The 9th hole is a great, long roller coaster ride of a hole with a spectacular backdrop of the distant hills.  The changes here were simply adding sand cap to the left and front, expanding the green in the back left bowl, and reworking the right side bunkers, which was the most visual of the changes.  We grew to love the funky, suspension bridge-like horizon mounding at the back of the green and made sure to protect it during reconstruction.

  The 9th hole bunkers, which were added in later years, were previously stacked on each other in a linear fashion.  Note at the time of taking this photo the left and back horizon of the green was already mowed short by Josh Smith.  Previously, it was mowed rough all the way around the green.

The 9th hole bunkers, which were added in later years, were previously stacked on each other in a linear fashion.  Note at the time of taking this photo the left and back horizon of the green was already mowed short by Josh Smith.  Previously, it was mowed rough all the way around the green.

  The new arrangement wraps around the green a bit more, has a sense of motion, and is more visually appropriate with the overall scale.

The new arrangement wraps around the green a bit more, has a sense of motion, and is more visually appropriate with the overall scale.


The 10th hole is a cool short par 4 with a tiny green jammed next to the creek at its terminus.  I've always enjoyed the juxtaposition of the small greensite with the giant redwoods adjacent to it.  The previous version green was problematic though, partly due to its size causing higher traffic wear, especially with the lower sunlight received due to the redwoods.  It also didn't really surface drain, and the right hand bunker, in conjunction with overhanging branches, made approach shots from the right side of the fairway just about impossible.  

George Waters did a nice job reshaping this green, bringing its overall elevation up to the fence level to create surface drainage and making the size much larger, which creates more day to day variety while helping out agronomically.  By bringing the green further forward and right, expanding the front left bunker, and keeping the right/backside pot bunker, a shot from the left of the fairway has gotten a lot more demanding as you have to get the ball to land softly between the two hazards.  The right front bunker has also been removed, and a shot from the far right can now find the green even if the old oaks are playing a factor.  

Above: before and after images of the 10th hole


The 12th hole was another of the total greens rebuilds.  The proximity of the old green to the 3rd was bothersome as long shots from both holes often ended up on the other one.  Shifting the green forward changed this hole from a short par 5 to a testing par 4.  We didn't know exactly what we would build when starting, but we came up with something that involved a lot of interesting contouring, which worked well with Todd emphasizing keeping the hole as long as possible.  In the end there was no need for a bunker as the shaping and length made for a strong and fun enough challenge.  

  The 12th was once a short par 5 playing over a dip to a fill pad.  This green was constructed in more modern times.

The 12th was once a short par 5 playing over a dip to a fill pad.  This green was constructed in more modern times.

  Now a long par 4, attacking the bunkerless green complex with a running shot is a fun exercise.  Play it off the left kicker but don't veer too far to the big dropoff. A safe bailout right leaves a tricky up and down over the right side contours, which, if you are on line with your approach, will help you stay on the green.  They are both "helping" and "hurting" contours.

Now a long par 4, attacking the bunkerless green complex with a running shot is a fun exercise.  Play it off the left kicker but don't veer too far to the big dropoff. A safe bailout right leaves a tricky up and down over the right side contours, which, if you are on line with your approach, will help you stay on the green.  They are both "helping" and "hurting" contours.

Click the gallery above for a closer look of the contouring surrounding the 12th green.

Let's also take a look at the transformation that took place at the 12th tees, which were joined with the 2nd tees and the 11th greenside area to create one big communal space of short grass.  The hedge seen in the before pictures was a "protective barrier" at the back of the 2nd tees.


The 13th hole didn't involve any greens changes outside of a small expansion on the back right, but it is one of the biggest strategic transformations from the project.  The previous bunker arrangement was visually attractive, but it and the small sloped front opening made it necessary to fly the ball on the green, which isn't a shot that everyone has in their game for a longer par 3.  Our thought was to try and get back closer to a version of the hole from an old aerial that showed the green with a back and fronting bunker but an open left side, which is strongly sloped and would presumably allow a running shot to curl onto the putting surface.  After observing shots being played by all skill levels and strengths this past fall while working on the 14th hole alternate tee, I am happy to say that anyone can now reach this green, whether they fly it on and stick it or scoot it along the ground high on the left side until the ball tumbles down to the green.

  Even if you tried slotting a shot through the opening, it was likely to kick right and into the bunker.

Even if you tried slotting a shot through the opening, it was likely to kick right and into the bunker.

  Not only is the right side open for an indirect path to the hole, the opening on the right has been made friendlier to reduce shots that kick into the bunker.

Not only is the right side open for an indirect path to the hole, the opening on the right has been made friendlier to reduce shots that kick into the bunker.

  A lot of work also took place at the tees, as one can see in the two top images.  Clutter in the form of trees, fences, retaining walls, and excess cart path was all removed as the tees from 13 and 4 were joined together in the same complex.  Reshaping also added visibility to the green, which was mostly blind before from the back tees.  This is fantastic work overall by Eckenrode and the contracting team at Earth Sculptures.  

A lot of work also took place at the tees, as one can see in the two top images.  Clutter in the form of trees, fences, retaining walls, and excess cart path was all removed as the tees from 13 and 4 were joined together in the same complex.  Reshaping also added visibility to the green, which was mostly blind before from the back tees.  This is fantastic work overall by Eckenrode and the contracting team at Earth Sculptures.  

Above: the new 13th hole, the inspiration aerial, and a field sketch of what we decided on building.


The 14th hole wasn't a major change.  The old bunkers all stayed in the same place but were visually enhanced; a small bunker on the corner of the canyon was also added to boost visual interest.  The green also experienced a little tweak, with sand splash getting reduced on the lower left side of the green.  Doing this in conjunction with raising the back part of the left bunker created an effect of having that corner of the green look like it was sticking out into the bunker.  That is an effect one can find on a lot of Golden Age designs, and we were happy to introduce it here at this 1924 course.

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Click above for closer looks at the renewed 14th


The 15th at Orinda is somewhat famous for its appearance in Robert Hunter's excellent golf architecture book The Links.  Over the years though, it's true character had been lost with the introduction and expansion of a bunker on the creek side, which greatly reduced the size of the green and put a buffer of sorts in place of a "do-or-die" edge where green meets the steep creek bank.  It became a big priority to restore this hole to it's original rustic and dramatic glory.  The bunker was filled in, the green massively expanded, the creek bank restored, the bump on the right side enhanced, and the left side naturalized with fence removal and vegetation clearing.  

  The pre-project version of the 15th is seen above. 

The pre-project version of the 15th is seen above. 

  The after result of the 15th hole restoration.  Extra work and time was spent to really get the creek bank the proper form and location.  Also, the flag in this location would have been right about on the bunker edge.

The after result of the 15th hole restoration.  Extra work and time was spent to really get the creek bank the proper form and location.  Also, the flag in this location would have been right about on the bunker edge.

hochstein-design-Orinda-CC-before-after-hole-15-3

Click above for a mix of before and after images of the 15th's transformation back to its original William Watson form.


The 16th hole was very symmetrical in its previous version.  Bunkers sat across from each other at both the green and the fairway.  George Waters and Todd Eckenrode came up with a great idea in the field though to flip the right fairway bunker over to the left and create a visual string of bunkers over on that side while leaving the right open.  The new aesthetic feels much better, especially with the tree removal between the 16th and 17th fairways.  The left greenside bunker was also shifted to about 10 yards short of the green, allowing a chance for a run up shot it you can clear the top edge.  

  There were once even more trees separating the 16th and 17th fairways.  Originally, there was one big treeless playing surface joining the two holes.

There were once even more trees separating the 16th and 17th fairways.  Originally, there was one big treeless playing surface joining the two holes.

  The string of bunkers on the left is actually quite spaced out; it was a fun challenge to get them to all visually line up.

The string of bunkers on the left is actually quite spaced out; it was a fun challenge to get them to all visually line up.

Above: the 16th hole before and after


At the 17th, the back and left bunkers were reworked, with the back one disappearing to the right and giving the impression that it is much smaller than it actually is.  The right bunker was removed, and the middle one was shifted left.  This allowed for the creation of an open kicker slope on the right, which helps the shorter hitter and was present in the original design.  A little expansion area to the green was added back middle and brings the hidden part of the back bunker very much into play.  Check out the changes in the gallery below:


The 18th hole rivals the 12th hole for most extensive change and amount of construction work.  It was also the place where we started the whole project.  

The issue was the green; it was way too consistently steep with slopes of about 6-7% all the way from back to front.  It was also artificially built up as a pad on top of what was actually a very nice natural landform.  The first move would be to push that pad out to the left side, where the spoils could be used to soften that slope and help stop balls from rolling all the way down to the cartpath there.  

With the severe overall slope that still existed even after lowering the back of the green and shifting it forward to the dropoff edge, there was a need to break up the green into shelves or tiers if there were to be locations flat enough to put holes.  We tend to despise formal tiers and prefer something that looks more natural, so an effort was made to create something more flowing and varied while still working functionally.  The result is something different from most of the other greens at Orinda, which are flatter internally, and one that would certainly get some attention and perhaps be a bit controversial.  Very careful detail was made though to make the 3 main pin-able zones receptive, all of them having multiple ways of access if willing to play well off line.  Getting to the proper zone on the approach can be done by flying it into that area or taking your chances on the right and/or rear kicker slopes, which requires more control as one can end up on any spot on the green, including the front left section (which is really neat because a shorter hitter who couldn't otherwise get it to this area now has a chance to do so by curling it around the outside of the green). 

A pair of bunkers were also added and made to have the appearance of tumbling down the hill.  The left one tends to be more of a shot saver, but the right one well short of the green really messes with layups and long shots into the green.  It is located right where you would want to leave a layup shot, and the best landing spot for a long shot is just right and beyond it.  As a tradeoff for this additional challenge, the drainage ditch on the right was covered over, the out of bounds line shifted further out, and short grass added.  The overall result is a fun finishing hole worthy of its dramatic setting.  

  Mowed rough used to surround the steep, bunkerless green.

Mowed rough used to surround the steep, bunkerless green.

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  The top images here are before, and the bottom are after.

The top images here are before, and the bottom are after.

The above gallery shows some before images mixed in with the after images.  Images 1 and 9 are courtesy of Todd Eckenrode.

We hope you enjoyed this photo tour of Orinda Country Club's recent transformation.  Thank you for reading and checking out the site!

-Brett