It's been a good first year at Hochstein Design--probably better than I could have anticipated. For someone newly independent, I've been fortunate to have a number of different opportunities to work in some great places with some great people. Thanks also to a wife who has the same passion for life as I do and works remotely online, all of this has been a lot easier as she has joined me in many of these journeys. I'd like to take a moment now to reflect on some of the fun and highlights that 2014 brought to HD. From Haikou, China to Sorocaba, Brazil to Sperryville, Virginia to Diepenveen, Netherlands, it's been quite a ride.
Best New-to-me Golf Courses Seen in 2014
Not surprisingly, Europe dominates this list. I didn't see anything new in the States, and the links and heathland courses of Europe are just outstanding on their own.
1(tie). Ballybunion About as solid and fun as it gets through a full 18 holes. The short game is a blast with moving greens that have lots of short grass falloffs and banks all around them, and the long game is great as one works through the dunes without being overwhelmed, save a few holes.
1(tie). Lahinch (Old) (Old Tom Morris, Alister MacKenzie, Martin Hawtree) If this course had all of it's original Old Tom and Mackenzie greens, it would be clear cut number one and challenge my all time favorite, The Old Course at St Andrews, which I've always thought impossible. The routing and old stuff still there is that good.
3. Utrechtse De Pan (Harry Colt) So disappointing that I only got to play 6 holes here, as I was really loving it. It has the best golf-scale contours in the Netherlands, and from I saw, Colt used them really well.
4. Simapo Island (Tom Doak, unopen, partial grow-in) Maybe some bias after having spent over 330 days on the ground building it, but the strategies and variety that have been thought through there are really good. So too are the horizon line views of the river on which the course sits.
5. Royal Hague (Harry Colt) I only walked this course and not in sequence with the routing, so my assessment isn't fair. The hills are mighty, perhaps seemingly too mighty. My suspicion is they look harder than they actually play, and I am really hoping to get back with clubs to find out. The routing seems great, the greens are good, and the club is making great work to restore a more natural and original character.
1. Lahinch #9 A raised shelf in the fairway runs from short right to long left. It is nice to get to the top of that shelf, but it is more important to be left due to the super long and skinny green, one of few originals left on the course. The falloff left of the green is steep, and the bank on the right also steep, sometimes kicking balls straight left off the green and downward.
2. Lahinch #4 "The Klondyke" hole, a cross-continental short par 5, tees off with the ocean at your back and finishes right at the road running along the course. After finding the secluded valley off the tee, it has a second shot to nowhere over the craggy Klondyke Hill. Trust the marking rock and pole and get enough air under it to clear. Then be sure not to get hit by golfers teeing off from the left on 18 as you approach one of coolest greens I've ever seen, a big rumply bowl twisting around a natural little dune. Awesome hole.
3. Lahinch #6 How do I include 4 and 6 but not the Dell? Or 13? Because I have to stop somewhere, I guess, and I didn't actually get to play the Dell as it was closed for the winter. The 6th is great though with a tee shot to a pleasant looking plateau that seems to sit in heaven. Don't hit too long though because there is a massive hole out there with a bunker in it. The approach is downhill over the hole to a green set scenically against the Atlantic. Unfortunately, this is where I remembered most of the greens were flattened years ago then later rebuilt by Hawtree. They are good, but they are very far from Mackenzie and Old Tom.
4. Simapo Island #14 This long par 5 plays up and over a hill, where one of it not the best view on the course is had looking toward the green with the bridge beyond it and an inlet, bunkers, and acres upon acres of turf lying before it. The amount of space often lulls one into a lazy second shot out to the right, which is both longer and a worse angle. If I told you pretty much this entire hole save the inlet was created, I would hope you had no idea.
5. Royal Hague #6 One must steer their shot through the dunes, favoring the right without going too far that way down into a deep valley. The green is a long way and uphill--a difficult shot guarded by a bunker front left and a steep falloff within the green right. Putting up from the lower part of the green looks like a good time, unless you are playing a match or keeping score.
HM. 90% of Ballybunion See above.
1. Lahinch #4 See above
2. Dooks #10 The end of a long bland par 5 is a surprisingly good one with a propped up green that will push most shots away, running or flying. Running up the right is better than the left, which kicks away. Once on the surface, the green is tilted but much more manageable, keeping the whole thing from being over the top.
3. Lahinch #9 See above
4. Ballybunion #9 Don't miss left or right. It might take a few tries to keep it on.
5. Ballybunion #8 A very cool little green with a left bank and neat undulations all around. Pity it is closed during the winter
This list is based on both aesthetics and strategy and surprisingly is more weighted to the modern. Perhaps it is because the contouring at the old links and heathland courses is so superior to its hazards, or maybe it is just that the newer sets have yet to be tinkered with. Pardon me for tooting my own horn on some of these, but honesty is the best policy.
1. Simapo Island Scale is huge and fitting to site, placement has been scrutinized out in the field, and maintenance for the new-to-golf Chinese staff should not be too difficult.
2. Sallandsche Yes I know I shaped and finished these, but I believe in the work. The style fits the site, which is a heathland course waiting to be uncovered, well. The new positioning is key as well and provides the course's primary defense, which would become even more relevant with firming of the surfaces and well thought-out modifications to the greens.
3. Fazenda Boa Vista Thad Layton, Jeff Stein, and ProGolf Brasil have put together a very good looking and well thought out set of bunkers.
4. De Pan Not the most interesting to look at, but they are positioned well for playing and general looks.
5. Lahinch Not quite as clean as other links bunkers, but not exactly natural either. There is some good positioning, but they are really overshadowed by the dunes and contours of the course.
Anyone in this business who works in this style 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 but contributing to the work as a whole. Here are some of my favorites while making it all happen from in the seat or behind a rake.
1a. Brill Bruisers The New Pornographers
1b. I Never Learn Lykke Li
3. What Once Were Vices Now Are Habits The Doobie Brothers
4. High Violet The National
5. Lonerism Tame Impala
1. "Just Like a Dream" Lykke Li
2. "Backstairs" The New Pornographers
3. "I Never Learn" Lykke Li
4. "I'm Afraid of Everyone" The National
5. "Red Eyes" The War on Drugs
6. "Coming Up" Paul McCartney
7. "Champions of Red Wine" The New Pornographers
8. "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" Sufjan Stevens
9. "Coming of Age" Foster the People
10. "Koala" Oliver Heldens
1. Seeing the Gold Top County Ramblers play along the Thornton River in Sperryville, VA.
2. Walking Haikou, a city I really grew to love, for the last time on a warm tropical winter Sunday, with the satisfaction of completion of 2+ years work at Simapo while listening the Doobie Brothers and all the music that made those 2 years memorable.
3. Dancing to electro pop, classic American/British songs, and Dutch polka(?) songs with my wife at Dorpsfeest Diepenveen, our first weekend in The Netherlands.
Travel is a side benefit of this business, especially if you don't overdo it. Seeing the world opens you up to new things in all senses--sights, sounds, tastes--and the people you get to meet make it even more worthwhile. Here are some of our favorite things experienced in our craziest year of travel to date.
1. Brugge, Belgium
2. Tie-The Ijssel Towns--Deventer, Zutphen, and Zwolle
5. Den Haag
8. Washington, D.C.
Favorite food by Place
China - Street Barbecue, Grilled Oysters
Brazil - Prawn Pasteles
Virginia - Southern Pig Roast
Netherlands - Bitterballen
Favorite Sites Seen
Pretty crazy to have this list and not even include places like Skyline Drive in Virginia, our national monuments in D.C., the Grand Place in Brussels, the windmills in Holland, or a ton of other places in Ireland and Europe, but that is just the kind of year it has been. Also how surprisingly stunning Ireland was.
1. Rock of Cashel - Cashel, Ireland
2. Ring of Kerry, Specifically Bray Point - County Kerry, Ireland
3. Cliffs of Moher Walking Tour (craziest thing we've ever done) - Doolin, Ireland
4. The Poulnabrone, Oldest human thing we've ever seen, including Stonehenge - The Burren, Ireland
5. Charles Dickens Festival - Deventer, Netherlands
The work is really the means to providing all these wonderful experiences, but the work and experiences themselves are great too. Here are some of the highlights while on business
Favorite features worked on
I had a hard time picking specifics, but what is wrong with celebrating more in a celebration post anyway?
1. Greens 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8, Schoolhouse 9
2. Hole 2,6,7,9,10,11,14,17,18 Bunkers, Sallandsche
3. Bunker finishing on 6+18, Simapo Island
4. 5, 6, and 13 Greenside bunker and fill-in, Sallandsche
5. Microcountouring the river holes, Simapo Island
1. Playing grow-in golf on the first 6 holes ready at Simapo Island
2. Walking the Rio Olympic Course with Ben Hillard and Benjamin Warren
3. Having Lahinch all to myself for an early morning round (well, except for the goats)
4. First and last nights at The Schoolhouse 9 with Mike McCartin and Cliff Miller, the first involving a late night at Headmaster's Pub and visit to the Miller's barn, one of the largest wooden barns in the country, and the second involving trivia night, a helicopter landing, and reminiscing about all the great times working there that summer.
5.(tie) Hanging with Thad Layton of APDC at Fazenda Boa Vista in Brazil
5.(tie) Getting soaked on the first 6 holes at De Pan with Frank Pont and Cristian Willaert before retiring for beer and bitterballen in the clubhouse
5.(tie) Playing Noordwijkse on a perfect November day with Chris Veldkamp of Golfweekly
...will be in a separate post as I get caught up in loading all my pictures from Ireland and Holland