Past ramblings

Places To Play Golf

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Back From Vacation

Well, I don’t know whether I deserved it or not, but I got some time off and had a thoroughly enjoyable vacation. Birthday party, baseball game, golf, lake time. It’s all good. Looking forward to getting back to the golf blog. Here are a few things I’m going to write about coming up:

  • The WGC Firestone – One of the most entertaining Saturdays of golf in a long time. It was very close, with a bunch of very talented golfers performing at the very highest level.
  • The WGC Firestone 2 – Is it just me, or is this one of the most boring courses the pros play on all year?
  • Putting Mat – I’ve been using it, and it’s helped a lot. Will contain a noteworthy Larry Legend reference.
  • Course Review of The Golf Club Of Kansas – Nice, tough course laid out in an old quarry.
  • Book Review of Golf In The Kingdom – One of my more anticipated reads.
  • Seven Days In Utopia – New golf movie. What do we know about it?
  • Best golf books ever – There are two that stand alone above the rest for me.
  • My latest swing move – Tiger and Faldo are in agreement.
  • PGA Championship – I’m done trying to predict who’s going to play well.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

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Muirfield Looks Like A Beast

I spent a fair amount of time in front of the telly this weekend, as afternoon temperatures close to a hundred made it difficult to do much of anything outside during the day. The Memorial has always been one of my favorite events of the season.

I’ve always enjoyed watching this course, and this weekend was no different as the course appeared to be in absolute pristine condition, but I was struck this weekend at how difficult it appears to be. Huge sand traps, sneaky creeks that wander in and out of the fairway, and deep ravines between sections of fairway on the longer holes. I know the pros didn’t exactly struggle this weekend, with many scores in the double digits under par, but I think they got really lucky with the conditions.

I just felt like if I was to play here and didn’t have my game completely in order I would score very badly and I would lose a lot of balls in the process. It feels like, well, a US Open course, and I would have to imagine it’s a great tune-up to our championship in a few weeks, including ridiculously fast but very true greens.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

>Major Props to Salina Municipal

>Every now and then in life we come across a diamond in the rough. In Swedish we call this a “Smultron-ställe”, so named after the very tasty miniature strawberries that grow wild. To a golfer, a place like this may be a course who’s inner and outer qualities belie the expectation based on it’s appearance and location.

I came across a place like this last week, when I stole away from a set of very elaborate High School graduation events to play a quick 18 holes in Salina, KS. I didn’t know anything about either of the local courses, so I decided to give the Muni a shot.

I couldn’t have been more pleased.

First, the course itself: 18 holes at par 70, with the Blue tees measuring 6,500 yards and the Whites 6,212 yards. The two nines are fundamentally different in character. The front nine is pretty flat and open; while the back nine don’t have a flat hole in the bunch. The rough is open, and it’s easy to locate your ball even if you miss the fairway. There is no water, and the biggest risk is where OB cuts fairly sharply into the playable areas on three holes of the back nine (two of which I found with my own ball).

The holes are close together, making it a great course to walk, and I did note several walkers when I was out. I would caution you to make sure you mark your own ball, as there’s a good chance it’ll wind up on a different hole if you’re not accurate.

For as early in the spring as it was when I was there (temperatures in the upper 40s), both the greens and fairways were in VERY good shape. The greens rolled true and consistently, and the fairway was dense.

Secondly, the people were great. Very friendly staff in the shop, and the groups I came across on the course were very prompt and courteous about letting me play through.

Thirdly, the practice facilities were very accomodating. A large putting green that appeared to be very consistently prepared as compared to the course. They also had a well manicured pitching and sand green, as well as a large range.

The course also has a close connection with the First Tee program.

Salina is located where I-70 and I-135 intersect in East-Central Kansas. You may or may not have much reason to be in that neck of the woods, but if you do I highly recommend this course for a casual round.

Their website is http://www.salinamuni.com/.

Keep’em in the short stuff.

>COURSE REVIEW: Bali Hai; Las Vegas, NV

>Both Bali Hai and Royal Links (as well as Desert Pines) are part of the Walters Golf empire in Las Vegas. Both are some of the more highly renowned courses in the area, but outside of that these corporate cousins couldn’t be more different. While Royal Links is demure and conservative in appearance, Bali Hai is flashy and tropical. The bunkers at Royal Links are sometimes as deep as they are wide, and strategically located, while Bali Hai’s sand traps sprawl for hundreds of yards and take on a beach like appearance. They’re as different as, well, Scotland and Bali themselves are.

THE NUMBERS
Bali Hai plays to par 71. It’s over 7,000 yards from the black tees, about 6,600 from the gold, 6,156 from the white tees, and 5,535 from the reds. At my 14 handicap I played from the gold, and found it to be quite challenging. The holes vary greatly in length, and you’re forced to use many different parts of your game to score well.
From the gold tees par 3 holes vary from 123 to 224 yards, par 4 holes range from 305 yards to 466 yards (with four being over 450 yards long), and the par 5s are between 495 yards and 539 yards. Water is in play on 8 holes.
LOCATION
For convenience from the strip in Vegas you can’t beat Bali Hai. It’s located less than a mile south of Mandalay Bay, right on the strip itself. In some ways this is very cool. The Vegas skyline glitters in the distance, and it’s not every day you get to line up your tee shot by aiming for the Luxor Pyramid. You can even see the famous Las Vegas sign on a few of the holes.
However, this location comes with a few drawbacks. It’s located right across from the airport, so flights thunder overhead every couple of minutes. Several holes also butt up against I-15, so on those holes you have significant traffic noise as well.
APPEARANCE
Visually you couldn’t ask for more out of any land locked golf course. It’s a truly beautiful golf course. Over 4,000 palm trees line the fairways. Water is arranged in ponds, streams, and little water falls. The large, sprawling bunkers look like they were always there, and they just built the course around them. Rocks and native plants are used strategically, and all in all the design elements create a very consistent feel throughout the course. The gorgeous clubhouse is the visual centerpiece for three of the holes.
There is one design element that’s in place at Bali Hai that I have not seen anywhere else, and that’s sand bunkers that transition seamlessly into the water hazard. There is no rock wall or platform of railroad ties or anything. With the size of these bunkers, it looks very much like a really nice, really private beach. If you don’t think about how difficult it must be to maintain such an arrangement it’s quite natural looking.
QUALITY
I believe they had just sanded the greens when I played, so they were not as good as one would expect. I found them sluggish and inconsistent, and I putted worse than I have in several months.
Sand hazards take up a lot of space on this course, and as if this is not a challenge enough I found the sand to be quite inconsistent. It’s very fine grain stuff, but the playability varied greatly depending on whether it was dry, wet and raked, or just wet. I’m by no means a good bunker player, but I lost several shots because I had a hard time predicting how it was going to play.
The fairways were great, very consistent and you just knew you were going to have a good lie anytime you could find the fairways with your tee shot.
SIGNATURE HOLE
I don’t know if it’s the official signature hole or not, but the short par 3 16:th hole (pictured) is the one I will think of first when someone brings up Bali Hai. Only 123 yards from the gold tees, it’s slightly downhill to an island green with the clubhouse behind the water. It’s didn’t hurt that I was able to hit the green.
APRES GOLF
The clubhouse is centrally located, and large without being austentatious. It’s Polynesian design fits very nicely into the tropical theme of the course. The pro shop is well stocked with logo merchandise. Food is provided by their award winning restaurant, Cili, and the facilties have sufficient space for both banquets and small weddings. I had a burger after my round, and it was spectacularly good.
RANGE
There is a driving range of sorts. It’s one of these systems that automatically tee up the next ball for you. I don’t know if these systems use a heavier ball than the normal golf ball, but it sure felt like I was hitting concrete. Also, the range hits into a net about 30 yards away, AND the range faces into the morning sun so there’s very little chance of seeing even which direction your ball goes.
SUMMARY
A challenging and diverse layout, beautifully architected, in a truly unique location. The service was spectacular overall, and the weaknesses I found were by no means show-stoppers.

>COURSE REVIEW: Stonebriar/Fazio course; Frisco, TX

>If you live in a major metropolitan area, and you have not yet discovered the infinite joys of the “urban escape”, then I highly recommend you send me an email and I’ll tell you all about it. It’s just fantastic. I know it’s silly and financially irresponsible to spend over a hundred dollars for a hotel room that’s located less than 15 minutes from where you live, but MAN can it be a good time.

For me, one of my new favorite places to escape off to is the Westin in Frisco, TX (less than 30 minutes north of Dallas). The hotel itself is nice, and the pool area is wonderful. The area has a lot of restaurant and bar opportunities, but mostly I like it because I get a chance to play the Fazio course at Stonebriar CC.
This is my second time playing this course. I find that just playing a course once doesn’t really give you the opportunity to appreciate it, as you’re too busy finding your way around. By the second round I’m a lot more able to make an objective assessment.
THE DEAL
Let me start right there. The course is part of the private Stonebriar CC, but guests of the hotel are allowed to play (for a fee, of course). The best deal is the Stay ‘n’ Play package, which at the time of the writing of this blog was $179 for one golfer, which included one breakfast (best to be left behind for The Missus to hit the buffett around 11:00 AM).
THE DESIGNER
Tom Fazio has over 120 course designs to his name, he has more courses ranked in the Top 100 in the US than any other designer, and he’s been awarded Golf Digest’s “Best Modern Golf Course Architect” three times. Born in 1945, he’s a throwback to the Alister MacKenzie school of thought whereby a golf course should naturally fit into it’s surroundings. Having said that, he did manage to move 600,000 yards of dirt to construct this course. He also feels that a good course should be challenging to the good player but still playable for the average player. This assessment is fairly universally agreed on.
THE COURSE
Firstly, it’s a Par 72 course. Am I the only one who’s a stickler about this (on tour or at the local muni)? From the blues it’s over 7,000 yards; from the whites it’s a bit over 6,600, and from the Reds it’s around 5,200 yards. The course stretches over wetlands to the west of the Westin hotel in Frisco, TX. It was ranked as the #6 public course in Dallas/Fort Worth by the Dallas Morning News in 2009, ahead of such notables as the TPC Four Seasons (home of The Byron).
The fairways, as a whole, are fairly forgiving and in good condition. If you miss the fairway by a bit you’re likely to get a good bounce back into the short stuff. If you miss it by more than that, you’re going to be up among the pine trees, or in the 5-foot deep wild grass, or in the next fairway (should you be so lucky).
I have a feeling that the more I play this course the more I will appreciate the little nuances of the design. The bunkering is very strategic, and visually appealing. The sand is perfect, and very playable.
The greens have a reputation as being very fast, and I guess they are, but they’re also very true. I’m not a good putter by any means but I found a very distinct sense of confidence on these greens. If you get hot, you can make a LOT of putts here.
BEST HOLES
There are a couple of really good, really challenging shortish par four holes on this course.
The first one hits you once you catch your breath after the easy downhill #1 hole. #2 is a dogleg right hole that’s uphill on the tee shot and downhill back to the green (378 yards from the white tees). There are good bunkers in the fairway, and the green is protected by a couple of deep bunkers, a clump of trees to the left, and a creek about 30 yards in front of the green to catch any weak approach.
The view towards the green as you get to the crest of the fairway is spectacular. This hole ate my lunch the first time I played it, but I managed a tap-in bogey this time, hitting the green-side bunkers on my second shot.
The most scenic hole on the course is #11 (pictured above, 379 yards from the white tees). A big pond to the right is about all you see off the tee, but the hole is fair as it curves to the right around the water. Big volumes of sand are at hand if you try to cut the corner and don’t hit it well enough, or if you bomb it straight and go through the fairway. More sand is located to the right of the green, but at least there is the option of a safe fail to the left of the green, void of either ocean or desert.
IN SUMMARY
A great course for players of all levels. It will challenge the good players, especially from the blues, but it’s still playable for a more average player. It’s well maintained all around, and the service from the Pro Shop in the hotel to the starter is nothing short of immaculate. If you’re visiting the area north of Dallas and have some time on your hands I highly recommend this hotel for your expense report and this course for your golf game.

>My Royal Links Experience

>I’m the kind of golfer for whom the history and literary aspects of the game is a significant factor in my enjoyment of the game. I love the fact that it’s been around longer than this country has, and I thoroughly enjoy the many different angles that golf writers have taken to approach this truly multi-faceted game.

Having said that, Scotland’s where it’s at. I’ve studies the links thoroughly, both from a historical and competitive point of view as well as how they came about and what it’s like to play them. But Scotland is a long ways away, and I don’t truly know when and if I’ll ever get a chance to walk those hallowed fairways. In the short term, I spoiled myself and played a round at Royal Links when I was in Vegas last month.

And let me tell you this: For all of you who love Scottish golf, the people at the Royal Links REALLY love Scottish golf. There’s a castle for a clubhouse. There’s a Claret Jug as you pull in. There’s a statue of Old Tom Morris. There’s a sand trap called “Hell”. There are copies of 18 of the best golf holes Scotland has to offer. There are 75 degree temperatures in October. Allright, so maybe they’re skimping on some of the climatic realism, but I’m fully in favor of that.

Few objects on any golf course anywhere is as famous as the Swilcan Bridge, which players cross on the 18:th hole at St. Andrews. No golf fan can forget Jack’s sentimental goodbye on his last round there in 2005 (see insert in bottom right). When I shared this picture with my dad in Sweden he promptly sent me a picture of him on that bridge when he played St. Andrews in 1996 (see insert in top left).
They take it a bit far when the tees are not red and blue but claret and royal. If I were to say that Royal Links is the Medieval Times of golf, I mean that in the nicest possible way.
But I heartily encourage you to see past what might appear to be glitchy gimmicks, because the course is truly fantastic. By all accounts, the holes are fairly authentic copies of some of the great holes we watch on the British Open every summer, from St. Andrews and Troon to Carnoustie and Turnberry.
The course is in great shape, the greens putt true, and it’s a quite challenging Par 72 layout. The course record is 67, and is held by none other than Tiger Woods back in 2001.
So while I still hope for the day when I will tee it up in the true home of golf, this round did allow me to enjoy some of the good, bad, and ugly aspects of links golf.
I stuck an 8-iron to the middle of the Postage Stamp hole for an easy two-putt par. I weighed risk and reward to determine how much of the corner to cut off on the Road Hole. I got the kind of lie in a bunker where the only shot that was anatomically possible was straight backwards, and I felt lucky I had that option at all. I left a lot of shots in the deep bunkers, and lost several balls in surprising places, and was lucky to break 100. All in all it was a fantastic outing, and one I would recommend to any golfer, particularly those of you who share my fascination with the Scottish variation of the game. The only thing I would have liked to see is a copy of the 18:th hole at Carnoustie, but that’s being really nit-picky.