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The best courses, or the most beautiful?

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By Randy Schwartz

GolfWRX Contributor

Baltusrol , Congressional, Hazeltine, Medinah, Oak Hill, Oakland Hills, Olympia Fields, Pebble Beach, Riviera, Southern Hills, Winged Foot.

Do you know what these great golf courses have in common?  If you guessed that they have all hosted a PGA Championship and a U.S. Open you are correct.  Now, can you tell me what course was recently left off of a golf publication’s list of its top 100 courses in the United States?  You would have had to guess the North Course at Olympia Fields to be correct.

Most recently, Olympia Fields’ North Course hosted the 2003 U.S. Open won by Jim Furyk.  Before that event, it hosted the 1997 U.S. Senior Open won by Graham Marsh.  The 1961 PGA Championship was won by Jerry Barber and the great Walter Hagen won the 1925 PGA Championship.

In what may have been the original “Dual in the Sun,” Johnny Farrell beat the immortal Bobby Jones by one stroke – they were tied after 72 holes and Farrell beat Jones by one stroke after a 36 hole playoff.  Can you imagine playing 108 holes with the winner being determined by one shot!

Other champions on the North Course include Jack Nicklaus (1969 Western Open) and Sam Sneed (1938 Chicago Open).  The course has always challenged the best players and the onslaught that gains in equipment technology have brought.  In fact, only four players bettered par in the 2003 U.S. Open.

The North Course has appeared in every Top 100 issue since Golf Digest started publishing its list, one of only 24 to have such an honor.  And in 1993, none other than Davis Love III, Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Kite and John Daly came to play the 14th hole – the tee shot is into a valley on this 440-yard par 4 with a creek that winds along the right side and crosses the fairway twice, with the second shot to an elevated green sloping severely from back to front – as part of the inaugural Chrysler’s American Great 18 golf holes TV show.

And the North Course isn’t done yet.  It will host the world’s best amateurs when the 2015 U.S. Amateur is played there.

The place oozes golf history, championship golf, and the “Sistine Chapel of clock towers.”  It is hard to argue with Olympia Field’s website boast as the “Host of Champions.

So how could Links Magazine leave it off of its top 100 list?  I sent an email to George Peper, the editor of Links Magazine for a comment.  He didn’t reply but I don’t blame him because I wouldn’t reply to me either.  (As an aside, don’t you hate it when a news show or the newspaper tries to reach someone or asks for a comment and the journalist says something like “they declined to comment” or “they didn’t return our call.”  Talk about being guilty before proven innocent.)

This isn’t meant to be an indictment of Links Magazine for leaving the North Course off the list – although I am curious how it didn’t make it.  Rather, it got me thinking what really defines a great golf course?  If I knew the answer to that question I would probably be a golf course rater for Golf Digest or Links Magazine rather than writing this article.  But seriously, what makes one golf course “worthy” of being considered a top 100 course and another not?

All golf courses are really only a collection of 18 golf holes.  And each golf hole has a teeing ground at the beginning and a hole at the completion of it.  Some holes are straight and others curve and turn.  Sand and water are not necessarily requirements of a “great” golf hole.  But it seems they do really influence our decision.

Take for instance what is widely regarded as the best finishing hole in golf, the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.  What makes the 18th a Pebble such a great hole?  The hole is a flat par 5 that is not overly long and is possible to reach in two (ok, for the longest hitters its reachable in two).  It’s got a tree almost in the middle of the fairway and bunkers in the driving area.  It has a long bunker up the left side of the fairway toward the green and the smallish green is protected by bunkers.  But the entire right side of the fairway is bordered by homes!

If you were to put this hole in any other landlocked course you would say: “What’s the big deal?”  But when you design this hole so that the entire left side of the hole borders a water hazard – not just any water hazard but the Pacific Ocean – you immediately have a hole worth noting.  So is this such a great design or is it a beautiful golf hole to look at?

Perhaps the real beauty of the collection of holes at any “great” golf course is how it sits and flows on the land.  When you stand on any tee does the land immediately tell you how you’re supposed to play the hole or does the architect fool you into a less obvious path?

Is it a “natural” course?  All the better if minimal dirt was moved as many of the classic courses like Olympia Fields.  But many times the modern designer, with the benefit of massive earth moving equipment and what seems like an unlimited budget, can create that same dramatic course out of a really boring piece of land.

There’s always talk about shot values and resistance to scoring being key elements of a great golf course.  And they certainly are.  But going back to my Pebble Beach example, what separates the 18th there from any other similar par 5 (except for the Pacific Ocean water hazard) is the shear beauty of that hole.

Do we need another Top 100 list that is made up of the “most beautiful” golf courses in the United States?  And if there was such a list, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how many of the current Top 100 courses would also be on the most beautiful list?

Click here for more discussion in the “Courses, memberships and travel” forum.

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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Streamsong’s New Black Course Might Be Its Best Course

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Up until four years ago, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in the flat stretch of Polk County, Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. That all changed in 2012 with the opening of Streamsong Resort, the wildly popular destination that seamlessly combines rugged golf courses and sophisticated indoor spaces in a way that’s completely unique and altogether appealing.

With its Red Course (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Blue Course (designed by Tom Doak) firmly established among the finest public courses in the country, Streamsong unveiled its newest member of the family, the Black Course on September 25. Designed by Gil Hanse (designer of the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil, Castle Stuart in Scotland, and Mossy Oak in Mississippi), the Black Course has been among the most highly anticipated course openings in recent years.

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Gil Hanse at the Streamsong Black course opening event.

Weighing in at 7,337 yards and a healthy 74.7 rating/135 slope from the back tees, the Black Course is both a beauty and a beast. In the spirit of its predecessors, Hanse has beautifully incorporated elevation and undulation to create a track that is visually stunning and challenging to play. The rolling land, resurrected from its previous life as a phosphate mine, has a firm sandy base that evokes the look and feel of the links-style tracks in the Melbourne Sandbelt in Australia. And in constructing the course, Hanse selected turf grasses that give maximum roll out and encouraged conditioning that allows the same kind of creative shotmaking that is available on links courses.

Streansong Resort Black Course

No. 10 at Streamsong Black

While there is a premium on shotmaking, The Black Course puts equal, if not more value, on good decision making. Throughout the journey you can choose to be Joe Citizen or G.I. Joe, going for safety or going for glory. Hole No. 4, a 601-yard par-5 features a cantilevered split fairway that gives the player several routes to negotiate the path home based on ability and the conditions of the day. Nos. 6 and 14 are short par 4’s that tempt the big hitter to go for broke, but failure results in a trip to one of the Black Course’s yawning bunkers or open sandy areas, both signature features of Hanse’s recent designs.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the course are the sprawling greens that have contours that border on the surreal. Speaking of borders, there are none on the greens. Hanse decided to go with large greens that come right out to the fairway, allowing putting opportunities from almost anywhere. The most dramatic of the greens complexes is No. 9, a 450-yard par-4. Players hit a blind second shot into a “punch bowl” green that literally has to be seen to be believed. You’ll be talking about it after the round… whether you finish the hole with a 3 or an X.

Another distinctive feature is found on the par-4 13th, which features two greens that are alternated daily to give players another challenge and another story to tell after the round.

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The Streamsong Black clubhouse

The clubhouse, designed by the award-wining Alonso Architechts (who also designed the Streamsong Lodge), is as stunning an accomplishment as the golf course. Employing the forward-looking design concept of the Lodge, the minimalist glass-and-steel design offers breathtaking views of the Florida sunrises and sunsets whether you are in the cool indoors or next to the Gauntlet putting green outside. And the Bone Valley Tavern is a showcase for Executive Chef Mike Ford’s mouth-watering food and craft cocktails (try the Black Martini).

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Throughout the day of the preview and ribbon-cutting, there was a sense of pride and joy more similar to the delivery of a newborn than the opening of a golf course. Hanse was emotional while giving his opening remarks, giving special acknowledgment to his Lead Designer Jim Wagner.

“I am so proud that Jim’s name is beside mine on the plaque that says who designed the course,” Hanse said while fighting back tears. His passion was shared by all, including those present from parent company Mosaic, which owns some 200,000 acres in the area, including the resort property.

“This is a labor of love and I am proud of and grateful for everyone who contributed to making this happen,” said Rich Mack, the Mosaic executive who is the visionary behind Streamsong.

Streamsong-Black-No.-7-by-Tracey-Hanse

No. 9 at Streamsong Black

Those who expect to get a run at Streamsong Black had better get moving. Management officials said they’re already talking reservations for 2018. Anyone fortunate enough to get a slot will not be disappointed.

“We were aware of the level of excellence here at Streamsong, and we knew we had to meet that standard,” Hanse said. “But we also wanted to do something different, something special. We wanted to make a course that was beautiful and challenging, but above all it should be fun.” These will be welcome words to the traveling golfer who is faced with ever longer and more difficult resort courses.

In an industry that specializes in tradition but often lacks vision, Streamsong has planted a beacon on the horizon for what the future of the resort golf experience can and should be.

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A Legacy of Excellence: Primland Resort is a Hidden Jewel in the Virginia Hills

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Recently, the attention of the golf world was focused on North Carolina as the PGA Championship was being held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. I was there for three days and while the golf and the hospitality were great, the heat and humidity left me feeling like I had spent three days in a car wash.

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Fortunately, relief was on the way in the form of a trip to Primland Resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Typically it is about a 2.5-hour drive from Charlotte to Primland, but I had some special help in shortening the trip. Mercedes-Benz, a partner of the PGA of America, was kind enough to provide transportation in the form of a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet. Outfitted with a 3.6-liter AMG BitTurbo that cranks out 362 horsepower, the C43 goes from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and from Charlotte to Primland in not a lot more than that. Fully loaded with leather interior, state-of-the-art stereo, 9-speed transmission and enough room for clubs, my suitcase and a beautiful hitchhiker (didn’t happen), the C43 was the perfect combination of power and finesse. To avoid the law dogs I won’t say exactly what my top speed was on the way to Primland, but suffice it to say that if it was a golf score I would have been worse than a double bogey golfer. To quote the great humanist philosopher Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

Golf (3)

So the C43 put me in just the right mood to visit one of the most exclusive golf destinations in the country, a description that fits Primland despite its comparatively low profile. The vision of Primland’s founder, energy magnate Didier Primat, was to create a place of “immense beauty” for his guests that features refined dining, world-class golf and other exceptional outdoor experiences. Didier Primat died unexpectedly in 2008 at the age of 64, but he had instilled the commitment in his eight children, and they have continued the pursuit of resort perfection.

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Spread over 12,000 mountain acres, Primland is sprawling and somehow intimate at the same time. Accommodations at the resort range from the simple to the sumptuous. Rooms and suites in the Lodge make you feel like you’re in one of those 5-star European chalets where stars and royalty go to avoid paparazzi. Natural wood and stone floors combine with high tech and a Continental attention to detail (huge bathrooms, automated window shades, down pillows, extra large robes) give you that special feeling that only the best places seem to generate. Guests can choose from the comfort of the Lodge, choose one of the cottages that are perfect for groups, or opt for the simplicity and seclusion of the rustic cabins known as “Treehouses.” The views, as you would expect from a treehouse, are amazing.

Tree House, Cooper's Hawk

A “Treehouse.”

The acclaimed Highland Golf Course is as spectacular as the rest of the resort. Featuring breathtaking views of the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the course was designed and opened in 2008 by renowned architect Donald Steel (his portfolio includes work at Enniscrone, Royal County Down and The Old Course at St Andrews). The Highland course does indeed give the feel of a Scottish highlands links, with plenty of undulation in the fairways and a variety of humps and moguls guarding entry to the greens like buried sentries. Playing as apar-72 (150 slope/75.1 rating) at just over 7,000 yards from the tips, the course is both beauty and beast, especially if the wind kicks up.

Golf (6)

The course offers demanding tee shots that have either deep forest or steep falloffs into the valleys below ready to swallow errant attempts. The greens are massive, allowing for a wide range of interesting pin placements. Featuring bent grass from tee to green, the track is immaculately maintained, a testament to the work of Head Pro Brian Alley and Superintendent Brian Kearns. “This is a course that has that certain something; you never get tired of looking at it or playing it,” Alley says.

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite.

PGA Tour stars Fred Couples and Jay Haas agree, as they are on the host professional staff at Primland and are frequently on property. The critics also agree, with Golf Magazine rating the track as No. 2 among Courses You Can Play in Virginia. Golf Digest has it as No. 31 among Public Courses in America. I had the opportunity to play a round on The Highland course with Haas, who was there hosting an outing and celebrating his wife Jan’s birthday. Haas demonstrated exactly what is need to score well; always be thinking one shot ahead and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they are presented. I hit the ball about the same distance as Haas and had a great ball striking day, but a few wayward wedges and over-ambitious approaches cost me. I shot an 82 and Haas put up a 66 like he was taking candy from a baby.

Primland Aerial

Off the course, Primland offers a full menu of options to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you. There is an outdoor center that features sporting clays, ATV treks, hiking, biking, fly fishing, and more. If you want to do something the property doesn’t offer, the eager and experienced staff will likely be able to accommodate you. If you are more of an indoor cat, the world-class spa is available to massage your cares away. There is also a private theater where you can screen your favorite movies.

Observatory Dome (2)

The Observatory.

A unique feature of Primland is the Observatory, a domed silo that has been modified to house a powerful telescope that gives spectacular views of the planets and stars. The Observatory is available by appointment, and it shouldn’t be missed.

Elements (2)

Elements.

As for the dining experiences, they are also stellar. If you want to get fancy, try Elements, where the farm to table menu and wine selection are both outstanding. If you want to stay casual, try the 19th Pub (note: they make a PERFECT martini).

19th Pub (1)

The 19th Pub.

Founder Didier Primat loved the outdoors and was a committed to providing a place where people could come and experience it. Whether you are playing golf, riding horses, shooting clays or watching shooting stars, it’s impossible to spend time at Primland without acquiring Didier’s affection for this special patch of land. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.

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Get Away For Good To The Kiawah Island Club

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Imagine that you have the means to live in a community filled with golf, low-country charm, exquisite dining, and proximity to a bushel of outdoor activities. The residents of the Kiawah Island Club are fortunate to know these amenities. They have worked long hours to yield the opportunity to consider a residence in this extraordinary community. The only remaining question, after a visit, is why one might choose to live anywhere else. After a recent visit, I have no good counter to a simple, “Yes!”

133 Flway Drive Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

133 Flyway Drive (Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate)

An illusion exists that Kiawah Island lies adjacent to the mainland south of Charleston, South Carolina. This is not the case. It is a healthy, 45-minute drive from the Route 17 turn-off to the gates of the Club. The miles are spent viewing Antebellum buildings and the wondrous flora unique to the region.

We turned left off Route 17 a bit below Charleston, but a comfortable initiation awaited before reaching our destination. Live oaks enveloped our route as we breezily traversed the low country of South Carolina along the path that leads to Kiawah Island. Nearly the entirety of John’s Island must be crossed, followed by a sliver of Seabrook Isle, prima di arrivare, in a remote place known for equal-parts solitude and mass attention.

Kiawah Island, the resort, has hosted major events on the world golf stage. Aficionados remember the 1991 Ryder Cup matches and the 2012 PGA Championship. Denizens anticipate gentle sunrise walks along a familiar path, long sunsets on a porch, and comforting meals from intimate ingredients. Kiawah Island Club, the association, is a space apart that should appeal to all who find its way.

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

The Golf

For the golfing iluminati, the double draw of the Cassique and River courses at the Kiawah Island Club is irresistible. Designed by an acclaimed golfer (Tom Watson) and a recognized architect (Tom Fazio), respectively, each is as much a product of the land as it is of the hand. Each course lies low under the sky, although both surprise with an occasional turn of elevation. Both have been tested in battle, as the club was the site of the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, the second of four won by U.S. Walker Cup stalwart Nathan Smith. Both refuse to rest on any laurels. Reevaluation is a constant in an effort to offer members and guests the most enjoyable and complete tests of golf.

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

The Cassique is situated near the beginning of Kiawah Island, and it’s home to the Performance Center, Tom’s Pub, and the Voysey’s dining room. The River Course, located deeper into the island, offers a casual dining facility of its own for post-round consumption. Farther still beyond these two layouts awaits The Beach Club, a stunning point of relaxation with an infinity pool looking out over the marsh and delicious, casual fare.

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

The River Course moves among the oak trees that anchor the South Carolina lowlands. The brilliance of Tom Fazio’s routing exists in the width of the fairways. One encounters a variety of playing angles on each hole and never feels the claustrophobia that frequently accompanies a tree-lined course.

The course is filled with gentle doglegs among its longer holes. The fairways move around sand traps and over a few water hazards. The River Course closes with three unforgettable holes, moving toward, then along, the Kiawah River. Schedule your rounds for the afternoon here, and you’ll watch the sunset glisten across the 18th green, toward the waterway.

The Cassique Course, designed by Tom Watson and staff, contrasts with its sister layout in the tree department, of which there are few. Cassique was developed as an homage to an Irish links, and earth was pushed up and lowered to recreate the hills and dells found on the Emerald Isle. One of the highest points in the county is the No. 5 tee at Cassique, and the views across the course are unimpeded and breathtaking. From the summit, golfers relive holes already played and others yet to come.

Cassique is unique in its ability to play differently on different days. Not just the weather or the conditioning, but the brilliant foresight to include different routings of holes from different tees. The aforementioned No. 5 tee can be played to a par-3 or a par-4; the previous green can play in multiple ways. The three renderings are Pulpit, Nip and Tuck, and Due East. I recommend that you experience them in person to fully understand their subtleties.

The Preparation

At the far end of the Cassique practice range, a new building anticipates the arrival and return of members who wish to improve their games. The Performance Center was finished in 2017, and it supplies each student with every imaginable tool for game improvement. Three garage-door bays open onto the spacious practice field, allowing for practice and instruction on the island’s most challenging weather days.

KIC_GLC_exterior_far (Medium)

A skilled instructional staff, led by Golf Magazine Top-100 Teacher Carol Preisinger, manipulates the most current equipment for identifying tendencies and enhancing the golf swing. Among these are:

  • TrackMan4, using Doppler radar for ball flight measurement;
  • SAM PuttLab, which captures and analyzes roughly 30 data points to help you perfect your motion with the flat stick;
  • FocusBand, a neurofeedback component that takes the student out of the physical and toward the mental aspect of the game;
  • Foresight GCQuad, similar to TrackMan, but focused on the impact location of the club and ball;
  • MySwing, a technology that tracks the movements of the body through critical swing positions, ultimately rendering a multi-dimensional image at each of these stages.

Instructors at the club are trained not only in implementation of these devices, but also in the storage and dissemination of data. Tendencies, successes, and failures will be stored and delivered to each student, so that a complete understanding of state and goal are at the ready. Could you ask for more?

133 Flyway Drive (Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate)

Sasanqua is a species of Camellia flower commonly found in China and Japan. It is also the name of the Kiawah Island Club Spa, located near the River Course. Secluded on a peninsula that juts into the Kiawah River and designed by Irish architect Clodagh, the Sasanqua offers time away, physically and spiritually: time intended to relax and recapture.

Our time at Sasanqua was dedicated to a deep-tissue massage. Full disclosure: it was the Mrs. who undertook this demanding assignment, and she is extraordinarily difficult to please. She found herself in dire straits with a troublesome lower back and hamstring issues that reduced her physical activity. After 60 minutes with a tiny, but powerful masseuse, the Mrs. had no words to describe what had happened. She did, however, have a complete release of all aches and restrictions. Score one large win for Sasanqua!

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

Patrick O’Brien for Kiawah Island Real Estate

The Dining

The Beach Club, far out on Kiawah, beyond even the storied Ocean Course of PGA Championship and Ryder Cup fame, is an ideal spot to have a light lunch or dinner, enjoy a bath in the infinity pool, and relax on beach chairs alongside the marsh. The River Course offers meals in its clubhouse pub, perfect for a quick nibble after a round of golf over the Fazio masterpiece.

Voysey's1

It is the Cassique Clubhouse, however, that shines in memory for its dining options. Voysey’s is elegant, cozy, convenient, and more. Its offerings change every few days, and they range from comfort food done with a unique touch to classic steaks and seafood prepared with a blend of low-country attention and contemporary inspiration.

More disclosure: we are eaters of a simple essence. Each of our servers patiently guided us across the menus, pointing out options for appetizers, sides, and main dishes that would please our nascent palates. Thanks to their poise, we were able to comprehend the extent of the Voysey’s cuisine, and to add a few, daring branches to our dining tree.

The Conclusion

There is so much to be said for the Charleston region. Temperatures rarely drop below 60 on average, and only in January-February. Having a few months of chilly weather might allow residents to appreciate even more the wonderful climate they inhabit. In the hottest months, proximity to the ocean ensures that temperatures never rise much above 90 degrees.

Skeet Shooting1

In my estimation, two principal types of families move to a facility like the Kiawah Island Club: those who want a comfortable community in which to raise children, and others who seek a lively space in which to live out their retirement years.

For both types, the gamut of activities available at the Kiawah Island Club has no equal. From fitness and friendships, to cuisines and comfort, the offerings of the entire community attend to every need that one might have. We’ve painted a thorough portrait herein, without even delving into housing options and the fitness center. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a bit more reveals itself.

If you’ve heard of Kiawah Island from the major golf events at the resort, take a long look at the living in its private community, the Kiawah Island Club.

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