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Courses

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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Courses

Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real

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We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.

Early morning at Kingston Heath C) Jacob Sjöman.

Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.

I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.

The bunker shapes are brilliant. (C) Jacob Sjöman.

Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.

Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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Courses

Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf

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We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.

Launceston Airport, Tasmania. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.

The locals at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.

“Tom’s Little Devil.” Hole No.7 at Barnbougle Dunes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.

After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.

The walk between the 4th and 5th holes. (C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.

After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!

As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.

To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.

The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.

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