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Review: Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide To Golf Courses



In 1988, a smack of Tom Doak’s friends had a glance at a volume he called The Confidential Guide To Golf Courses. Although the word “confidential” was placed prominently in the title, those friends didn’t exactly heed the warning and the tome gained a bit of publicity.

In that original treatise, Doak had placed a spotlight on the golf courses that made the game enjoyable for the golfing public and also presented the classic elements of design strategy. Doak also identified the architects he considered to be the true executors of those design principles. The CG was not a puff piece, mind you.

[quote_box_center]In the words of the author, the Confidential Guide “reviewed every course on its own merits, gave no free passes, and shredded the myth that hiring a big-name designer guarantees a quality product.”[/quote_box_center]

It also took to task the courses and creators that had strayed from the original notions of what golf was and is: a game played equally along the ground and in the air, over turf that allows a running shot an opportunity to access fairways and greens if the golfer is skilled enough to decode the architect’s intent.

Although the original Confidential Guide was received with disdain by architects like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and the Jones family, at the time some of the most popular choices for new-build golf courses in America, Doak did not shrink from his notions nor his rankings. Doak had initiated the original Golf Magazine ranking system, at the behest of then-editor George Peper. For the Confidential Guide, a personal system from zero to ten, known as “The Doak Scale,” was born. At the one end was the goose egg, defined like this:

[quote_box_center]A course so contrived and unnatural that it may poison your mind, which I cannot recommend under any circumstances. Reserved for courses that wasted ridiculous sums of money in their construction and probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place.[/quote_box_center]

At the other end of the scale sat the perfect ten, the Nadie Comaneci of golf course architecture:

[quote_box_center]Nearly perfect. If you skipped even one hole, you would miss something worth seeing. If you haven’t seen all the courses in this category, you don’t know how good golf architecture can get. Drop the book and call your travel agent, immediately.[/quote_box_center]

To get to this point, Tom Doak had done what Pete Dye, A.W. Tillinghast and Charles Blair MacDonald, other celebrated architects from distinct eras, had done before him. He had packed a bag and traveled the finest courses of the world in order to learn. Most of us cannot imagine walking a course without playing it; for Tom Doak, it was an accepted practice. He didn’t have time to golf all of those holes, so he often settled for a walking tour.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, Doak’s due diligence paid off. His firm designed the second course (Pacific Dunes) at the Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon, one of two courses at Streamsong Resort in Florida, and a host (some 30 at last count) of the world’s newest, best courses from New Zealand to Scotland to the sand hills of Nebraska.

In the early 2010s, Doak decided to revisit the Confidential Guide. He had learned much since the mid 1980s and missed writing. His works on Alister MacKenzie and the making of a golf course echoed more distantly in his past. Doak decided to enlist the help of three respected golf architecture aficionados and off they went to research and produce the updated Confidential Guide, with a twist.

The Review

What exactly is the Decade 2010 version of the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses? To begin, it’s a five-volume series. The first volume, released in September of 2014, covers the courses of Great Britain and Ireland. Subsequent volumes will visit The Americas (winter); The Americas (summer); Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The first volume measures a tidy, 180 pages and is anything but a slog through densely-written prose. The four horsemen (Doak, Golf Club Atlas website founder Ran Morrissett, Planet Golf website founder Darius Oliver and Asian golf course reviewer/editor and architectural expert Masa Nishijima) saddled their devices and rode back to the structure of the original guide. In it are these unique sections: Gourmet’s Choice, Course Reviews, The Gazetteer and Most Wanted.

Gourmet’s Choice

The GC of the CG is a group listing of the 18 courses to which Tom Doak, et al., would take a friend to play. The offerings are not always the highest-rated courses in the book, but they are all near the top. The courses combine compelling architecture, ambiance, and the unexplainable sensation of being in the proper place at the appointed hour, accompanied by the necessary people.

In the words of the author, “…the places that stir our souls, and will reward the visitor with something out of the ordinary.” As a result, courses like Ballybunion in Ireland, the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland and Royal St. George’s in England, commingle with Pennard in Wales, Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, Mildenhall in England and Askernish in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Doak describes the Royal West Norfolk club (known locally as Brancaster), the course that taught Pete Dye about railroad ties, in this manner:

[quote_box_center]It is so low-lying that the entrance drive to the club is flooded by high tides twice a day, and the members of the Royal West Norfolk club have to keep tide tables handy to know when they are free to come and go. If sea levels do continue to rise over the next fifty years, Brancaster will be one of golf’s first casualties.[/quote_box_center]

Each of the 18 courses receives a 1.5-page treatise and a hole-by-hole categorization of sorts. In the latter, Doak utilizes chess demarcations to signal a great hole (!), a one of the best in the world hole (!! and !!!), an odd/questionable hole (?) and an odd hole that turned out brilliant (!?).

Course Reviews


This is the meat of the book. The four-man coterie identified 289 courses (a lifetime of golf for me!) in Great Britain and Ireland and rated each from 0-to-10. As Tom Doak points out, for over half of the courses, the co-authors disagree with the main man. Debate is a good thing, after all. Who knew that there was a Spanish Point in Ireland, a New Zealand in England, a Cruit (pronounced ‘crutch’) Island in Ireland and a Muir of Ord or a Boat of Garten anywhere? Each co-author presents a number from 0 to 10, the order being consistent, with Doak followed by Morrissett, then Nishijima and Oliver. If one hasn’t played the course, a dash fills the void.

For consistency, the entire book is written in Tom Doak’s narrative voice. It is a soothing and direct one, with a tone that seeks to inform yet suffers no fools in any capacity. Doak has spent years being critical of his own design work and that of others. The book reflects this thought process and vision. To be fair, there is a pinch of praise for even the lowliest course, while the highest echelon (including the single course to receive 10s across the row) still manages to be kept grounded with a bit of criticism. These honest assessments leave no titans ungrazed:

[quote_box_center]Nicklaus’ web site quotes him as saying it [Gleneagles Hotel PGA Centenary course] was the finest piece of property he’d ever been given to work with; if that were true, the result would be a tremendous disappointment. Its ugly concrete cart paths will be on display to the world at the 2014 Ryder Cup.[/quote_box_center]

A subsequent assessment of Ganton Golf Club works at dispelling what it is and what it isn’t. It is this type of revelation that helps all golfers to seek out new terrain over which to test their love of the game:

[quote_box_center]Ganton is a wonderful course that was for many years overlooked due to its location and genre. It’s neither a links nor a heathland course, and describing it as “parkland” does not do justice to its firm temperment. As a non-links, it can’t host the big championships and it’s well removed from the major centers of British golf.[/quote_box_center]

What it does have, the Confidential Guide explains, are deep, well-placed bunkers, accompanied by memorable par-four holes. Whether the former or the latter, anticipate forthright sincerity throughout the tome.

The Gazetteer

Despite his connection to the original Golf Magazine Top 100 list, Tom Doak is no fan of using this technique to validate anyone’s work.

[quote_box_center]”…lists have also done a disservice to golf course architecture over the past thirty years…rankings have drawn attention to the business, but they’ve distorted the practice of golf course architecture.”[/quote_box_center]

The concerns of Doak and other current architects revolve around the need of an owner or a membership to have their course ranked by one of the magazines. Whether you see it as cart before the horse or the tail wagging the dog, it’s a simple as the case of the student who worries more about the grade than the knowledge.

The Gazetteer, therefore, is a sequence without rankings, of clubhouses and their modest, their lunches and their settings. Also found are accommodations, including on-site dormy houses, nearby resorts, and course conditioning (both natural and human-aided). It is the courses themselves that receive the most diverse categorization, from bumpiest contours (this is where golf was born, after all), artistic routings, best bunker names and the expected delineation of fun, difficulty, wide and slender.

And in case it’s your thing, you can also travel to the 10 courses where you’re most likely to hit an animal…

Most Wanted

Although this impregnable quadrilateral of golf architecture doyens appears to have seen (or built) every golf course around the world, it hasn’t. Each of the contributors has yearnings (in this case, 10 of them) and they let us in on their hidden desires. Most surprising are the fact that Tom Doak wants to see the Welsh Ryder Cup course at Celtic Manor; that Ran Morrissett hasn’t seen Doak’s sole Scottish course (the Renaissance Club) or the New Course at St. Andrews (which is still 120 years old); that Masa Nishijima’s resume has a gaping English void; and that Darius Oliver hopes to one day get to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

This might be the depressing part of your read of this volume. If you’ve traveled to (or live in) Great Britain and Ireland, you’ll quickly come to understand how well-read (or well-played, or well-traveled) this group is. They get around. Don’t let this get you down. Live vicariously through their experiences and connect the features of the courses you typically play with the ones detailed in here. You might discover that your local muni has a connection with Royal Dornoch (as is the case with the Mark Twain golf course in Elmira, New York) or that your home club was designed by the same architect who built a course listed among the Gourmet’s Choice. Perhaps you’ll even find encouragement to travel; the private clubs of Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are much more open to visitors than are U.S. clubs.

Final Thoughts

It is nice (albeit jarring) to read one man’s pure, undriven opinions on golf courses and their architecture. Tom Doak does not seek out controversy, but neither does he shy away from its eruption from honest discourse. After scalding Jack Nicklaus’ architecture in the original CG, the Golden Bear and Doak ended up working together on Sebonack (site of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open) in a delicious irony for some. The result was that each architect took something away from the other, some nuance that had been previously unconsidered.

In the first volume of the new CG, Doak gives design rival David Kidd’s Castle Course at St. Andrews a zero, although it’s hard to understand why, as he expresses sympathy for the Scotsman while simultaneously gutting him numerically. Soon after the release of volume one of the new Confidential Guide, Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links fame announced that Kidd (and not Doak) would build the second course at Sand Valley in Wisconsin.

To be sure, the words of Tom Doak, et al., in The Confidential Guide To Golf Courses, Volume 1 2014, won’t please nor satisfy many of his architectural colleagues. The ASCGA (American Society of Golf Course Architects) has in place a mandate that society members will not criticize the work nor methods of their fellows. Since Tom Doak never joined the ASCGA, he is free to espouse as he chooses. If you ask, “what gives him the right to sound off in this manner?” you won’t be alone. You can and should disagree, but be prepared to substantiate your position. If you choose to walk away from the conversation or the debate, you’ve missed the point of the books.

It’s a bit much to ask the world’s golfing population to care about golf course architecture in the same way that its principles and its aficionados do. Visit the Golf Club Atlas web site if you wish to see how enthusiastic this latter bunch is. Doak holds the GCA brethren in such high regard that he is a regular participant in the site’s discussion group. Imagine that: a golf course architect who interacts online with the people who pay to play his courses. Talk about a total-access package.

However, it is books like the Confidential Guide that bring us neophytes and novices that much closer to the preparations and underpinnings of the courses we trod and golf. Sleeping Bear Press (the great golf publishing house of the 1990s) and its successor, ClockTower Press, are gone now a decade. Take great golf works when you can find them! In this one’s case, you can put your hands on the first now, with the anticipation of four more to come.

For information on the new Confidential Guide To Golf Courses series, visit the Renaissance Golf website.

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Ronald Montesano writes for from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.



  1. don davis

    Jan 3, 2015 at 1:39 am

    The more you know the greater the fun in golf. The site Golf Club Atlas is a fantastic must read for all golfers. I love Ran and all the guys there. I have had some my greatest memories on golf courses that were horrible. It is still golf . Tee it up, watch it fly and go hit it again . Thank God for the Tom Doaks of the world who keep golf the greatest game in the world.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Jan 3, 2015 at 5:39 am

      I suspect that one of the goals of the authors is to bring an appreciation for classic architecture to readers who aren’t aware of the game’s true origins. If it helps unwitting club chairs to fell some trees and make life easier for the greenkeepers, then it is a win.

  2. Chuck

    Jan 3, 2015 at 12:29 am

    This is always fun, for us happy owners of an original singed Sleeping Bear Press edition; a check of what they are going for on Amazon:

    • Chuck

      Jan 3, 2015 at 12:46 am

      Uh, “signed,” not “singed.” A “singed” copy might only be worth a couple hundred bucks, what with smelling like smoke and all.

      By the way, all; for those who know the original book and those who’e never heard of it (it is true legend in golf architecture circles), one of the great joys of the book isn’t any particular ranking or Doak Scale number(s). Rather, the joy is Tom’s terse, delightfully descriptive prose. I’m not so certain his tastes and mine are exactly the same, but his judgment is nearly unerring when it comes to defining good qualities in a golf course or even an entire golf club. I literally keep my copy in a bedside table and I pick it up to re-read portions almost every month of the year.

      It’s a book that has given thousands of hours of joy and enlightenment to thousands of golfers.

      • Ronald Montesano

        Jan 3, 2015 at 7:35 am


        I’m sure that a singed copy, if recorded, would fetch something on the open market.

        It’s a sign of hope when tastes don’t necessarily align, yet the discussion and mutual respect function in a civil manner. I hope that we continue to read of your tastes in the comment boxes of WRX.

  3. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 2, 2015 at 6:33 am

    Written like a true Jones, Bubba. No matter who writes the review of these books, no matter the site, volume or show, the frankness, the candor of their narrative voice will always be mentioned.

    Since the life span of the “profession” is often discussed in certain circles, how long do you think it will continue as a profession? The restoration cycle will run its course and the available land will eventually be used up. What then?

    • Ronald Montesano

      Jan 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      I have heard that there is a movement afoot, directed toward the classic values and worth of more natural golf courses. The British isles might be the fortunate place, as its courses were built before modern technology offered the notion of earth moving and shaping. That might be why the typical scores on the scale were in the 5-9 range. We should see more in the 0-4 range once the Gang of Four gets to the colonies.

      I don’t agree that there will always be land. The sad part will be when the courses that served the lower and middle classes are paved over, while the ultra-private reserves receive a variance. For golf to succeed as anything beyond a niche sport, it needs to have the participation of these other classes.

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Jan 1, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Thanks to dead-eye Thomas Dai, we’re changing the location of Cruit Island to Ireland, where it belongs.

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The Pinehurst Experience



We have all heard stories about Pinehurst. Friends have returned home to talk about its greatness. The Ryder Cup history, the U.S. Open tournaments, the cradle of American golf, and Payne Stewart’s fist held high in the air. And while the Village of Pinehurst and the ten golf courses that complete it are the primary reason to make the trip to North Carolina, we really go for the stories. To hear them and to create them. And eventually, to be able to tell them ourselves.

The story of my family’s Pinehurst Experience is one we will remember forever.

We left Texas for North Carolina with no real expectations. My wife, Shannon, and our 11-month-old baby boy William joined me. As did my mom, Tammy,  and my dad, John. None of us had been before. And, quite honestly, none of us were expecting such a perfect weekend. I wasn’t sure if this type of golf intensive trip would be a good fit for my wife and mom, both non-golfers. But there was plenty for them to do each day. I was so excited to hear how much they enjoyed their time.

Carolina Hotel at Pinehurst

We flew into Raleigh and took a rental car the remaining 70-minute drive to the Pinehurst resort. Pinehurst offers several different hotel options, but we booked our rooms in the historic Carolina Hotel. It’s the one you see in all the pictures. Built in 1901, the hotel is the definition of Carolina class. The wood floors under elegant carpet creak every few steps, reminding you that this place has held the weight of the best golfers the world has ever seen for over a century. And of course, the Ryder Cup Bar just off the hotel lobby is an immediate hat tip to the history of Pinehurst.

We arrived just after 1:30 in the afternoon, giving us enough time to check into our rooms and then head out to our first round of golf. The front desk provides you with a personalized Pinehurst bag tag which lists every tee time you have scheduled for the week. This allows for your clubs to be sent from course to course ahead of your round so you aren’t having to deal with carrying your bag around the resort. It’s seamless and convenient.

My dad and I had four rounds scheduled. First at the par-3 track, The Cradle, followed by Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 2, and the Pinehurst No.8.

The Cradle

Shuttle buses run like clockwork all over the resort town and their affable drivers are willing to take you just about anywhere. The longest we ever had to wait for one was probably five minutes. Our clubs were waiting for us at the Clubhouse, the hub of the Pinehurst golfing community. The Clubhouse features an enormous pro-shop, locker rooms, caddie shack, The Deuce Restaurant (which overlooks the 18th green at Pinehurst No.2) and is the headquarters for courses one through five.

It’s approximately a three-minute shuttle ride from the Carolina Hotel and could easily be a nice walk if you’ve got time and good weather. It also backs up to the Thistle Dhu putting course, a 15,000 square foot putting green, complete with 18 marked holes, scorecard and beer holders on every tee. It’s a great place to spend 30 minutes. And it’s kid friendly, too.

Thistle Dhu Putting Course

We didn’t have much time but we were hungry. The bartender at the Deuce told us to make a quick burger, hot dog or sandwich at their buffet, which was perfect. We were able to get a hardy meal for $15 and give us a boost for the rest of the day. The view overlooking 18 green on No. 2 was incredible and I could’ve been just fine staying there to watch the golfers come off one of the best tracks in golf.

The Deuce Restaurant and Bar

But we headed to the Cradle, a nine-hole par three course designed by Gil Hanse in 2017. The longest hole tops out at 127 yards downhill, so a full bag is not necessary. I carried my putter and my pitching, sand and gap wedge to the first tee. The starter provided me with a carry bag and scorecard. The Cradle has been described as “the most fun 10 acres in golf” and that might be true. There are 16 speakers disguised as rocks playing music throughout the course, blasting Steve Winwood, Garth Brooks, the Rolling Stones and everything in between. Green fees at the Cradle are $50 and that gets you all day access. Kids under 17 play for free. In fact, we ended up being joined by four other golfers, one of whom was a 4 1/2 year old named Parker who had a better swing than me. We still got around the course in about an hour, including a couple of stops for drinks.

Positioned on a high part of the course behind the 3rd and 8th green sits the Pine Cone, a teardrop style camper that has been converted into a full bar. It has to be one of the coolest places to have a drink in all of golf. And with the music playing and a wedge in your hand on every shot, it’s impossible to have a bad time. Play the Cradle a couple of rounds. Have a few beers. Be happy.


The family met us for a drink back at the Deuce patio overlooking 18 of No. 2 and then we headed into town for dinner. The Village of Pinehurst itself is a cute little community, full of cafes, pubs, inns and shops. We were told to check out the Pine Crest Inn and to eat at Mr. B’s Lounge, a dark old bar full of golf history. Payne Stewart’s name is still prominently displayed on the wall where he signed it back in 1999. It was just yet another cool glimpse into the history of the golf town.

Breakfast the next morning (and then every morning thereafter) was at the Carolina Dining Room within our hotel. The family enjoyed a full breakfast buffet in an elegant dining room setting. The biscuits and gravy were out-of-this-world good. And the service, like everything else at the Carolina Hotel, was exquisite.

The girls had a couple of trips to the spa planned while the boys played golf. Shannon had a massage in the early afternoon while my mom watched baby Will. The next day, they flipped and my mom enjoyed some time relaxing herself. The pool at the Carolina hotel was also a huge hit with the family (especially William). They also loved going into town and shopping at the boutiques, which was only a 6 minute walk from our hotel.

I’ve experienced places like Bandon Dunes, which is a fantastic buddy golf trip location. And make no mistake, Pinehurst can be that, too. I saw countless groups of guys having a great time. But I realized that Pinehurst is an absolutely wonderful place to visit for entire families, whether they all play golf or not. And everywhere we went was kid friendly and welcoming. Just an absolute pleasure.

Pinehurst offers several options that include meal plans/stay and play packages. And I am telling you right now, it’s an experience you and your entire family will cherish.

Pinehurst No. 4

Back at the clubhouse on day two, our clubs were yet again waiting for our arrival, this time on a cart pointed towards the driving range. We hit a few balls on the spacious practice, large enough to handle the type of traffic for all five courses the clubhouse facilitates.

Pinehurst No. 4 is a new renovation from Gil Hanse and, quite honestly, a great introduction to Pinehurst golf. The fairways are lined with “waste hazard” bunkers and pine needles, which both allow for grounding of the club and removing loose impediments. Whatever you are imagining in your head when you think of Pinehurst….that’s likely Pinehurst No. 4.

No. 4 plays 6,961 yards from the men’s blue tees. There is a tee box further back that plays at 7,227 yards, but the markers are not typically set up for regular play. Honestly, that’s a shame because standing on a few of those back tee boxes, I could tell the course would be even better from back there. It’s still a tough course from the blue tees, playing to a par 72. The elevation changes make some holes play much longer than the scorecard indicates.

The property interweaves with Pinehurst No. 2, so the landscapes are similar. But the features of No. 4 seem grander in comparison. The exposed sand areas are full of native wire grass blend, making fairway misses playable but unpredictable. And the land-forms are much more dramatic on No. 4.  I was a bit surprised to see the types of elevation changes out on this course. There is a body of water that sits low in the center of the property around holes 4, 13 and 14 which provides some incredible views. When you stand on the 6th green, you can actually see parts of 15 other golf holes. It’s arguably the most beautiful view in Pinehurst.

We teed off at 9:50 on what was an unseasonably warm day for May in North Carolina. We took a cart, though the entire course was path only to preserve the pristine conditions. If the course is cart path only still when you decide to visit, I would consider hiring a caddie for this round as we ended up walking a ton anyway.

The fairways are wide and accessible and the greens are large, though they don’t play easy at all. A little local knowledge can go a long way on the greens at Pinehurst. Holes 13 and 14, in my opinion, is the best two hole stretch on the course. The first is a short par 5 but with a narrow fairway landing area off the tee between the water on the left and waste area on the right. Longer hitters can reach the green in two but the entire shot will be over water to a diagonal sloped green. It’s a wonderful risk/reward shot that I, of course, attempted with the help of some liquid courage.

The next hole stays water with a 200-yard par three to a slightly downhill green. Miss short and left and you are wet. It’s just a wonderful hole. Plenty of room right to approach the green from the front.

All in all, Gil Hanse made his mark on Pinehurst No. 4 and created a sensational companion course for the famed No. 2. If you only have a couple of rounds at Pinehurst, make sure to include both courses.

After our round, we headed out to the newly opened Pinehurst Brewery, just around the corner from our hotel. The restaurant is housed in the old Pinehurst steam power plant, which supplied the entire town their power beginning in 1895. Now it supplies the entire town with Carolina style BBQ and great local beer.

I ordered the combo platter, which came with pulled pork, chicken, sausage, and brisket. The beer was cold and the food was tasty. The pulled pork, when paired with the vinegar based East North Carolina BBQ sauce was my favorite. And this Texan actually thought the brisket was a happy substitute for what I am used to back home. My wife had a pint of the Hawaiian Delight brew, a pineapple infused beer that gave it a cider type kick. She highly recommends.


Pinehurst No. 2

Waking up the morning of your first ever round at Pinehurst No. 2 is a pretty special experience. I watched a couple youtube videos of Payne Stewart’s final holes in 1999 to get my mind in the right place. The first tee is tucked in a corner of hedgerows and the starter house is an exact replica of the Old Course Starters Box in Scotland, built to symbolize a bond of shared ideals and common values. St. Andrews is the home of golf and Pinehurst is the guardian of its traditions in the United States. Pretty cool.

No. 2, a Donald Ross build, opened in 1907 and Ross himself describes it as “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” It has been the host site for more single golf championships than any course in America, including U.S. Opens in 1999, 2005 and 2014.

My dad has never used a caddie in his entire life. Golf has never been his passion and, quite frankly, he was a bit self-conscious about a player of his skill set using a caddie for a round of golf. However, we shared one for Pinehurst No. 2 and his mind was changed completely. We got lucky, too, because our caddie, Andy Kurasz, was first class. Andy, or AK, has lived in Pinehurst since 1994 and has been a caddie for 15 years. With a bag on each shoulder, he was incredibly personable and friendly the entire round. Just as important, he knew this course like the back of his hand. If you get to play Pinehurst, ask for AK.

The greens at No. 2 might be the toughest I’ve ever played. Each one crowned like an upside down saucer, if you miss slightly on your approach in any direction, your ball will not likely hold the putting surface. No. 2 is most certainly a second shot golf course, forcing you to think about your approach shot before you tee off on each hole. And while the par 72 track plays at less than 7,000 yards from the men’s tees, it can be tipped out to nearly 7,600 yards for its Championships. With the complex approach shots and difficult greens, I can’t even imagine how tough this course would be at that length.

But the course is fair. Most fairways are lined with those famous sandy waste areas and the pine trees even wider still allow for punch outs off the pine needles. Our caddie Andy said this is the hardest course we will ever play without losing a golf ball. And he was right. We both got through it without a lost ball penalty. Andy also saved us each several strokes per side, always giving us the right target, right line, proper encouragement and reminding us to slow down our tempo and “enjoy your backswing.”

Donald Ross, who also built his home on the course, was brilliant in his routing. The course evolves naturally and uses the contours of the land to play tricks in your mind. If the fairway slopes hard right to left, like it does on the par 4 fourth, the green will slope the opposite direction, which makes putts feel like they will break a completely different way from the actual line. You need a caddie.

Home of Donald Ross

In 2010, the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw worked to restore No. 2 to the original design. Dozens of acres of turf was removed to reintroduce the hardpan natural bunkers and native grasses to the course. The No. 2 of today is essentially the course as it was in 1907. And it’s perfect.

Walking up 18 fairway is one of those special moments in golf. The clubhouse is behind the green, full of people enjoying food and drink from the Deuce, sitting on rocking chairs and enjoying the golfers approach shots. Also in view is the Payne Stewart statue, striking that famous pose after his winning putt poured in to win the U.S. Open. I hit my drive right and had to escape short of the green. My caddie simply said “That’s okay, let’s go get up and down just like Payne did.” What an incredible feeling to play a course with so much history.

Our family was waiting for us just off the back of the green. The fitting end to a perfect day on Pinehurst No. 2.

We had dinner that night at the Carolina Room in our hotel, which, as usual, was first class. A traditional steak and fish menu with an impressive wine list to accompany. But after a long day of strategic golf on one of the world’s toughest courses, I went to sleep early and dreamed of true approach shots at waving flags.

Pinehurst No. 8

My final round at Pinehurst was on the Centennial Course, Pinehurst No. 8. The Tom Fazio design was built to celebrate Pinehurst’s 100th anniversary and it has a different style and feel to both No. 2 and No. 4. Interestingly, the course was built on the site of the old Pinehurst Gun Club, where Annie Oakley used to give shooting lessons and exhibitions.

The shuttle ride takes a few extra minutes to get to No. 8’s stand alone clubhouse. And those extra minutes change the landscape dramatically. The fairways at No. 8 are lined with a cut of rough on most holes, as opposed to the natural sand areas seen on the other courses I played. And the course is tucked in to a more heavily populated forest of trees, giving this course a more secluded feel. The par 72 plays at 6694 yards, but there are many more opportunities for lost balls here. Water and marsh land comes in to play on several holes, giving off a low country course vibe.


I had a 9:00 am tee time but was able to get off at 7:30 in order to make sure we had enough time to get to the airport later that day. I played this round alone and was the first man off, which allowed me to get around the course in a little over 2 hours in a cart. It was an amazingly peaceful round. After playing No. 4 and No. 2, this was a pleasant contrast.

The par-3 8th hole is perhaps the most beautiful hole I played at Pinehurst. At 204 yards, the tee shot still requires accuracy to the left side in order to avoid the well placed natural marshland short and right. The greens at No. 8 are large but less severe than those found on No.4 and No. 2, to make up for the more difficult marshy hazards on the course.


I am glad I played No. 8. It’s a different style course than I expected to find at Pinehurst, but it complements the experience. I would recommend you include it as a part of your Pinehurst trip as well.

After the round, we had just enough time for a visit to the Village of Pinehurst for a quick bite to eat. Our rental car was already loaded up by the Carolina Hotel staff, proving once again that they do everything right at the resort. While in town, we stumbled across the Old Sport and Gallery boutique, owned and operated by former professional golfer Tom Stewart. It was an incredible collection of golf history, books, art and antiques. And speaking with Mr. Stewart for a few minutes made me wish I had another day in Pinehurst to hear his stories. This is a must visit for any golf fan.


And with that, our Pinehurst trip was over. We played incredible courses, ate wonderful food, received first-class hospitality everywhere we went and created those Pinehurst stories we’ve heard about all our lives. Now they are ours to keep and to share. I hope you visit one day soon so you can create your own stories, too.

Just remember to “enjoy your backswing.”

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Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built



Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Bethpage Black



Bethpage’s Black course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened for play in 1936. It was immediately considered one of the best tests of golf in the world, and it has tested golfers coming from all over the world in its 83-year history. Bethpage State Park itself has five courses. The Green was the first course built and was originally called Lennox Hills Country Club. In the early 1930s, the Bethpage Park Authority purchased Lennox Hills CC and other adjacent property and turned the whole thing into what is now known as Bethpage State Park. Course architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel what would become the Green course as well as build the Blue, Red, and finally the Black. The Yellow Course was designed by Alfred Tull and opened in 1958.

Bethpage first hosted a major championship in 2002 when it hosted the U.S, Open. What is somewhat forgotten 17 years later as it hosts its third major, is how much the course had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. Luckily, the USGA could see through all of that and helped fund a complete restoration that was overseen personally by Dave Catalano, the larger than life (in both stature and personality) head of Bethpage State Park. Dave had been working at Bethpage since he was a kid in 1967, picking up papers in the picnic area. It was his baby, and with Rees Jones by his side, they painstakingly restored the Black to its former greatness and into a true championship test of golf. After the PGA Championship, the Black will be back in the spotlight 2024 as host of the Ryder Cup, joining a very short list of courses to host a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship, and a Ryder Cup.

Playing the Black is one of the most unique experiences in the game because of what it takes to get a tee time. There are a very limited number of tee times. They are easier to get if you are a NY resident, but for most of us, it’s first come, first serve. Which in practical terms means they have a parking lot with numbered spaces and people start showing up the day before to sleep in their cars to play. In fact, I can proudly say that the last three times I slept in my car it was just to play at Bethpage. One of those times I didn’t even get out on the Black and had to settle for playing the Red! Should have eaten dinner in the car I guess….

Every time I have slept in the car I have had a great time. It’s a party in the lot with a bunch of golfers hanging out all excited to play the next day. There’s usually a few beers around and one of the times, someone called a cab and went and got 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s at 1 a.m. to show us all some top-notch NY hospitality! That’s definitely not an experience you will have going to play any other top courses!

Once you finally do get to sleep, the staff wakes you up around 4 a.m. to go get in line and get your tee time and course assignment. Then you can go back to sleep or go eat breakfast or hit balls or whatever you want until it’s your turn to tee off. On your way to the tee, you see the famous WARNING sign telling you that the Black Course is an extremely difficult course which they recommend only for highly skilled golfers. Hopefully, you didn’t lose your tee ticket because you will need that to get onto the tee and trust me, they aren’t messing around with the rules!

The golf course itself sits on a huge, sprawling, fantastic piece of land with abundant elevation change and lots of random contours. The bunkering is big and bold and not to be messed with. There is abundant long fescue and numerous trees off to the sides of the holes which combined with the beautiful bunkering makes for a very beautiful setting.

The first hole is a downhill, almost 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is pretty flat and so is the well-bunkered green. The key for the player is to put their drive into the right place in the fairway to get a good angle to the hole location. From here you cross Round Swamp Rd and head to the second, which is a short, uphill par 4 of 389 yards. The fairway slants a little right to left and the green is elevated and can be a challenge to hold. The third is a par 3 that plays about 160 yards normally but has been brought back to 230 the PGA. This is one of the more interesting greens on the course; it’s wide on the right and falls away as it gets to the back and tapers to a smaller, more narrow section on the left. Bunkers flank the short left and right side of the green.

The fourth hole is vintage Bethpage Black and probably the most photographed on the course. A huge bunker flanks the left side of the fairway off the tee of the 517-yard par-5. Another, even more huge bunker looms at the end of the fairway cut into the from right to left. The tee shot is downhill but the rest of the hole is uphill. There is a second fairway to layup over the big bunker where you will have a partial view of the small, flattish green that falls away slightly and is protected by two more deep bunkers to the front and left. The fifth is a monster par 4 of almost 480 yards. A massive fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway which is also the best angle to come into the small, elevated green guarded by two deep bunkers short and one over the green.

FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK – MAY 15: A general view of the fifth green is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

No. 6 gets back into the more open and less tree-lined part of the property. The tee shot is semi-blind and over a hill. The landing area is pinched by bunkers on both sides. The long hitter who can carry the hill should have a very short shot into the flattish, oval shaped green that’s open in front and protected by bunkers on both sides. No. 7 is a converted par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the PGA. At 524 yards, it’s very long and the tee shot requires a long poke over another large fairway bunker. The green is again pretty flat and protected by deep bunkers in front.

The eighth hole is unique for the Black as it’s the only hole with water in play. A 210-yard drop shot to a green with some slope from right to left and front to back and a ridge running on a diagonal angle through the middle of the green. The shot must carry the pond short of the green and there is a deep bunker left and a hillside right. Nine is a 460-yard hard dogleg left that drops down off the tee and back up to the green. Another very deep bunker guards the left side and can be carried by the longer hitter. The right side of the fairway is the safe play off the tee but leaves an awkward shot out of a gully up to the green. The green is heavily guarded in front again by deep bunkers.

As the players make the turn, they are confronted with another long, tight par 4 of just over 500 yards. Hitting the fairway is key here as the fairway is heavily guarded by bunkers and fescue. The green sits on the other side of a little gully and is guarded once again by a set of deep bunkers. The 11th hole is 435 yards and has probably the most interesting green on the course. It has a little false front and two distinct tiers with some nice internal movement. A really good green on any course it stands out on the Black amongst what is mostly a flatter set of greens. 12 forces the players to carry it 285 over a massive cross bunker on the 515-yard par 4. The green is back to the more typical flattish oval, and characteristically is guarded in the front on both sides by deep bunkers. 13 is a par 5 of over 600 yards. One of the least bunkered holes on the course, there are a few bunkers on the left and a great little cross bunker about 60 yards short of the green that obscures the view of the green and will make the players think twice about going for the green in two. 14 is the best chance for birdie on the course. A par 3 that plays only 160 yards over a valley to a narrow, long green.

After walking off the 14th green the players cross back over Round Swamp Road to the home stretch of the course. 15 is always the hardest hole on the course for me when I play the Black. The hole plays 460 yards. The tee shot is flat to a fairway that bends slightly right to left and has no bunkers. The second shot is massively uphill. Over a hillside set with bunkers and a small section of fairway to a green set into the top of the hill and guarded by the deepest bunkers on the course. A very hard hole to make par if you miss the fairway or miss the green. The 16th has a downhill tee shot that will test the player’s judgement of the wind if there is any present. The green is well guarded especially to the right and is small with a little slant to it. The 17th is an uphill brute of a 210-yard par 3. The green is 45 yards wide and is huge. However, it does not look big from the tee as it is set amongst a veritable minefield of bunkers waiting to swallow up any wayward shots. The players walk up a hill to the 18th tee and stare down at a fairway that gets severely pinched in the middle by the huge bunkers on both sides. The green is then back uphill, it’s medium sized with a slight kidney shape and two deep, artistically shaped bunkers set into the hillside short.

All of this adds up to a great test of championship golf.  The course is pretty straightforward. There is not a ton of strategy other than hit it long and straight and make as many putts as you can. The greens are mostly pretty flat so there should be a lot of chances for birdie for those that can reach the greens in regulation. That said, the course has a ton of character when it comes to the land movement and elevation changes as well as the massive, artistic bunkers. New Yorkers are VERY proud of the Black and for a very good reason. It’s a fantastic golf course. Golf needs more top courses like the Black that are accessible to everyone and challenging to even the best players in the world.


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19th Hole