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Review: Streamsong Resort

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If you haven’t heard of Streamsong Resort yet, it won’t be long until you do. The saying “if you build it, they will come” seems to hold true for golf courses such as Sand Hills in Nebraska or Forest Dunes Michigan, gems plopped in the middle of nowhere. The secret is… if you build it well, we will come.

Streamsong is a simply magnificent, modern day golf resort — also in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the best luxury golf getaway options available and maybe best of all, it’s in sunny Florida so you can play golf in the dead of winter.

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Along with two world-class links-style golf courses, which are discussed in more detail later in the review, Streamsong offers everything most guests will need for their stay. That’s a blessing, because it’s also in the middle of nowhere.

There are two large buildings on property, the largest of which is the Lodge (above). It has 216 rooms, four restaurants, conference rooms and amenities including bars, fitness facilities, a spa, a pool and retail stores.

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The Lodge

There’s also a building called “The Club House,” which is much more than what usually stands beside a golf course. It has 12 guest rooms, more conference rooms, a lounge, a golf shop, a locker room, and “Fifty Nine,” which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It specializes in steaks and seafood, and offers an impressive wine list.

streamsong resort

Streamsong has a shuttle that runs throughout the resort, so there was no need to drive once we valeted the car on arrival. After checking in, we immediately knew we were at the right place. Guests were walking through the lobby with their carry bags strapped to their back as if the lobby was the 3rd hole — a nice welcome for diehard golfers. You can check your bag and it will be stored at the course, or if you’re like us, you can bring the clubs back to the room so they’re handy at all times.

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A typical room. Free WIFI and a new 42-inch LED HD TV.

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We were pleased not to hear much noise from the surrounding rooms.

We flew into Tampa and rented a car for a nice drive to Streamsong. The two courses on the 16,000-acre campus are “Red” and “Blue.” They reminded us more of Ireland’s Tralee or Ballybunion than Florida courses, as there’s not a tree or house on the property.

The Red and Blue are built on an old phosphate mine complete with craters and mounds that look like they were purposefully placed, yet are the result of many years of mining. Our experience was that the Red and Blue are two of the best courses you’ll play in your life.

Follow along for a more in-depth review of the Red and the Black, with on-course photos of each.

Red Course

The Red course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and tips out at 7,148 yards with a slope of 122 to 130 depending on the tee. Coore and Crenshaw courses are known for their minimalistic approach to golf course design, and Streamsong Red is no different.

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Red Course: Hole No. 5

One thing that was notable about the course was the number of half-par holes that Coore and Crenshaw weaved into the routing. We counted as many as 10 par-4 and par-5 holes that were either short and reachable or very long and unreachable for most golfers. These “half-pars” allow for more birdie chances, but also more tough pars, which means they’re generally played better when the player throws the concept of par out the window.

You’ll see what we mean.

The round starts with a very tough, long, uphill par-4 measuring 464 yards (from the black tees) that is very hard to reach in two shots. Then, on the second hole, you get a 508-yard reachable par-5 that gently doglegs to the right. Hole No. 3 is a reasonable-length par-4 of 391 yards, but then you get to the 4th hole, a fantastic risk-reward, drivable par-4 that’s 316 yards. The 5th hole is another great short par-4 at 344 yards.

After the mid-length, par-3 6th, which measures about 150 yards to a huge green, the player is confronted at the 7th hole. It’s a sweeping dogleg left, reachable par-5 that plays 521 yards. The 8th is another great par-3 with a very long green that can play under 100 yards or more than 150 yards. Next up is the tempting par-4 9th. At 271 yards, it begs long-hitters to try and drive its memorably and difficult green.

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The back nine starts with two difficult, long par-4s at 434 and 408 yards, respectively. The par-4 12th (471 yards) is followed by the reachable par-5 13th (505 yards). The good player should be happy to walk away from those two holes in nine strokes no matter how they occur.

After the excellent par-3 14th hole, golfers get back to the half-par holes. The long, uphill par-4 15th measures 454 yards. The 16th is a standout par-3 on a course with a fantastic set of par 3’s, but it plays very difficult at 184 yards and uphill. The 17th is a mid-range, 380-yard par-4 and the golfer finishes on another half-par, a par-5 that’s 505 yards. There’s plenty of opportunities for birdies, but you’ll have to grind out tough pars as well.

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Walking the Red course is very easy; the terrain is not flat, but the greens and tees are generally right next to each other. The greens are all very interesting and well-contoured without being too undulated. Many of them have organic shapes that are different than the normal square, rectangle or circular shaped greens golfers see on most courses. The landing areas are generous off the tee and somewhat forgiving on small misses around the greens. Large misses are punished, but generally the punishment is well-deserved.

Blue Course

The Blue course, which tips at 7,176, was designed by Tom Doak, who is also a minimalist designer. The two things that stood out the most to us on the Blue course were the great mix of short holes and the large, severely undulating greens.

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Blue Course: Hole No. 7

The 1st, 6th and 13th are all standout short par 4s, and the 5th hole is a fantastic, character-filled par 3 with a very large green that can play one of a 100 ways depending on the hole location and wind.

The greens are large but missing them, even by a small margin, can create very difficult recoveries. I found walking the Blue course to be a little more difficult, especially the 7th hole where golfers are forced to walk across a bridge to the green and then basically retrace their steps to get to the 8th tee. The course has a mostly natural appearance, though some abrupt landforms from the mine are a little jarring.

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Railroad tracks are used as tee markers to remember the phosphate mines that once occupied the property.

The ground game is an option on many of the holes as they are open coming into the greens. The course has some standout holes, but also a few that we didn’t like as much.

Summary

In comparing the two courses, we found that we preferred the Red over the Blue, though we definitely enjoyed both. We enjoyed the walk on the Red, and it’s a little easier to play with a better flow to it. We also preferred the greens on the Red, as we found them to be more reasonable. Some of the greens on Blue were a little too much for us, while the greens on the Red felt more like an older, golden-age course.

Both courses had a great mix of holes, and Blue has a few of my favorite holes on the property including my favorite three-hole stretch: holes Nos. 4-6. If given the chance to play 10 rounds, I would split them 6-4 in favor of the Red course.

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Wonderful landing areas and fabulous green complexes.

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Generous fairways make for more fun in the designs.

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The forced carry on this par-3 will make for memories.

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No trees and all heather. Just a touch of links in middle Florida.

The greens were in great shape in early March. We didn’t have a stimp meter, but we were told they were running at an 11.

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Ahhh… for real? Yep, and she was a biggy. Looked like a small elk for breakfast.

Streamsong has one of the better caddie programs golf has to offer. The cost is $80 to $100 per bag, plus gratuities. If golfers choose a cart, they’re required to have a forecaddie, which cost between $25 and $50 per bag plus gratuities.

We walked all four rounds, played 36 holes one day, and finished each round in 4 hours or less — no complaints here! One of our group members actually hoofed his own gear for the 36-hole day. Another registered 33,302 steps on his FitBit, and it’s still his record of steps for one day.

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The professional caddies will add frosting to the Streamsong cake.

I know many caddies from great northern clubs go south in the winter looking for loops. Streamsong is not a bargain, so they must know the clientele will be strong. We kept the same caddies for our entire stay, got to know them well and by the end of the battle we felt as if we had developed new friends. They probably all carry single-digit handicaps as well, and were great guys who certainly made our trip that much better.

Lastly

All this for nothing? Not quite. With rooms starting above $300 a night, many golfers will balk at the price tag to stay on site. If they can afford it, they might want to reconsider. The convenience of being a shuttle ride from the first hole and range is worth something.

Still, rooms are pricey, and a round of golf will cost $100 to $225 depending on the time of year. We can say, however, that it was one of our better golf experiences. Well-traveled golfers looking to play as many holes as possible will love Streamsong, where everything is ridiculously convenient and they won’t need to leave the property.

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The crew. The masochist that carried his own bag for 36 holes in one day is Ari on the right.

We suggest golfers make their plans well in advance, especially if they’re are thinking of playing 36 holes per day during the winter months. It requires marquis tee times, and those need to be planned accordingly.

Streamsong is also planning for the future. Construction has begun on the Black Course, which is designed by renowned architect Gil Hanse and scheduled to open in 2017. Hanse has said it will have a “linksy” feel like the other courses on property. Personally, we can’t wait, and there are rumors of a fourth course right after it.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Jeremy

    Nov 16, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    I am fortunate enough to only live a little over an hour away from Streaming. I have only played once but what a top notch facility! I can’t comment on lodging and misc. activities but for golf, you simply can’t beat it. It gets a little pricey after you pay for green fees, caddie and tip but definitely worth checking it out. This would be a great long weekend destination!

  2. Imanoff

    Nov 16, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Very nice review!

    That particular par-3 looks familiar to me. Is that the one that featuring Justin Rose/Ashworth ads?

  3. Al Snow

    Nov 16, 2015 at 10:28 am

    You definitely have to keep your eyes on the Streamsong website. While in season (December through Easter) you will pay a premium on golf and resort rooms, but bargains are to be had during the shoulder seasons and during the summer months. Florida residents also receive some great pricing outside of the peak season.

  4. Jerry K

    Nov 15, 2015 at 7:36 am

    I agree that Streaming is pure golf very similar to Bandon with better weather. I believe the caddie fee quoted is for a forecaddie when taking a cart while the carry rate was at least double that. Should also note that carts have significant restrictions during the season.

  5. JH Holmes

    Nov 14, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Not sure where you got that caddie cost but I played there in June and it was $80-100 per bag. And thats whats currently listed on their website. Definitely worth it though – every caddie we had was A+.

    But it seems like this review is for a trip actually in early March – so maybe the prices changed.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Nov 15, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      JH,

      Thanks for letting us know. We have updated the review to reflect Streamsong’s current caddie prices.

  6. Michael

    Nov 14, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    I’m going to be visiting family in Orlando in May next year. It will be my first visit to Florida. I’m hoping to convince my wife that I need to make the journey to Streamsong. This review will hopefully help sway her. From what I’ve been told and read it is definitely worth the expense and effort to get there. The two courses look magnificent. Fingers crossed.

    • Paul Seifert

      Nov 15, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      Your wife will love it! Unlike Bandon and many other world-class golf resorts, Streamsong has a fantastic infinity pool, spa and food/beverage experience that the non-golfing spouse looking for leisure will absolutely love.

      Get it on the books. While the golf experience is phenomenal, the resort is every bit as good!

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19th Hole

15 things to know before booking your Bandon Dunes golf trip

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Bandon Dunes. Almost from the day it opened, the passion project on the Oregon coast by developers Michael Keiser and Howard McKee has been one of the most sought-after golf destinations in the world. Fast forward, and the resort now boasts 5 courses, three of which are rated in the top 10 public courses in America. It started with Bandon Dunes, arguably the first true links course in the United States. Designed by Scottish wunderkind David McLay Kidd. It is the embodiment of pure golf, a revolution and a revival at the same time. If you woke up on the first tee and didn’t know where you were, you would swear that you were on one of the great courses of the Emerald Isle or bonny Scotland.

After Bandon Dunes came Pacific Dunes, the Tom Doak masterpiece that debuted in 2001 with more ocean views than the QE2 and now ranks only behind Pebble Beach among public courses in the United States. Pacific Dunes is as stunningly beautiful as a Hollywood starlet and, when the prevailing North wind is blowing, about as difficult to approach.

Then came Old Macdonald, another links gem that ranks number 10 in the country but may have the most passionate following of all of the courses. Even though it’s only been around for about a decade, it has an old soul. Old Macdonald is a course completely without pretense; walking it is in so many ways like a walk through life, full of beauty and fraught with danger, moments of glory and of potential four-putt despair. Like all great links layouts, Old Macdonald can be successfully navigated by players of all abilities and styles.

And there is the classic parkland beauty of Bandon Trails by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the partnership that is dropping a trail of golf magic from coast to coast. The cherry on top is Bandon Preserve, the 13-hole short course that is a condensed version of the original and now ranks as the No. 1 short course in the U.S., just ahead of a 9-hole course in Augusta, Georgia that is reasonably difficult to book a tee time for.

Most people rightly compare the Bandon experience to Ireland or Scotland; the golf is stellar no matter which course you play, it is surprisingly affordable, and the off-course amenities are as memorable as the courses themselves. Truth of the matter is that from the East Coast it’s easier to get to Dublin than it is to get to Bandon. But once you get to Ireland you’d have to spend days moving from hotel to hotel on roads the size of cart paths in order to get the level of golf that is available within a five minute shuttle ride of your hotel room at Bandon Dunes. With the golf, the food, and the camaraderie, you are almost guaranteed to have a memorable golf experience at Bandon Dunes. But there are a few ways that you can 100 percent guarantee that it will be extra special…for your consideration, I present some tips to assure a perfect Bandon Experience.

1) Be prepared to walk

With only the rare exception (two or three rounds a day), all of the courses at Bandon Dunes are walking courses and they are not an easy walk . One round takes you on a 5+ mile walk up and down the dunes, and if you plan to play 36 holes on at least one day (see below), it will take a toll on your body. Walk some rounds or get on a treadmill to prepare before you get to Oregon and bring plenty of your preferred pain medication.

2) Book during May or December

The weather on the Oregon coast can be unpredictable to say the least, even in the summer months when tee times are the most expensive and difficult to secure. Booking in the shoulder season means not only greater availability; it’s also about 30% cheaper. And Bandon veterans know that there are days in December when warm Southerly winds bring weather when you can play in shirtsleeves.

3) Bring the proper gear

As mentioned above, the weather at Bandon is predictable and unpredictable at the same time in that you know it’s going to rain but you just don’t know exactly when or how much. Bring quality rain gear and plenty of changes of shirts and socks.

4) Fly into Eugene and drive to Bandon

Coming from the East Coast you can fly into Portland (4-hour drive) or North Bend (30-minute drive), but the best option is Eugene, about a 2-hour drive to Bandon. It is a gorgeous drive that will have you stopping often to snap pictures of some of America’s most beautiful scenery.

5) Stop at the Sugar Shack in Reedsport and SharkBite’s Seafood Cafe in Coos Bay

Ok, it’s going to take more than 2 hours from Eugene because you will have to make a couple of stops. The Sugar Shack in Reedsport is an old-school bakery that has warm service, hot coffee and some of the best donuts you have ever tasted. If you are feeling lucky try the Bigfoot, a donut that is roughly the size of an Air Jordan. And just outside Bandon in the town of Coos Bay is the SharkBite’s Seafood Cafe, a relaxed little joint that offers hand-crafted cocktails and quesadillas the size of a boogie board.

6) Stay for at least 4 days and play every course at least once

This is especially true if you are from the East Coast. It is a long trip, maybe once in a lifetime, and there are multiple courses to play. There are some hardy souls that plan 2-3 day trips with 36 holes or more per day. That’s ambitious at best and potentially self-destructive. Plan for at least three days of 18 holes and at least one day of 36.

7) Play The Punchbowl

The Punchbowl is an 18-hole putting course that has become an end of day ritual for Bandon regulars. It’s a great place to have a drink (brought to you on the course from the clubhouse), smoke a stogie and make a friendly wager or two. I find watching a group of good friends play the Punchbowl, with the laughter and shouts of friendship as a soundtrack to the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, almost relaxing as playing.

8) Have the Lamb Stew at McKee’s Pub

Howard McKee, along with Mike Keiser, was the visionary developer who brought Bandon into being. A gifted architect and an exceptional human being, McKee passed away in 2007 at the age of 68. He is remembered by all who knew him and his spirit lives at McKees Pub. Located near the clubhouse for Bandon Dunes, McKees feels like stepping into a pub in Edinburgh, and tastes like it too. Everything on the menu is good but try the Lamb Stew, a big bowl of slow cooked goodness. You will gain the wonder and admiration of your friends of you finish it.

9) Play At Least One Solo Round

Bandon is all about spending time with old friends and making new ones. That said, I find the solitary round at either the beginning or end of the day to be like going to church. If you have time, book a late afternoon round at Old Macdonald. Walking alone with only your clubs and your thoughts will give you time to truly appreciate how wonderful our game truly is…and how lucky you are to be able to experience it.

10) Book a Massage

On some golf trips, many guys think of massage as something that the significant other goes for while they are out on the course. But after several days of navigating the ups and downs at Bandon the muscles will be screaming for relief. Book a massage at the on- property spa and you’ll get welcome relief.

11) Budget for the Pro Shops

Five courses, five logos and thousands of great gift options await at Bandon. If you are a collector of shirts you might want to bring an extra suitcase for the gear you are going to bring back. Like Vegas, set a limit before you go in the door and walk away when that number is spent.

12) Collect Cheap Souvenirs

Like I said souvenirs can be a costly business, especially if you are buying for friends as well as yourself. Scorecards, ball markers and even empty water bottles are frugal ways to score some memorabilia for your buddies back home.

13) Have a Cigar in The Bunker Bar

As the name suggests, The Bunker Bar is located on the lower floor of the Bandon Dunes clubhouse. There isn’t a lot of signage for it and on the stairs down it seems like you are going to end up in a storage room. But what you find is a cozy retreat that features poker tables, pool tables and a bar with a skilled bartender and a first-class collection of spirits. And since you can smoke indoors there, feel free to channel your inner Don Draper and try one of the fine choices offered at the bar or bring one of your own.

14) Bring a Phone Battery Charger or a Camera on the Course

The courses at Bandon are one big photo op, and you don’t have to be a pro to take snapshots that are magazine worthy. Taking all those snaps will drain your phone battery faster than a pony keg at a frat party so bring a battery pack or a dedicated camera so that you won’t be cameraless when you find yourself standing in front of the perfect sunset.

15) Hit The Boat for Fish and Chips

On the drive home, stop at The Boat Restaurant in Coos Bay. This little gem is packed with locals munching on the some of the best fish and chips in the area. While you wait for your grub you can take a quick stroll through the train museum next door.

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Courses

You’ve never played anything like Sweetens Cove

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What do you say about a 3,300-yard, nine-hole course in rural Tennessee with a prefabricated shed for a clubhouse, a port-a-john for a locker room, and a practice green the size of a coffee table? For starters, it’s the most enjoyable golf experience I’ve had in years.

Sweetens Cove isn’t the kind of course where you can say, “Well, it’s like a little bit of this course and that one put together.” It will never be called “a classic so-and-so design.” I’ve played everything from munis to tour stops all the way to the Old Course, and I can promise you it’s not like anything else you’ve ever played.

Picture a world-class, challenging, and ridiculously fun golf course. Now strip off the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, the pro shop, the driving range, the short game area, and even the superfluous nine holes you can’t remember anyway. Now, go ahead and shave another 300 yards off the tips. That may sound sacrilegious, but once you’ve distilled the experience into only what is necessary, you’re left with something that takes you back to when you first fell in love with golf. Maybe even something that takes you back to the birth of golf itself.

A view of the sixth green at Sweetens Cove looking back toward the tee box. Photo Credit: Rob Collins

Rob Collins is the man behind the course’s creation. When he started the project, it was May 2011 and golf was in a full recession. Courses were closing their doors, companies were struggling to make ends meet, and Rob was betting everything he had on his brand new company (King Collins Golf Course Design, a partnership with Tad King) and their first project of turning a forgettable muni called Sequatchie Valley G&CC into something memorable.

I was inspired by my favorite courses in Great Britain and Ireland along with Pinehurst No. 2 and Tobacco Road, to name a few domestic courses that provided inspiration,” Rob said.  “Additionally, the 1932 version of Augusta National was a huge inspiration for the architecture. The overall goal was to create a great strategic course that places a premium on approach and recovery shots. Hazards, angles, and green contours all work in concert with one another, laying the foundation for a course where there are no weak or indifferent shots during one’s round.” 

Happily, Rob and Tad’s endeavor fared much better than many of their contemporaries’ projects in the wake of the 2008 recession, though it did have many twists and turns along the way. Chief among them was in 2013, roughly a year after construction was completed, when the ownership group disbanded and left the course for dead.

I was desperate to do anything that I could to get the course open,” Rob said.  “The course was my baby, and I believed that what we had created out there was architecturally significant and deserved to see the light of day. As it turned out, my client [the original ownership] approached me and asked if I would like to take the course over on a long-term lease. I said yes to that proposition and set about trying to find a partner for the venture. I was introduced to Ari Techner through the former superintendent at Lookout Mountain, Mark Stovall. Ari and I hit it off and partnered in a venture to take over operations of the course.  Since that time, our partnership has expanded and includes Patrick Boyd as General Manager as well as a few others.” 

Once securing new ownership, Sweetens Cove took off on a consistent upward trajectory that even has it ranked above some major championship venues in certain publications.

The pot bunker to the left of Sweetens Cove’s fifth green, appropriately nicknamed “The Devil’s A**hole.” Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

Admittedly, arriving at Sweetens Cove for the first time can be a disorienting experience for the recovering country clubber. Meandering through a town of 3,000 people in the East Tennessee foothills, you find a wooden sign marking the entrance that guides you to a gravel parking lot with no marked spaces. Stumbling out of the car, you find a curious hunter green shed for a clubhouse that might lead you to question all the buzz you’ve seen on social media. The walk from your car to the clubhouse, though, provides the perfect perch to gaze out on the King Collins creation… and you start to realize that maybe there’s really something to this place.

When you embark on your journey, you encounter absolutely no resemblance to the mechanical, formulaic assembly of a typical, rubber-stamped golf course design. Instead, you’ll find massive waste areas, perfectly placed pot bunkers, and a movement to the land that captures the imagination. The greens are equally receptive to flop shots and bump-and-runs, but they demand a precise execution of either choice.

The bermudagrass fairways are relatively firm and generously-sized, but uneven lies are a common occurrence. Should you find yourself outside those fairways, prepare to take your medicine. Waiting for you there are those waste areas, as well as tall fescue and even clover and thistle in some areas. While some may scoff at such a notion, this is a microcosm of Sweetens Cove’s ethos. It’s a palace for the golfing purist: a minimalist, essential experience that harkens back to when golf geniuses like Old Tom Morris knew exactly where (and where not) to focus their energy. If something adds to the golfing experience, Sweetens Cove has it in spades. If it doesn’t add to the golfing experience, the folks at Sweetens Cove don’t bother.

Sweetens Cove course layout designed by Tom Young at Ballpark Blueprints. Image property of Ballpark Blueprints, Ltd.

The opening hole (pictured to the far left of the above image) is a par-5 of 563 yards. It’s a three-shot hole for most mortals, but your best chance of getting home in two is to start by carrying the bunker on the left about 270 yards off the tee. Be very careful about how you approach the green. It’s guarded by a gnarly pot bunker bordered by vertical railroad ties. The green on this hole is a foreshadowing of what’s to come on the next eight with bounding ridges and multiple potential pin locations that each provide a totally different perspective.

The greenside bunker at Sweetens Cove’s first hole, nicknamed “The Mitre” after its resemblance to the Pope’s hat. Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

The second hole is a par-4 of 375 yards, and the star of the show is the nastiest little pot bunker. It’s placed squarely in the middle of the fairway about 260 yards from the tee. If you miss it, you’re likely fine, but if you don’t… well, good luck. The smart play is hybrid off the tee to stay short of the bunker, leaving yourself a short iron into the green.

No. 3 is a par-5 of 582 yards. Feel free to let fly with the driver off the tee, but beware how you approach the green. The green is perched high above the fairway and guarded by a massive tree in front and a waste area to the left. If the pin is located on the left side of the green, you’re in for a surprise when you walk up to the flag. The ideal landing area isn’t much larger than a couple hundred square feet.

No. 4, King, is the only hole with a name. It’s a 169-yard par-3 according to the card, but the green is 90 yards long. The shot can play anywhere from 120-200 yards depending on pin location and the direction of the swirling winds. And did I mention the tee shot is blind from the tips?

View of the fourth hole, King, from the tee box. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 5 is a 293-yard par-4. For longer hitters, it’s reachable from the tee with the right wind, but be careful where you miss. Short right of the green is all waste area that is relatively escapable, though your second shot will likely be to a blind pin. Short left is another nasty pot bunker.

No. 6 is a massive 456-yard par-4 with a sweeping dogleg left that tempts you to hit a hard draw. What you are likely to find out after the fact is that a good portion of the fairway slopes to the left and into a water hazard that runs the length of the hole. This will be one of the hardest holes on the course for most golfers. The only way to miss this green and still be in play is to be short and/or right of it, but getting up and down from there will definitely test your nerves, skill, and imagination.

No. 7 is a 328-yard par-4. It’s all about what club you select off the tee. Driver straight at the flag (which must carry a bunker on the right) is aggressive but likely safe. A driver left will leave you with that dreaded 60-yard bunker shot, and driver right could be behind a tree. Be smart and hit a hybrid. If you miss the green left or right, you may waste a shot or two going back and forth due to the steep drop off on either side.

No. 8 was my personal nemesis. It’s a 387-yard par-4 that, in retrospect, places an emphasis on an accurately planned tee shot (notice a theme here?). By that I mean at the tee, you need to evaluate where the pin is and pick the club and line that will give you the best angle — while keeping in mind the location of the bunkers and trees that could impact your intended path.

The eighth green at Sweetens Cove. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 9 is an uphill, 148-yard par-3 with a massive waste area in front, another bunker beyond, and a back-right to front-left sloping green. Matt Cardis’ photo below from his @golfinyourstate Instagram account is taken from the No. 9 tee box.

A course with virtually no excess is a challenging proposition. Everything has to be in exactly the right place, as there’s nothing to divert your attention away from anything that doesn’t meet expectations. Sweetens Cove is definitely up to the task, forcing you to constantly zoom in and out mentally to evaluate the macro and micro of every single shot. There are no less than three shots that can be played from any given situation on the course, but you had better commit to the strategy you’ve chosen and execute or you will pay the price.

The entire journey is spent on the razor-thin edge between heroism and disappointment. Sure, there are elements of this designer and that designer; of links golf and American golf, but Sweetens Cove is truly a golf course without a parallel. It’s a place that serves as a refreshing counter-culture to the vast majority of 21st-century golf courses and, frankly, to the American lifestyle in general. In a world with so much excess, Sweetens Cove will remind you that if all you had left was just a fantastic golf course, all would still be very much right with the world.

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The Winds of Change At Shinnecock Hills

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Two-hundred and seventy-six. That’s the number of strokes it took for Retief Goosen to secure his second U.S. Open Title in 2004, but the number of strokes is the last thing anyone would remember from that year’s toughest test in golf. Take this article from ESPN’s David Kraft and Peter Lawrence-Riddell summing up the final round of Goosen’s triumph:

“The seventh green at Shinnecock Hills was so hard to play for the first two groups Sunday morning that USGA officials decided to water it between every pairing for the final round of the U.S. Open.”

Just as with the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot,” the 2004 U.S. Open will forever be remembered as the day the USGA dropped the ball. The USGA claimed that the seventh had been “inadvertently rolled” on Saturday. Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee at the time, told reporters on Saturday, “I found out after play was completed today that, for some reason, a different person on the grounds staff rolled that green today despite the orders that we had given not to roll the green.” Even a typically mild-mannered Jerry Kelly had harsh words, according to the same ESPN piece, “They lied [Saturday],” said Jerry Kelly, who finished with an 81 after shooting 71 Saturday. “Talked to the superintendent. Superintendent said, ‘Hey, I’m not getting in the middle of this. They told me to roll it.’”

Whether the grounds crew was told to roll the seventh green or not, it gave up three triple bogies in the first two groups, so the USGA watered it between each group for the rest of the day. As the 2018 U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since that fateful day, the USGA looks to redeem itself this year. With some subtle changes, maybe they can.

In 2004, Shinnecock played 6,996 yards at par 70. In the past 14 years, there have been no major renovations to the course, but once the decision was made to bring the Open back to one of the founding clubs of the USGA, the American Governing body was determined to ensure Shinnecock was presented with its best foot forward. According to a Golfweek report from October of 2017, the following changes have been made to accommodate not only the tournament but the redemption of a reputation:

  • There are 17 new back tees that will stretch the course from the previous 6,996 yards to a total length of 7,445 yards.
  • The par-4 14th hole has been extended 76 yards and will now play 519 yards. The par-5 16th will now play 616 yards.
  • While the fairways will still be more generous than most U.S. Opens, they have been narrowed by Shinnecock’s standard. They will play between 28-32 yards on average.
  • The greens have not been recontoured, but on the greens with the “most severe contouring,” an extended collar of rough has been added between the edge of the greens and the greenside bunkers.

With the course is still expected to play at a par of 70, it will likely be a tougher test than 2017’s expose at Erin Hills, even if there is little wind. In 2004, all eyes were on the par-3 seventh on Sunday. From the time the first minute of Live From The U.S. Open airs on TV, all eyes will be on the same hole: 189 yards with a raised green that runs away from the players and to the right… but so much more.

As there always is with the U.S. Open, the course will be a character in the story more so than any other championship. Hale Irwin won his first of three majors (all U.S. Opens) at the “Massacre at Winged” with a score of seven over par, and 32 years after that championship Peter McCleery of ESPN was still writing about it. And with Shinnecock hosting the U.S. Open the year after Brooks Koepka swept the field with a 16-under par victory at a helpless Erin Hills, who knows what will happen as the horses are released from the gates on Sunday of this year’s U.S. Open?

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