Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
This week, the PGA Tour makes its way to Trinity Forest for the Byron Nelson. Trinity Forest is the newest course played on Tour; it just opened for play in the fall of 2016. The course was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and the native Texans have created an incredible, links-style course that plays firm and fast, and it requires the golf ball to be played along the ground as much as in the air.
I’ve been lucky enough to play Trinity Forest a number of times now, and I can honestly say it is one of my favorite courses to play in the country. It is filled with variety, angles and strategy and allows me to play similar to how I’d play in Scotland or Ireland, which is the style I prefer to play.
Most of my favorite courses are built on great sites. Whether it’s along the ocean in California or Oregon, or in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, or along the Sebonak Bay in New York, most of the top courses start with a great piece of real estate. Trinity Forest was the opposite. The course is built on what was an active landfill until the mid 1960s. From the time the landfill closed until they started working on the course in 2014, it was used as an unauthorized dump site for many of the local citizens of South Dallas. You could find all kinds of things on the site including large appliances and boats… there was even an old car on what is now the 17th green.
Building the course was quite the undertaking due to the unique traits of the land. The entire site was capped by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers with an impenetrable cap, preserving the natural humps and rolls of the property. Then the entire property was covered with a minimum of 2 feet of sand. Due to the cap over the ground, Coore and Crenshaw could not dig down into the ground at all when building the course — they had to build up instead. They basically had to identify the lowest point of the lowest bunker floor and build the entire course up from there. They also could not plant any trees. They were told to make the course long enough for the PGA Tour but were given free reign to design the course how they wanted. This was not a course built with the Tour’s continuous input. The only change the Tour made was to switch the nines from the original design so the tournament finished in front of the clubhouse. This is how the course plays day-to-day now for the members, also.
A new strain of grass was also invented just for the course and the desired firm and fast conditions. Being located in Dallas, the developer and designers knew that the normal warm weather Bermuda or Zoysia would not provide the desired conditions. So they invented what is now called Trinity Zoysia, which is a shallow root Zoysia hybrid that comes very close to imitating the seaside Fescue playing surfaces you see on true links courses.
The resulting course is a modern links gem of the finest order. There are very few places in the USA that you can play an authentic links game and it is shocking to find that one of them in Dallas, Texas.
Aside from my obvious enthusiasm for the firm and fast conditions, the course itself is fantastic. It has a tremendous amount of variety and a spectacular set of green complexes. From many places on the course, the best way to get the ball close to the hole is to use the contours of the ground instead of going through the air.
Trinity has one of the best sets of par 3s anywhere. Hole No. 2 plays around 200 yards for the members with a carry over a large bunker that ends 25 yards or so short of the green. The ground tilts to the right and the ideal shot lands short and left of the hole, then chases on and to the right. Hole No. 8 is one of the best super short par 3s in the world. It plays around 100 yards to an incredibly unique green that is split into two bowl-like sections; the left bowl is about twice the size of the tiny right side. The green falls away and to the right at the front, and a golf ball landing short will chase on and stay on the green. The 12th hole plays around 185 yards over a little valley to a green that is long and narrow, and slopes back-to-front and hard right-to-left. The ideal shot is a draw that lands on the right side of the green, or on the short grass right of the green, and uses the contour of the ground to kick onto the green close to the hole. The 17th hole plays about 170 yards for the members to a double-tiered green that slopes hard from front-to-back and right-to-left. If the hole is in the front section, you must land the ball short left of the green and let the ball kick on to get it to stay on that level. To a back hole location, a ball that lands on the front will bound over the hill to the back section. Trinity Forest has a very unique and amazing set of par 3s and it will be very interesting to watch the pros tackle these holes.
As for the five-pars, there will be three of them for the Byron Nelson, and they are all great holes. Hole Nos. 1 and 7 are both mid-length par fives where the optimal line is close to the hazards off the tee. The first hole has a big, round, heavily contoured green, while the 7th green sits on the side of a hill more naturally, but it can be just as devious if you miss in the wrong place. The 14th is one of the best holes on the course and one that has given me fits; it’s a par 5 that plays between 550-600 yards depending on the tee and plays uphill to a fairway that is split in the middle by a nasty, deep large bunker. More bunkers flank the right and left side. The golfer must make a decision as to where to place their tee shot and then pull off the shot as they imagined, or find themselves in a very difficult situation with their second shot. The next shot goes over and down the hill with a ton of room left and more bunkers right. The ideal line is close to the bunkers and the green falls away from front-to-back, but is very deceptive as it doesn’t look like it falls away nearly as much as it does. This is a very tricky green that I have 3 putted, or putted over the green into the bunker, more than I care to admit. A putt from the front of the green to the back looks at first glance to be slightly uphill but plays very much downhill. This is a great example of some of the subtlety at Trinity Forest that will be tough for the players to pickup after only a practice round or two.
The par 4s are also fantastically varied. Hole No. 3 is a mid-length hole with a bunker cutting sideways directly in the line of play off the tee, and it has a huge, double green shared with the 11th hole. Hole No. 4 is a long hole that plays along a fall off on the right side to a fall away green with danger everywhere. The 5th hole is a world class short hole that plays less than 300 yards to a tiny pushup green set behind an imposing bunker where many people walk away frustrated with a par or much worse. The sixth is one of my favorite holes, with a wide fairway split in the middle by a couple bunkers to a wide green with a false front and fall away in the back half; the strategy off the tee is entirely based on that day’s hole location. Closing out the front nine, hole No. 9 is a very long uphill hole with a fantastic green where the second shot must land right of the green over a couple scary bunkers set about 40 yards short of the green and use the contours to chase your ball onto the green.
The back nine opens with a mid-length hole that plays as a slight dogleg right around some really cool, scar-type bunkers with an oval shaped, slightly pushed up green with fantastic contours on and around it. Hole No. 11 plays as a long par 4 for the Byron Nelson but as a 5 for the members. The hole opens up past a couple of fairway bunkers off the tee and plays to the right half of the large green shared by the third hole. This is another green with fantastic internal contouring my favorite of which is the ridge that just rings the right and back edge of the right side of the green and can be used to get the ball close to hole locations on that part of the green. The 13th hole is another long hole that doglegs slightly to the left with a rolling fairway that is interrupted about 125 yards short of the green by a natural grass area and a dirt path. The green tilts from right-to-left with trouble left of the green and short grass right. No. 15 goes uphill off the tee between a couple of bunkers up to a small pushup green with falloff on all sides. The 16th doglegs to the right between some bunkers and has a small, organically-shaped green with a falloff in the back that reminds me of the restoration work Coore/Crenshaw have done at Shinnecock Hills. Lastly, No. 18 is a long and straight hole with a minefield of bunkers along the right side and a green that falls slightly from front-to-back and hard left-to-right. A great finishing hole for the tournament or a casual round between friends.
All-in-all, Trinity Forest is just a fantastic course that promotes everything I love about strategic, firm and fast golf. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw deserve MAJOR kudos for creating such and amazing golf course in such an unlikely location. The tournament this week, which I was told will be setup very much like a major championship, will be very unique and exciting to watch and I for one cannot wait to watch it all unfold.
Other Course Reviews from Ari
Gear Dive: How Tiger Woods used to adjust his clubs based on swing changes
Ben Giunta, a former Nike Tour Rep and now owner of the TheTourVan.com, joins host Johnny Wunder and TXG’s Ian Fraser on this episode of The Gear Dive. Ben discusses working in-depth with Nike Athletes before the company stopped producing hard goods. He has some fantastic intel on TW and the setup of his sticks (around the 14-minute mark). They also discuss Ben’s new endeavor.
Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
The 2018 NCAA Men’s National Championship: By the Numbers
For the 2018 NCAA Men’s Championship, 156 participants (30 teams of five, and six individuals) will collect at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma on May 25-30 to determine the 2018 NCAA Individual Champion and the NCAA Team champion.
There will be three days of stroke play on Friday through Sunday (54 holes). From there, 15 teams and nine individuals advance to a final day of stroke play on Monday. That will determine the eight teams who will advance to match play, and the individual 72-hole stroke play champion. Match play format on Tuesday and Wednesday will then determine the national team champion.
Who will win? Well, let’s look at the numbers from the NCAA Men’s Championships in the past 9 years (when they began playing match play as part of the national title).
Average winning score for individual stroke play
- For 3 rounds of stroke play — 832 strokes (avg. 69.3 per golfer)
- For 4 rounds of stroke play — 1137 strokes (avg. 71.06 per golfer)
Number of No. 1 seeds to win championship: 0
Average match play seed of eventual winner: 4.5
Where the winners have come from
- 44 percent of winners (4 out of 9) are from the SEC: Texas AM (2009), Alabama (2013, 2014) and LSU (2015)
- 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from the Big 12: Texas (2012), Oklahoma (2017)
- 22 percent of winners (2 out of 9) are from Augusta, GA: August State (2010, 2011)
- 11 percent of winners (1 out of 9) are from the PAC 12: Oregon (2016)
- 11 percent of the match play field has historically come from mid-major teams
Mid-Majors that have Qualified for Match Play
- August State (2010, 2011)
- Kent State (2012)
- San Diego State (2012)
- New Mexico University (2013)
- SMU (2014)
- UNLV (2017)
Mid Majors with 4+ Appearances in the NCAA National Championship
- UCF (2009, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018)
- Kent State (2010, 201, 2013, 2017, 2018)
- North Florida (2010, 2012, 2013, 2018)
So with facts in hand, let’s hear your opinion GolfWRX readers… who’s going to be your team champion for 2018?
Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational
Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Jordan Spieth 9/1
- Jon Rahm 14/1
- Justin Rose 18/1
- Webb Simpson 18/1
- Rickie Fowler 20/1
- Jimmy Walker 28/1
- Adam Scott 28/1
Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.
Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.
Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.
Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.
As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.
Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.
Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.
Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.
- Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
- Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
- Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
- Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price $7,100
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