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Opinion & Analysis

Ari’s Course Reviews: Trinity Forest Golf Club

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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.

Hole No. 10 at Trinity Forest

Related: Check out our hole-by-hole photos of the front nine and back nine

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.

The tee shot at the par-3 2nd hole

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 tee shot on hole No. 3 at Trinity Forest

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.

Hole No. 12 at Trinity Forest

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.

Check out more photos of the course here: Front Nine and the Back Nine

Other Course Reviews from Ari

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Ari Techner has been obsessed with golf since he was a kid. His first job was at Carls Golfland picking the range as a 14 year old. He attended the University of Michigan and then the Professional Golf Management program at Ferris State University. At 23, only a little more than a year after graduating from college, he founded Scratch Golf Clubs where he served as President/CEO for 13 years. He is one of the world's most accomplished Club HOs having once completed a 4 round tournament with 4 different putters and finishing in the top 5. He is happy to be free of the shackles of Scratch Golf, giving him the opportunity to HO more than just drivers and fairway woods again! The only thing Ari loves more than golf clubs is golf courses. He has traveled all over the world playing golf, having played most of the USA Top 100 and most of the great courses in Ireland, Scotland and England. He is currently the Director of Business Development for King Collins Golf Course Architecture an up and coming design firm responsible for Sweetens Cove Golf Club the 59th ranked course on Golf Week's Top 100 list and only the 2nd 9 hole course to ever make the list. When he first played Sweetens Cove he was so impressed with the work that King Collins had done that he became a part of the ownership group when the opportunity presented itself. He is also a member at 4 courses in the USA Top 100 including 2 in the Top 20 and a Royal club in the UK that was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1864.

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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