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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

I’m practicing. Why am I not getting better at golf?

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We all want to improve our golf games; we want to shoot lower scores, make more birdies and win bragging rights from our friends. As a result, we practice and invest many hours in trying to improve. However, do we improve as quickly as we want to? Is there something we’ve been missing?

“The secret is in the dirt,” Ben Hogan said. And he was right. To date, not one golfer has become an elite player without investing thousands of hours in improving their golf game. And yet, there are thousands of amateur golfers who practice every week and don’t get better. What is the difference? To me, this is a very interesting question. What underpins how or why we learn? Furthermore, how can we super-charge our rate of learning? 

To super-charge our learning, we must first realize that practice itself does not make us better at golf. This is an empty promise. It is close to the truth but incorrect. Instead, practice, when done correctly, will cause changes in our body to make us more skillful over time. This is a subtle, but important difference. There is no magic type of practice that universally builds skill, however, there are a handful of factors that can speed up, slow down or even stop your progress.

Remember: “You are not aiming to hit 50 balls; you are trying to become more skillful.”

There are the two major factors that stop golfers improving. Try not to view them as switches that are on or off. Instead, view both factors as sliding scales. The more you can fine-tune each factor, the faster you will improve your golf.

1) Give your body clear and precise feedback

What is 2 + 2? Imagine if you were never given the answer to this question at school. If you weren’t, you would never know the answer. Similarly, imagine you made a golf swing and the instant you hit the golf ball it disappeared. How would you know what to do on your next attempt to hit a straighter shot?

In both cases, feedback is the missing ingredient. Feedback comes from the shot outcome, watching the ball flight and many other sensations we get during our golf swing. As soon as our body does not have clear and precise feedback our learning will stop.

When we first learn to play golf, the feedback required to improve is simple – did the ball move at all, and did it get airborne? As we progress, we then need more precise feedback to keep developing our skill.

As a 20 handicapper, we need to know if the ball finished 10 or 15 yards right of our target. When we become an elite player, the requirement for feedback becomes even more stringent. The difference between a wedge shot landing 103 or 107 yards becomes important. This type of feedback, known as knowledge of results, is focused on the result of your golf shot.

“If your body can’t tell the difference between two outcomes, you will not make any changes – learning will not occur.”

To learn, we also require another form of feedback, known as knowledge of performance. In essence, your body needs to know what it did to cause “x.” Relevant practice drills, training aids and videoing your swing are all useful ways to increase feedback on performance. The best form of feedback, however, is an internal understanding of your swing and how it causes different ball flights. This is an implicit skill all great golfers master, and a by-product of many hours of diligent practice, refinement and understanding.

Many golfers hit a brick wall in their golfing journey when their practice stops providing the precise feedback they need to keep improving. They may not have enough information about their shot outcome, or they may not understand how the golf swing causes various shots. Both will completely halt your golfing progress.

Next time you practice, think of ways you can obtain clearer feedback. You don’t need Trackman by your side (although this can be helpful), but pay attention to where your shots finish during putting and chipping practice and note these trends. Find landmarks behind your golf range to gauge the lateral error of your long shots.

If you’re working on your swing path through the point of impact, one way of obtaining feedback on your performance is to place a bottle or a second ball on the ground. To put it simply, if the bottle/ball flies, you’ll know you’ve made a bad swing. Another way, if you are trying to improve your iron striking, is to place a towel one inch behind the ball to indicate whether or not you have hit the ground before the ball. These ideas are not mind-blowing, but trust me; they will speed up your rate of learning.

2) Make your practice suitably difficult

When you first go to the gym, lifting the lightest weight you can find is fine. But how much would your fitness improve if you were still lifting that same weight 12 months later? Now think of how your golf practice has changed over the past 12 months. If you were asked, could you explain the level of difficulty of your practice?

The reason many golfers can’t answer this question is they don’t have a good measure of success when they practice. Most golfers don’t have a quantifiable way to say “that shot I just hit was or wasn’t good enough.” Even fewer golfers have a way to say “this week my practice performance was 20 percent better than last week.” If you fall into this category, try the following game the next time you practice your long game.

Structure your practice so that you have set target zones (10 yards and 20 yards wide) with points for hitting each zone (3 and 1 points respectively). Take a set amount of balls (20 balls) and see how many points you can score with a 6-iron and a driver (10 balls with each). Each week, play this game and track your progress. We’ll call this game the “WRX Range Challenge.”

Set a goal for how many points you want to achieve. This goal should be challenging, but not impossible. When you reach this goal, make your target zones smaller and repeat the process. This way you can track your progress over time. As you make the target zones smaller and smaller, your body has to continually refine your swing to make it more effective.

Summary

We all want to improve our golf. We all want to get better at a quicker rate. The two factors discussed here are obvious and yet are not addressed by many golfers when they practice. Next time you head to the range or practice ground, ensure you have clear feedback on your shot outcome and golfing technique. Make your practice measurable, suitably difficult and enjoy watching your scores progress.

If you do try out the WRX Range Challenge, let us know. Post your score and a photo: #WRXrangechallenge @GolfWRX and me @golfinsideruk on Twitter and Instagram.

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The 19th Hole: What it’s like to play golf with a goat caddie

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Live from Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon for the Grand Opening of McVeigh’s Gauntlet and the debut of its goat caddies (yes, goats), host Michael Williams shares his experiences using a goat caddie. Guests include course architect Dan Hixson and Seamus Golf founder Akbar Chistie.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Bobby Clampett: “The 2 big problems with club fitting”

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Four million golfers are still quitting golf in the United States each year. My concern about this trend has led me to write several recent articles for GolfWRX. I’ve shared my thoughts because I believe much can be done to help golfers better understand the game, and most importantly, improve their games in ways that are not being done today.

The high frustration level of golfers is a leading cause of their giving up the game. I’ve talked about how I’ve learned this playing in over 200 pro-ams in my five years on the Champions Tour. I’ve discussed the sources of this confusion: style-based golf instruction with an over-abundance of swing tips, as well as confusing and conflicting swing theories offered on television and internet sources, etc. Another cause for concern that no one seems to talk about involves the way club fitting is typically done in our industry. While there are many examples of how improper club fitting causes issues and frustration, there are two main areas that desperately need to be addressed by fitters and even club manufacturers.

Problem 1: Clubs Designed to Correct a Slice

The first culprit is clubs that are designed to correct a slice. I’ve had several first-time students take lessons with me this season who had been recently fit for clubs from a wide range of club fitters. Some of these students had significant out-to-in swing paths through impact and all were chronic faders/slicers of the golf ball. The clubs recommended to them were “anti-slice” clubs. All the grips were small (standard size), and the woods (especially the drivers) were upright with the sliding weights put in the heel. The irons were “jacked-upright” as much as 8 degrees. All of these adjustments were made for the purpose of building in the ability to hit hooks.

Many of the woods with today’s improvement in technology can be easily altered with sliding or interchangeable weights. Adding weights into the heel slows the heel down through impact and allows the toe to close faster. Thinner grips also encourage the golfer to have more active hands and forearms causing the toe to close faster. While some of today’s adjustable woods do allow for a small bit of upright lie adjustment, it would be good if manufacturers went back to longer hosels that can be more lie-adjusted.

If the lie of the club is upright, more “hook” is built into the club through the principle that “loft is hook.” Additionally, the more the available “loft” of the club, the more the upright angle increases hook. So a set of clubs built 8 degrees upright has a very different directional profile with the 4-iron than with the wedge. This is a fact a well trained and experienced club fitter will take into consideration and properly apply.

Without correction, a wedge that is 8 degrees upright will really go left, while the 4-iron won’t have as much correction. Additionally, the uprightness of the club significantly reduces the sweet-spot, making the club less forgiving by increasing the chance that the ball will be struck lower in the face (which has a worse effect on long irons than short irons). Gear effect has now been proven to exist even in irons, and low-in-the-clubface hits will cause a gear effect fade, magnified with lower lofted clubs, even if the face and path are square. So, the uprightness of the club creates a bigger pull/hook in the wedge and the effect doesn’t really work in the longer irons. If fitters are going to use this approach, then short irons should be bent less upright and long irons more upright, but even so, this will reduce the sweet-spot in the longer irons and most golfers will really struggle to get the ball into the air since most of their hits will be low on the clubface.

I’ve had playing lessons with some of these students and have clearly seen how much farther to the left shots go when teeing the ball up, such as on a par-3. With the contact higher in the face, the contact has “zero” gear effect. The upright lie angle, combined with the loft of the club, sends the ball with a pull-hook way off target. This alone is enough of a source of confusion and frustration to send some golfers home, back to the tennis courts, to the card room, or whatever else might take the place of golf.

Additionally, golf clubs that are set to “lie angles” that are not square will not cut through the grass (when taking divots) as they are intended to do. For example, using the example above, if the lie angle of the club is set too upright and the shot is hit a little fat, the heel of the iron will dig or hit into the grass first, usually causing the heel to slow down while the toe of the club speeds up, thus closing the face and causing a big pull/hook. Different grass types, different firmness of grasses and different density of grasses can have differing effects, leading to increased inconsistencies of golfers and greater frustration levels.

Some club manufacturers have built game-improvement irons with bigger sweet-spots (with lower CG’s and higher MOI’s). When club fitters make the lie angle “off-square,” this improvement immediately is canceled and, in most cases, completely nullifying any benefit the game-improvement design can provide. The poor golfer who just spent thousands of dollars getting new equipment comes to the realization that the clubs didn’t work that well after all, and his/her 16 handicap is not dropping.

The real answer to game improvement lies in improving the golfer’s impact first, then getting clubs to match his or ideal impact or the impact they are striving to attain. Then, and only then, will the golfer get the full and just reward for improving one’s impact. Simply trying to buy a new game by getting a new set of clubs just doesn’t work. One must work with an instructor who truly knows what proper impact is and is diligently directing the instruction to improve their impact first. Then they can have a knowledgeable club fitter fit clubs to that proper impact. Unfortunately, in our industry, instructors and club fitters rarely work together. Golfers are continually being fitted to their improper impact and thus effectively playing with clubs with smaller sweet spots that are ill-designed for what they were originally intended to do.

Problem 2: Fitting Irons for Distance

The second problem that seems to be growing in the industry is the focus on increased distance with the irons. I don’t mean to be too blunt here, but who cares how far you hit an 8-iron! Today’s pitching wedge is yesterday’s 9-iron. My pitching wedge is set at 49 degrees, and my 9-iron is 44 degrees (about the standard loft for today’s pitching wedge). The only two clubs in the bag that should be designed for distance are your driver and your 3-wood. All the other clubs should be set for proper gapping and designed to improve consistency and proximity to the hole. That’s why my pitching wedge is at 49 degrees and I only hit it 120 yards (exactly 16 yards farther than my 54-degree sand wedge). Most of my students hit a pitching wedge 20 yards farther than I do, but I drive the ball 30-40 yards farther than they do. When they get into the 7-irons through 4-irons, their gaps narrow. They have a 175-yard shot, and they don’t know what club selection to make since the 7, 6, 5, and 4 irons all go somewhat similar distances.

When I dig a little deeper, I start to find significant differences in spin rates. Like most pros on the PGA Tour, my 7 iron spins about 7000 rpm, I launch it around 17.5 degrees and carry the ball about 158 yards with 88 mph of clubhead speed. OK, I’m retired from playing competitive golf and I’m 58 years old, so I don’t have that youthful club head speed anymore. When I try some of the new products that are the top sellers today, I start launching the ball slightly higher but my spin rate drops below 6,000 rpm. Suddenly, I’m hitting my 7-iron 170 yards like my 6 iron. But is this better?

Yes, my peak height gets slightly higher (I do like that), and the ball won’t roll out much differently, even with the lower spin rates. So, what’s the problem you ask? When I start to look at distance control numbers and proximity to the hole, I clearly see higher distance dispersions and thus proximity to the hole gets worse. Learning to hit the ball flag high is one of the key separators between top PGA Tour Players and those a notch or two below. It’s also a key element in lowering scores. So, greater distance with my irons actually makes my game worse and it does the same with my students, too, because accuracy and ability to get the ball consistently closer to the hole is negatively impacted.

What avid golfers are really wanting is game improvement. They want to see their handicaps go down, shoot their lowest scores, create personal bests. Sure, there is a bit of “wow factor” they like to have with the new, shiny equipment, but the people I give lessons to and have played with in all these pro-ams want a better game! How are they going to get that when the golf industry separates teachers and club fitters? Where can golfers go to get the whole experience of tying in their swing improvement that creates better impact with their equipment properly set up?

If you want to see your scores get better, the best way to do so is to work with a qualified golf instructor who knows how to improve your impact while keeping your style of swing. You want to work with a club fitter who understands that the lie angles of the irons should be set to square, and that proximity to the hole is more important in the irons than distance. Only then can you get the biggest game improvement and take full advantage of hitting better shots with a better impact.

Improve your impact, improve your game; it really is that simple!

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