My short odyssey began Friday, when I played at a golfer’s penthouse. The Granite Links Golf Club sits atop a hill just south of Boston. The clubhouse is a very large, lovely building that contains a pro shop, a member’s area and a beautiful restaurant with lots of glass, allowing you to see in every direction including out to the nearby ocean and north to Boston’s skyline. Granite Links, which has members but is also open to the public, opened in 2004 and immediately gained places on a number of “Best of” lists.
But Granite Links wasn’t always so fancy. The area consisted of three landfills and a number of abandoned rock quarries. Along came Boston’s infamous Big Dig, the immense $14 billion public works project in which a surface highway was buried and a new tunnel was built under Boston Harbor to the airport. But about a million truckloads of fill from the harbor project, amounting to something like 12 million cubic yards of dirt, were added on top of the landfills and around the quarries. Built on top of all that, Granite Links became an instant hit, a premium golf course 15 minutes from downtown Boston and a great place for a beer or a meal or a party.
Granite Links has three 9-hole courses, a very nice range and lots of practice putting greens. On a cold day, with light rain falling for the first third of our match, my partners and I played from the white tees. Given our confirmed hacker abilities and the stiff northeast wind, it was plenty of golf course for us.
The courses are not that long. The Milton course, for example, is 3,478 yards from the tips, 2,893 yards from the white and a par 36. But the yardage alone tells you little. These nines are usually described as “links-like,” which is fair but also woefully incomplete. The courses don’t have many trees in play. Instead, they feature many elevation changes, blind shots, carries over vegetation, sand traps galore, rock outcroppings, ravines, sharp slopes, ponds and fescue. And the greens are very fast, very true and full of tiers, ridges, and seams.
This results in a combination of a links and target golf. You don’t whack away with your driver on a lot of holes from the whites—too many bad things can happen. As for the blind tee shots, what you don’t see can bite you. Hit the right yardages and landing areas, or find your ball in a bunker or behind a rock, or not at all.
But interesting, distinctive holes there are. On the fifth hole of the Milton course, you aim your shot between the John Hancock and Prudential towers that rise from the Boston skyline. On the next hole, you face a demanding par 3 which has a three-tiered green nestled between fescue on the right and a steep hill and a sand trap on the left. And No. 9, a long, uphill par 5, brings you back up to an outside terrace. A tee shot too far to the left will end up on a steep hill filled with fescue. A tee shot too long will bound across the fairway and run into either fescue or an old quarry. If you do hit the fairway and go for the green on your next shot, you’ll need to go over deep traps in front of the green. And a successful second shot puts you on, what else, a very fast green.
If you play, try to hook up with someone who has played the course before. I’m a weekend hacker and played the course for just the third time this season. I managed an 89 on two par-36 courses, despite the wind and rain—including getting birdies on two successive holes, a remarkable event for me. I had a great front nine but lost a wheel or two on the bus early in the second round (including some overly strong putts — did I mention, by the way that the greens are very fast?), but I pulled things back together and limped home with a par and a few bogies. My brethren on the course did not fare quite as well, but we all had a fine time and were astonished at the lovely course and wonderful views we had so close to the city.
Sunday, I visited my local nine-hole muni, Pine Meadows Golf Course, west of Boston. You can play golf at both Granite Links and at Pine Meadows, but that’s about all they have in common. Pine Meadows is a well-maintained, wide-open course that measures no more than 2,800 yards. The clubhouse is one room, with bathrooms, a television and some snacks. No practice range.
The course starts with side-by-side par 5s, with the only problem on either hole a crowned green on the second hole. The course has a few entertaining holes. No. 5 is a dogleg over a pond. The fun there is seeing how far you can cut the corner without going into the woods. No. 8 is a relatively short par 4 that has a tall tree guarding access to the green. The most fun shot there is to deliberately hit your drive a bit to the right, then try to go over the tree to the two-tier green.
The virtues of Pine Meadow are that it’s comfortable to walk, easily accessible and in pretty good shape. I’ve met all kinds of interesting people playing there – not to mention it has slow greens, which I, as a public course hacker, am familiar with. But these features are also the course’s drawbacks.
Over the course of the dozens of rounds I’ve played there, relatively few people have beaten me—which tells you the place is not full of good golfers. One golfer I was placed with by the starter had her own clubs, her own bag, her own pull cart—and she took no less than 10 shots on each of the first four holes to get on the green. Those first four holes included a short par four and a downhill par three. I bailed out after that—it was just too painful to wait and watch.
Pine Meadows is a perfect place for beginning or, shall we say, less skilled golfers. I took my teenage daughter there once—she enjoyed it, particularly when I let her drive the cart when we got away from the clubhouse. But get there at the wrong time, it’s worse than a five-car pile up on the freeway. I’ve walked away after six holes on a number of occasions. Since I pay only $20 as a resident, I don’t complain much. But I now play either early in the morning or during those occasional holes in the crowd that occur in the late afternoon. This last Sunday, I played just after the rain stopped. There were very few people on the course and by the third hole, the sun had come out, so it was lovely—though my feet were quite wet. The drainage on the first two holes is crappy, though it has improved. I remember some years ago, standing on the turf maybe 50 yards past the tee on the second hole, a couple of days after a lengthy period of rain. As I stood on the turf, watching a guy hit out of the rough after a mangled tee shot, the ground moved up and down, like it was a surfboard. It essentially was, because there was water moving underneath a large layer of turf. Very weird feeling, surfing on grass.
But hey, it’s golf. I can sneak a bit of practice in there sometimes, and I can tell if I’m hitting it well by measuring my shots against familiar landmarks. I missed a hole-in-one on the long par 3 once by less than a foot and I can still drive the green on the uphill par four (that is, if I don’t hit the road on the right or the trees on the left).
The slow play does drive me crazy and I may give in and find a local, inexpensive club to join. But on a nice fall day, when the course is dry, the leaves have changed color and it’s cool enough to drive the fair-weather golfers away, it’s a delightful place to be. I’ll never have the time or money to make use of a golf penthouse regularly, so I’ve made my peace with playing closer to the basement most of the time. And did I mention it has nice, slow greens?
Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure
My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.
Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.
Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.
I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.
First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.
Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.
Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!
Streamsong’s New Black Course Might Be Its Best Course
Up until four years ago, there wasn’t a lot to see or do in the flat stretch of Polk County, Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. That all changed in 2012 with the opening of Streamsong Resort, the wildly popular destination that seamlessly combines rugged golf courses and sophisticated indoor spaces in a way that’s completely unique and altogether appealing.
With its Red Course (designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) and Blue Course (designed by Tom Doak) firmly established among the finest public courses in the country, Streamsong unveiled its newest member of the family, the Black Course on September 25. Designed by Gil Hanse (designer of the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil, Castle Stuart in Scotland, and Mossy Oak in Mississippi), the Black Course has been among the most highly anticipated course openings in recent years.
Weighing in at 7,337 yards and a healthy 74.7 rating/135 slope from the back tees, the Black Course is both a beauty and a beast. In the spirit of its predecessors, Hanse has beautifully incorporated elevation and undulation to create a track that is visually stunning and challenging to play. The rolling land, resurrected from its previous life as a phosphate mine, has a firm sandy base that evokes the look and feel of the links-style tracks in the Melbourne Sandbelt in Australia. And in constructing the course, Hanse selected turf grasses that give maximum roll out and encouraged conditioning that allows the same kind of creative shotmaking that is available on links courses.
While there is a premium on shotmaking, The Black Course puts equal, if not more value, on good decision making. Throughout the journey you can choose to be Joe Citizen or G.I. Joe, going for safety or going for glory. Hole No. 4, a 601-yard par-5 features a cantilevered split fairway that gives the player several routes to negotiate the path home based on ability and the conditions of the day. Nos. 6 and 14 are short par 4’s that tempt the big hitter to go for broke, but failure results in a trip to one of the Black Course’s yawning bunkers or open sandy areas, both signature features of Hanse’s recent designs.
Perhaps the most prominent feature of the course are the sprawling greens that have contours that border on the surreal. Speaking of borders, there are none on the greens. Hanse decided to go with large greens that come right out to the fairway, allowing putting opportunities from almost anywhere. The most dramatic of the greens complexes is No. 9, a 450-yard par-4. Players hit a blind second shot into a “punch bowl” green that literally has to be seen to be believed. You’ll be talking about it after the round… whether you finish the hole with a 3 or an X.
Another distinctive feature is found on the par-4 13th, which features two greens that are alternated daily to give players another challenge and another story to tell after the round.
The clubhouse, designed by the award-wining Alonso Architechts (who also designed the Streamsong Lodge), is as stunning an accomplishment as the golf course. Employing the forward-looking design concept of the Lodge, the minimalist glass-and-steel design offers breathtaking views of the Florida sunrises and sunsets whether you are in the cool indoors or next to the Gauntlet putting green outside. And the Bone Valley Tavern is a showcase for Executive Chef Mike Ford’s mouth-watering food and craft cocktails (try the Black Martini).
Throughout the day of the preview and ribbon-cutting, there was a sense of pride and joy more similar to the delivery of a newborn than the opening of a golf course. Hanse was emotional while giving his opening remarks, giving special acknowledgment to his Lead Designer Jim Wagner.
“I am so proud that Jim’s name is beside mine on the plaque that says who designed the course,” Hanse said while fighting back tears. His passion was shared by all, including those present from parent company Mosaic, which owns some 200,000 acres in the area, including the resort property.
“This is a labor of love and I am proud of and grateful for everyone who contributed to making this happen,” said Rich Mack, the Mosaic executive who is the visionary behind Streamsong.
Those who expect to get a run at Streamsong Black had better get moving. Management officials said they’re already talking reservations for 2018. Anyone fortunate enough to get a slot will not be disappointed.
“We were aware of the level of excellence here at Streamsong, and we knew we had to meet that standard,” Hanse said. “But we also wanted to do something different, something special. We wanted to make a course that was beautiful and challenging, but above all it should be fun.” These will be welcome words to the traveling golfer who is faced with ever longer and more difficult resort courses.
In an industry that specializes in tradition but often lacks vision, Streamsong has planted a beacon on the horizon for what the future of the resort golf experience can and should be.
A Legacy of Excellence: Primland Resort is a Hidden Jewel in the Virginia Hills
Recently, the attention of the golf world was focused on North Carolina as the PGA Championship was being held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. I was there for three days and while the golf and the hospitality were great, the heat and humidity left me feeling like I had spent three days in a car wash.
Fortunately, relief was on the way in the form of a trip to Primland Resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Typically it is about a 2.5-hour drive from Charlotte to Primland, but I had some special help in shortening the trip. Mercedes-Benz, a partner of the PGA of America, was kind enough to provide transportation in the form of a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet. Outfitted with a 3.6-liter AMG BitTurbo that cranks out 362 horsepower, the C43 goes from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and from Charlotte to Primland in not a lot more than that. Fully loaded with leather interior, state-of-the-art stereo, 9-speed transmission and enough room for clubs, my suitcase and a beautiful hitchhiker (didn’t happen), the C43 was the perfect combination of power and finesse. To avoid the law dogs I won’t say exactly what my top speed was on the way to Primland, but suffice it to say that if it was a golf score I would have been worse than a double bogey golfer. To quote the great humanist philosopher Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”
So the C43 put me in just the right mood to visit one of the most exclusive golf destinations in the country, a description that fits Primland despite its comparatively low profile. The vision of Primland’s founder, energy magnate Didier Primat, was to create a place of “immense beauty” for his guests that features refined dining, world-class golf and other exceptional outdoor experiences. Didier Primat died unexpectedly in 2008 at the age of 64, but he had instilled the commitment in his eight children, and they have continued the pursuit of resort perfection.
Spread over 12,000 mountain acres, Primland is sprawling and somehow intimate at the same time. Accommodations at the resort range from the simple to the sumptuous. Rooms and suites in the Lodge make you feel like you’re in one of those 5-star European chalets where stars and royalty go to avoid paparazzi. Natural wood and stone floors combine with high tech and a Continental attention to detail (huge bathrooms, automated window shades, down pillows, extra large robes) give you that special feeling that only the best places seem to generate. Guests can choose from the comfort of the Lodge, choose one of the cottages that are perfect for groups, or opt for the simplicity and seclusion of the rustic cabins known as “Treehouses.” The views, as you would expect from a treehouse, are amazing.
The acclaimed Highland Golf Course is as spectacular as the rest of the resort. Featuring breathtaking views of the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the course was designed and opened in 2008 by renowned architect Donald Steel (his portfolio includes work at Enniscrone, Royal County Down and The Old Course at St Andrews). The Highland course does indeed give the feel of a Scottish highlands links, with plenty of undulation in the fairways and a variety of humps and moguls guarding entry to the greens like buried sentries. Playing as apar-72 (150 slope/75.1 rating) at just over 7,000 yards from the tips, the course is both beauty and beast, especially if the wind kicks up.
The course offers demanding tee shots that have either deep forest or steep falloffs into the valleys below ready to swallow errant attempts. The greens are massive, allowing for a wide range of interesting pin placements. Featuring bent grass from tee to green, the track is immaculately maintained, a testament to the work of Head Pro Brian Alley and Superintendent Brian Kearns. “This is a course that has that certain something; you never get tired of looking at it or playing it,” Alley says.
PGA Tour stars Fred Couples and Jay Haas agree, as they are on the host professional staff at Primland and are frequently on property. The critics also agree, with Golf Magazine rating the track as No. 2 among Courses You Can Play in Virginia. Golf Digest has it as No. 31 among Public Courses in America. I had the opportunity to play a round on The Highland course with Haas, who was there hosting an outing and celebrating his wife Jan’s birthday. Haas demonstrated exactly what is need to score well; always be thinking one shot ahead and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they are presented. I hit the ball about the same distance as Haas and had a great ball striking day, but a few wayward wedges and over-ambitious approaches cost me. I shot an 82 and Haas put up a 66 like he was taking candy from a baby.
Off the course, Primland offers a full menu of options to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you. There is an outdoor center that features sporting clays, ATV treks, hiking, biking, fly fishing, and more. If you want to do something the property doesn’t offer, the eager and experienced staff will likely be able to accommodate you. If you are more of an indoor cat, the world-class spa is available to massage your cares away. There is also a private theater where you can screen your favorite movies.
A unique feature of Primland is the Observatory, a domed silo that has been modified to house a powerful telescope that gives spectacular views of the planets and stars. The Observatory is available by appointment, and it shouldn’t be missed.
As for the dining experiences, they are also stellar. If you want to get fancy, try Elements, where the farm to table menu and wine selection are both outstanding. If you want to stay casual, try the 19th Pub (note: they make a PERFECT martini).
Founder Didier Primat loved the outdoors and was a committed to providing a place where people could come and experience it. Whether you are playing golf, riding horses, shooting clays or watching shooting stars, it’s impossible to spend time at Primland without acquiring Didier’s affection for this special patch of land. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.
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