We have all heard stories about Pinehurst. Friends have returned home to talk about its greatness. The Ryder Cup history, the U.S. Open tournaments, the cradle of American golf, and Payne Stewart’s fist held high in the air. And while the Village of Pinehurst and the ten golf courses that complete it are the primary reason to make the trip to North Carolina, we really go for the stories. To hear them and to create them. And eventually, to be able to tell them ourselves.
The story of my family’s Pinehurst Experience is one we will remember forever.
We left Texas for North Carolina with no real expectations. My wife, Shannon, and our 11-month-old baby boy William joined me. As did my mom, Tammy, and my dad, John. None of us had been before. And, quite honestly, none of us were expecting such a perfect weekend. I wasn’t sure if this type of golf intensive trip would be a good fit for my wife and mom, both non-golfers. But there was plenty for them to do each day. I was so excited to hear how much they enjoyed their time.
We flew into Raleigh and took a rental car the remaining 70-minute drive to the Pinehurst resort. Pinehurst offers several different hotel options, but we booked our rooms in the historic Carolina Hotel. It’s the one you see in all the pictures. Built in 1901, the hotel is the definition of Carolina class. The wood floors under elegant carpet creak every few steps, reminding you that this place has held the weight of the best golfers the world has ever seen for over a century. And of course, the Ryder Cup Bar just off the hotel lobby is an immediate hat tip to the history of Pinehurst.
We arrived just after 1:30 in the afternoon, giving us enough time to check into our rooms and then head out to our first round of golf. The front desk provides you with a personalized Pinehurst bag tag which lists every tee time you have scheduled for the week. This allows for your clubs to be sent from course to course ahead of your round so you aren’t having to deal with carrying your bag around the resort. It’s seamless and convenient.
My dad and I had four rounds scheduled. First at the par-3 track, The Cradle, followed by Pinehurst No. 4, Pinehurst No. 2, and the Pinehurst No.8.
Shuttle buses run like clockwork all over the resort town and their affable drivers are willing to take you just about anywhere. The longest we ever had to wait for one was probably five minutes. Our clubs were waiting for us at the Clubhouse, the hub of the Pinehurst golfing community. The Clubhouse features an enormous pro-shop, locker rooms, caddie shack, The Deuce Restaurant (which overlooks the 18th green at Pinehurst No.2) and is the headquarters for courses one through five.
It’s approximately a three-minute shuttle ride from the Carolina Hotel and could easily be a nice walk if you’ve got time and good weather. It also backs up to the Thistle Dhu putting course, a 15,000 square foot putting green, complete with 18 marked holes, scorecard and beer holders on every tee. It’s a great place to spend 30 minutes. And it’s kid friendly, too.
We didn’t have much time but we were hungry. The bartender at the Deuce told us to make a quick burger, hot dog or sandwich at their buffet, which was perfect. We were able to get a hardy meal for $15 and give us a boost for the rest of the day. The view overlooking 18 green on No. 2 was incredible and I could’ve been just fine staying there to watch the golfers come off one of the best tracks in golf.
But we headed to the Cradle, a nine-hole par three course designed by Gil Hanse in 2017. The longest hole tops out at 127 yards downhill, so a full bag is not necessary. I carried my putter and my pitching, sand and gap wedge to the first tee. The starter provided me with a carry bag and scorecard. The Cradle has been described as “the most fun 10 acres in golf” and that might be true. There are 16 speakers disguised as rocks playing music throughout the course, blasting Steve Winwood, Garth Brooks, the Rolling Stones and everything in between. Green fees at the Cradle are $50 and that gets you all day access. Kids under 17 play for free. In fact, we ended up being joined by four other golfers, one of whom was a 4 1/2 year old named Parker who had a better swing than me. We still got around the course in about an hour, including a couple of stops for drinks.
Positioned on a high part of the course behind the 3rd and 8th green sits the Pine Cone, a teardrop style camper that has been converted into a full bar. It has to be one of the coolest places to have a drink in all of golf. And with the music playing and a wedge in your hand on every shot, it’s impossible to have a bad time. Play the Cradle a couple of rounds. Have a few beers. Be happy.
The family met us for a drink back at the Deuce patio overlooking 18 of No. 2 and then we headed into town for dinner. The Village of Pinehurst itself is a cute little community, full of cafes, pubs, inns and shops. We were told to check out the Pine Crest Inn and to eat at Mr. B’s Lounge, a dark old bar full of golf history. Payne Stewart’s name is still prominently displayed on the wall where he signed it back in 1999. It was just yet another cool glimpse into the history of the golf town.
Breakfast the next morning (and then every morning thereafter) was at the Carolina Dining Room within our hotel. The family enjoyed a full breakfast buffet in an elegant dining room setting. The biscuits and gravy were out-of-this-world good. And the service, like everything else at the Carolina Hotel, was exquisite.
The girls had a couple of trips to the spa planned while the boys played golf. Shannon had a massage in the early afternoon while my mom watched baby Will. The next day, they flipped and my mom enjoyed some time relaxing herself. The pool at the Carolina hotel was also a huge hit with the family (especially William). They also loved going into town and shopping at the boutiques, which was only a 6 minute walk from our hotel.
I’ve experienced places like Bandon Dunes, which is a fantastic buddy golf trip location. And make no mistake, Pinehurst can be that, too. I saw countless groups of guys having a great time. But I realized that Pinehurst is an absolutely wonderful place to visit for entire families, whether they all play golf or not. And everywhere we went was kid friendly and welcoming. Just an absolute pleasure.
Pinehurst offers several options that include meal plans/stay and play packages. And I am telling you right now, it’s an experience you and your entire family will cherish.
Pinehurst No. 4
Back at the clubhouse on day two, our clubs were yet again waiting for our arrival, this time on a cart pointed towards the driving range. We hit a few balls on the spacious practice, large enough to handle the type of traffic for all five courses the clubhouse facilitates.
Pinehurst No. 4 is a new renovation from Gil Hanse and, quite honestly, a great introduction to Pinehurst golf. The fairways are lined with “waste hazard” bunkers and pine needles, which both allow for grounding of the club and removing loose impediments. Whatever you are imagining in your head when you think of Pinehurst….that’s likely Pinehurst No. 4.
No. 4 plays 6,961 yards from the men’s blue tees. There is a tee box further back that plays at 7,227 yards, but the markers are not typically set up for regular play. Honestly, that’s a shame because standing on a few of those back tee boxes, I could tell the course would be even better from back there. It’s still a tough course from the blue tees, playing to a par 72. The elevation changes make some holes play much longer than the scorecard indicates.
The property interweaves with Pinehurst No. 2, so the landscapes are similar. But the features of No. 4 seem grander in comparison. The exposed sand areas are full of native wire grass blend, making fairway misses playable but unpredictable. And the land-forms are much more dramatic on No. 4. I was a bit surprised to see the types of elevation changes out on this course. There is a body of water that sits low in the center of the property around holes 4, 13 and 14 which provides some incredible views. When you stand on the 6th green, you can actually see parts of 15 other golf holes. It’s arguably the most beautiful view in Pinehurst.
We teed off at 9:50 on what was an unseasonably warm day for May in North Carolina. We took a cart, though the entire course was path only to preserve the pristine conditions. If the course is cart path only still when you decide to visit, I would consider hiring a caddie for this round as we ended up walking a ton anyway.
The fairways are wide and accessible and the greens are large, though they don’t play easy at all. A little local knowledge can go a long way on the greens at Pinehurst. Holes 13 and 14, in my opinion, is the best two hole stretch on the course. The first is a short par 5 but with a narrow fairway landing area off the tee between the water on the left and waste area on the right. Longer hitters can reach the green in two but the entire shot will be over water to a diagonal sloped green. It’s a wonderful risk/reward shot that I, of course, attempted with the help of some liquid courage.
The next hole stays water with a 200-yard par three to a slightly downhill green. Miss short and left and you are wet. It’s just a wonderful hole. Plenty of room right to approach the green from the front.
All in all, Gil Hanse made his mark on Pinehurst No. 4 and created a sensational companion course for the famed No. 2. If you only have a couple of rounds at Pinehurst, make sure to include both courses.
After our round, we headed out to the newly opened Pinehurst Brewery, just around the corner from our hotel. The restaurant is housed in the old Pinehurst steam power plant, which supplied the entire town their power beginning in 1895. Now it supplies the entire town with Carolina style BBQ and great local beer.
I ordered the combo platter, which came with pulled pork, chicken, sausage, and brisket. The beer was cold and the food was tasty. The pulled pork, when paired with the vinegar based East North Carolina BBQ sauce was my favorite. And this Texan actually thought the brisket was a happy substitute for what I am used to back home. My wife had a pint of the Hawaiian Delight brew, a pineapple infused beer that gave it a cider type kick. She highly recommends.
Pinehurst No. 2
Waking up the morning of your first ever round at Pinehurst No. 2 is a pretty special experience. I watched a couple youtube videos of Payne Stewart’s final holes in 1999 to get my mind in the right place. The first tee is tucked in a corner of hedgerows and the starter house is an exact replica of the Old Course Starters Box in Scotland, built to symbolize a bond of shared ideals and common values. St. Andrews is the home of golf and Pinehurst is the guardian of its traditions in the United States. Pretty cool.
No. 2, a Donald Ross build, opened in 1907 and Ross himself describes it as “the fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” It has been the host site for more single golf championships than any course in America, including U.S. Opens in 1999, 2005 and 2014.
My dad has never used a caddie in his entire life. Golf has never been his passion and, quite frankly, he was a bit self-conscious about a player of his skill set using a caddie for a round of golf. However, we shared one for Pinehurst No. 2 and his mind was changed completely. We got lucky, too, because our caddie, Andy Kurasz, was first class. Andy, or AK, has lived in Pinehurst since 1994 and has been a caddie for 15 years. With a bag on each shoulder, he was incredibly personable and friendly the entire round. Just as important, he knew this course like the back of his hand. If you get to play Pinehurst, ask for AK.
The greens at No. 2 might be the toughest I’ve ever played. Each one crowned like an upside down saucer, if you miss slightly on your approach in any direction, your ball will not likely hold the putting surface. No. 2 is most certainly a second shot golf course, forcing you to think about your approach shot before you tee off on each hole. And while the par 72 track plays at less than 7,000 yards from the men’s tees, it can be tipped out to nearly 7,600 yards for its Championships. With the complex approach shots and difficult greens, I can’t even imagine how tough this course would be at that length.
But the course is fair. Most fairways are lined with those famous sandy waste areas and the pine trees even wider still allow for punch outs off the pine needles. Our caddie Andy said this is the hardest course we will ever play without losing a golf ball. And he was right. We both got through it without a lost ball penalty. Andy also saved us each several strokes per side, always giving us the right target, right line, proper encouragement and reminding us to slow down our tempo and “enjoy your backswing.”
Donald Ross, who also built his home on the course, was brilliant in his routing. The course evolves naturally and uses the contours of the land to play tricks in your mind. If the fairway slopes hard right to left, like it does on the par 4 fourth, the green will slope the opposite direction, which makes putts feel like they will break a completely different way from the actual line. You need a caddie.
Home of Donald Ross
In 2010, the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw worked to restore No. 2 to the original design. Dozens of acres of turf was removed to reintroduce the hardpan natural bunkers and native grasses to the course. The No. 2 of today is essentially the course as it was in 1907. And it’s perfect.
Walking up 18 fairway is one of those special moments in golf. The clubhouse is behind the green, full of people enjoying food and drink from the Deuce, sitting on rocking chairs and enjoying the golfers approach shots. Also in view is the Payne Stewart statue, striking that famous pose after his winning putt poured in to win the U.S. Open. I hit my drive right and had to escape short of the green. My caddie simply said “That’s okay, let’s go get up and down just like Payne did.” What an incredible feeling to play a course with so much history.
Our family was waiting for us just off the back of the green. The fitting end to a perfect day on Pinehurst No. 2.
We had dinner that night at the Carolina Room in our hotel, which, as usual, was first class. A traditional steak and fish menu with an impressive wine list to accompany. But after a long day of strategic golf on one of the world’s toughest courses, I went to sleep early and dreamed of true approach shots at waving flags.
Pinehurst No. 8
My final round at Pinehurst was on the Centennial Course, Pinehurst No. 8. The Tom Fazio design was built to celebrate Pinehurst’s 100th anniversary and it has a different style and feel to both No. 2 and No. 4. Interestingly, the course was built on the site of the old Pinehurst Gun Club, where Annie Oakley used to give shooting lessons and exhibitions.
The shuttle ride takes a few extra minutes to get to No. 8’s stand alone clubhouse. And those extra minutes change the landscape dramatically. The fairways at No. 8 are lined with a cut of rough on most holes, as opposed to the natural sand areas seen on the other courses I played. And the course is tucked in to a more heavily populated forest of trees, giving this course a more secluded feel. The par 72 plays at 6694 yards, but there are many more opportunities for lost balls here. Water and marsh land comes in to play on several holes, giving off a low country course vibe.
I had a 9:00 am tee time but was able to get off at 7:30 in order to make sure we had enough time to get to the airport later that day. I played this round alone and was the first man off, which allowed me to get around the course in a little over 2 hours in a cart. It was an amazingly peaceful round. After playing No. 4 and No. 2, this was a pleasant contrast.
The par-3 8th hole is perhaps the most beautiful hole I played at Pinehurst. At 204 yards, the tee shot still requires accuracy to the left side in order to avoid the well placed natural marshland short and right. The greens at No. 8 are large but less severe than those found on No.4 and No. 2, to make up for the more difficult marshy hazards on the course.
I am glad I played No. 8. It’s a different style course than I expected to find at Pinehurst, but it complements the experience. I would recommend you include it as a part of your Pinehurst trip as well.
After the round, we had just enough time for a visit to the Village of Pinehurst for a quick bite to eat. Our rental car was already loaded up by the Carolina Hotel staff, proving once again that they do everything right at the resort. While in town, we stumbled across the Old Sport and Gallery boutique, owned and operated by former professional golfer Tom Stewart. It was an incredible collection of golf history, books, art and antiques. And speaking with Mr. Stewart for a few minutes made me wish I had another day in Pinehurst to hear his stories. This is a must visit for any golf fan.
And with that, our Pinehurst trip was over. We played incredible courses, ate wonderful food, received first-class hospitality everywhere we went and created those Pinehurst stories we’ve heard about all our lives. Now they are ours to keep and to share. I hope you visit one day soon so you can create your own stories, too.
Just remember to “enjoy your backswing.”
What GolfWRXers are saying about Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match
In our forums, our members have been discussing Seminole and TaylorMade’s Charity Relief skins match. The course has received plenty of praise from our members, and WRXers have been sharing their thoughts on the event as a whole in our forums.
Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.
- tw_focus: “Amazing event all around, golf is back baby. RF played well, but he missed badly on the last shot while Rors was clutch, as always. As good as this event was, it’s just the undercard for next week The Match II. Can’t wait to see TW back!”
- RainShadow: “Seminole looked beautiful. A course designed for strategy and nuance. Anyone know the individual scores? Rickie 66 maybe, Rory 69, DJ 69, Wolff 70? The players all looked a little rusty, Rory and Rickie looked like they’d played a bit recently though. Need to do more of these after this thing is over. More of carrying their own bags and reading their own putts………..Side note….DJ, go back to a blade putter.”
- dcfas: “I enjoyed it. Thought it was interesting to see and hear some of the discussion on shots and breaks. Thought it was also interesting to see their performances without caddies, and while carrying bags. Also fascinated to have a “close up” look at Seminole. Added it to my bucket list of courses extremely unlikely I’ll ever get to play. Good cause. Thumbs up.”
- Lark: “If they do this again, they should have two matches at the same time to avoid so much dead airtime. Have the winners play a one hole playoff for a final prize.”
- Dave230: “Good concept and some good bits but to be nit-picking: Far too many ads, I know Americans are used to more ads than Europeans, but they hit their drives…ads….hit their second shots….ads. It’s just hard to watch. Too much intervention from the commentators, if the players have microphones on then let them speak and just leave it there, you don’t need to talk over everything. I prefer commentary that’s not afraid of dead space. The phone calls…the less said the better.. Just let it play, even if they’re walking, let us see them talking and the surroundings sometimes. Still manage to overproduce even in a restricted setting. Apart from that, grateful for golf to be on television again and well done to those involved.”
An interview with Bill Coore
With the impending completion of the final course at Bandon Dunes, the Sheep Ranch, the golf architecture world focuses on the incredible trace that Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw fit into a piece of land that confounded experts.
It is appropriate to revisit a 2016 interview with Bill Coore on his background in golf and his thoughts on golf course architecture and the game.
The interview is reprinted from our Ronald Montesano’s website, BuffaloGolfer.Com, with permission of the interviewer.
If you’ve never been on a golf trip, I bet you’re tempted to go to Myrtle Beach or someplace like that. If you do, you’ll have fun and you might stumble onto a course designed by Mike Strantz, a terrific designer. If you want to see some great, great golf course architecture, you might end up in Bandon (Oregon) Pinehurst (North Carolina) or Inverness (Nova Scotia), any place you can find a Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw golf course. Soon you’ll be able to play one at Sand Valley (Wisconsin), and there are many others. Bill Coore spoke to us from a site that he was then assessing, near Charlottesville, Virginia. He SPOKE with us for AN HOUR, as he was mucking through the woods and grasslands of the site. No interview subject has ever given us that much time (over on hour on the phone) and we are humbled.
RM: Tell us about yourself and your history with golf, prior to embarking on your chosen career.
BC: I grew up in rural North Carolina, in Davidson county. I was introduced to golf by my neighbor, Donald Jarrett. He loved to play golf and he would go on weekends and play local public courses in the area. I would caddie for Mr. Jarrett some when I was a kid and he would say, every once in a while “Here, hit one.” He had some old clubs that he let me use and I’d make up some golf holes in his yard or in the corn field, just hitting shots. It wasn’t a formal way, but it was a fun way to be introduced to the game. When I would caddie for him, he would show me the proper way to do things, the rules, etiquette, conduct? I was fortunate in that way. I didn’t grow up in a family with a club membership. I learned what I still think of as proper golf from Mr. Jarrett.
We actually formed a golf team at my high school, my senior year. We talked the baseball coach into letting us play a golf schedule, even though it coincided with the baseball schedule. I went to college at Wake Forest, and played a bit of golf there. And that got the process started, of why do I like this and not that? Why do I like this course? Why do I like Old Town (Winston-Salem, N.C.) so much? I did my own assessment, of why I liked certain courses and not others. I took a serious interest in golf, and from there, a serious interest in golf courses.
RM: How did an interest in golf course architecture lead you to choose a career in the field?
BC: I was fortunate enough, being in North Carolina, which has some very good courses. The Pinehurst courses, in the 1960s, were very affordable, very accessible, particularly in the summer, their off season. Mr. Jarrett would go there once in a while and I would caddie for him, and we would go there once in a while to play golf. I got to experience playing golf there, on Pinehurst #2, and all the other courses there. There is no question that that experience, of being introduced to golf at Pinehurst, and then when I was at Wake Forest, at Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, a Perry Maxwell course, helped me. Pinehurst #2 is basically flat and Old Town is quite hilly, so there were two extremes of land forms and visuals. I just was so fortunate to play those on a regular basis. You don’t appreciate how good they really are, and when you see other courses built or being built, it’s the beginning of an awareness where you gravitate toward a certain style of golf course architecture more than others, and perhaps it was dictated to some degree by my game. I was never a long player, I depended a great deal on short game, finesse, and the ability to run the ball on the ground a lot. And Pinehurst #2, a championship golf course of the highest caliber, would allow you to do that. And a lot of the other, so-called, championship courses, that were already built or being built, just didn’t allow that to happen. I got to the point where I thought, Number two allows me to play my game and it would allow the longest player on tour to play his game, and although we might play from far different spots, we both had the ability to succeed. And that came upon me quite early on. And the man who taught me to play golf, Mr. Jarrett, we were playing our little public course that we had played many times, with a little par three down the hill with a creek that stuck out on a peninsula, with a creek in front, on the right, and behind, and a little hillside to the left. And I would invariably aim at the flag and come up in the creek. (At this point, our phone call dropped, and then my recording app dropped, but the gist was to use the hillside to feed the ball to the green, another revelation for Mr. Coore.) Playing golf at Old Town and at Pinehurst #2 was the foundation for my understanding of what exceptional golf and golf course architecture were all about.
RM: What sort of preparation/training did you do post-college for golf course architecture? Was your undergraduate degree helpful?
BC: My undergraduate degree was in Classical Greek. Most people would likely say I can’t imagine how that could be applicable in any way, but I might disagree somewhat and say, it was helpful because it taught me discipline. Translations of classical Greek in the classroom and preparation for the classroom are quite tedious, very detail oriented, and it takes great patience and attention. I happen to believe that those are attributes that work well in the golf architecture business: attention to detail, patience, and persistence at times. Though it would seem that they don’t have any connection, I would think that the discipline gained, that process, when I was at Wake Forest, was very helpful. I don’t have any technical training. I spent a couple of years in the Army after graduating from Wake Forest. When I was getting ready to get out of the Army, I saw the work that Pete Dye was doing at a public course called Oak Hollow (in High Point, N.C.). It was different, in the Harbor Town mode. It was shorter, it was finesse, it was quirky, with the railroad ties and pot bunkers. It was things you didn’t see and it just fascinated me. I managed to badger Mr. Dye to the point where he just gave up after telling me No so many times. He offered me a job, working as a laborer, and then as an equipment operator on another course he was starting to build in North Carolina, called The Cardinal golf club (in Greensboro.) All my experience and background, my preparation in golf course architecture, doesn’t really relate directly to what I studied in university. It was a process of acknowledging an interest and then starting at the bottom. Mr. and Mrs. Dye were both kind enough to allow that to happen. It was just one of those extraordinary, fortuitous occurrences, just like when Mr. Jarrett took me to play golf, stumbling into Pete Dye building a golf course, not knowing who Pete Dye was. There’s nothing glamorous about any of it, the labor, wearing hip waders, cutting trees three feet deep in water. It was just a process and it all led to today.
RM: How did you and Ben Crenshaw meet, and what led the two of you to believe that a partnership would be both manageable and fruitful?
BC: I had started a design company. I had been given an opportunity to design a course in south Texas with one of the guys who still works with us, in 1980. It was a place with extraordinarily limited funds, so they were desperate enough to give me a chance to work on it. We built nine holes and then skipped a year, and then built the next nine. This takes us to 1984. I had been asked a number of times, You’re designing some golf courses that are pretty good (at this time there were only two) and why don’t you have a partnership with a well-known tour player? It was just not something I had given much thought to, to be perfectly candid. One day, a potential client, also on a site in south Texas, asked me a question: I’d like you to come down and look at another site. It was never going to be a golf course; it was impossible for it to be a golf course. Right along the gulf, it went under water at high tide, and it was salt water at that. The man took it upon himself, in the course of the conversation, he said Why don’t you work with someone? It was 1984 and Ben had just won the Masters, and I had read some articles, and in those articles, it was mentioned several times about his interest in golf course architecture. And I could tell by the comments, that he knew something, that he had studied. When the potential client kept pressing the issue, I said, Well, I guess if it was going to be anyone, it would be Ben Crenshaw. He got in touch with Ben’s business manager and mentioned something about this project. He’s the one who actually got us together. Ben had heard of the golf course we had already done, close by, and he came to look at this other site. The project manager introduced me to him. We never worked on that golf course, of course, and we had no intention of working together, but we started talking about golf architecture over the next year, off and on, and we became friend first. At some point, we said, well, maybe we should try one of these things together. We both felt comfortable enough with each other, both personally and philosophically, regarding golf course architecture. It was no great plan, it wasn’t something that was programmed from the beginning, or something that I had given serious thought to, or something Ben had given serious thought to. Again, it was simply another one of those fortuitous things that happens. That was thirty years ago, and then in December of 1985, we formed our partnership. This past December was the 30th anniversary of our partnership.
RM: Does each of you (Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw) have easily-defined roles in the partnership? If so, can you tell us what they are?
BC: I think the answer to the first part of the question is No, we don’t have easily-defined roles. There are some things, given the amount of time that we can spend on the site, that gravitate more toward one or the other. The routings, just because I have the freedom of time, over Ben and his playing career, have come a bit more in my domain, but in no way exclusively. Take the Austin Golf Club, for example, it’s totally Ben’s routing. We’ve collaborated on almost all of them, but if you had to say that one of us concentrates on a certain aspect more than the other guy, well, Ben has certainly taught me so much about the details of the land forms that affect the best players in the world and how they think, and how small details can influence the best players in the world. Little slopes here, little contours or hollows there, tilts of the green, angles, the way the wind blows, wind directions. Ben is so extraordinarily perceptive. You could say that if you’re trying to categorize us, it might be those two things, but basically, we overlap. We use each other as sounding boards and we talk to each other about the concepts of the courses, the routings, we go walk them together and make adjustments together. We talk about the concepts of the holes, the bunkering schemes, the greens, and the contouring of the putting surfaces. We bounce ideas off each other, as well as listing them to the guys who work with us, who are extraordinary. In many ways, we’ve both become editors. We do the routing and then we are adamant with the guys that we work with that nothing is set in stone. If something neat begins to happen, go with it. Every one of our guys has the freedom to abandon the original concept at any point, if they think that something better could materialize. In that regard, sometimes, we give a main concept, they work on it, and sometimes you walk back up there and a green complex or a bunker has been roughed in, and you think, well that’s not exactly what we talked about, but it’s better! We’ve always tried to maintain flexibility in the process.
RM: Please describe your process for assessing a piece of land and determining a routing.
BC: When we’re called to look at a piece of land, the first thing we do is go walk the property. We try to get a sense if the land, in its actual state, looks and feels like golf. We try to get a sense of whether you could lay a golf course on that landscape, without huge amounts of alteration to the land forms. If so, we’re very comfortable with that. We’ve done courses where you’ve had to do major alterations, but it’s not our preference. After walking the property (sometimes it can take two or three weeks) if we determine that this property can yield a course to attain the owner’s goals, with us working on it? There are some sites that we have looked at, where someone else could do a great job, but we would spend a lot of money and not do a very good job. We’ve looked at other sites and thought that other architects would be way better at it than we would be. And there are some sites that we look at and say, well, no one could ever do a good job on this. And finally, there are sites you look at and say, this is right in our comfort zone. We try to understand our limitations. The worst thing that can be done is to spend a lot of money and build a bad golf course. The owner needs someone who can sit across the table or stand on the grounds and say, I can do this. I’ve seen some sites where I’ve not known what to do, and Ben hasn’t known what to do, and [another major architect] has built beautiful golf courses on those sites.
RM: You have established a successful working relationship with Mike Keiser. How did that come about and what makes both sides click together?
BC: It was like we won the lottery. Mike Keiser was a founding member at Sand Hills in Nebraska (a course designed by Coore & Crenshaw, recognized as the best new course of the 2nd half of the 20th century), so we had met Mike, but neither one of us really knew Mike. He called me on the phone and he said Bill, I’d like to talk to you and Ben about doing the third course at Bandon. I’m going to be very candid with you: it’s not on the ocean, a lot of it’s going to be interior, back in the woods, most people will probably perceive it as an inferior piece of property to what Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are on. We had seen what he had done out there with David Kidd (the original Bandon Dunes course), with Tom Doak and Jim Urbina (the Pacific Dunes course) and it was fantastic. We wanted to look at the site at the very least. We went out and looked at it and the results of studying it for a fairly long time, and after various conversations about where the golf course should be, it ended up being Bandon Trails. We knew that it had some difficult spots; there is a big ridge that runs through it that we had to work around.
Ben and I felt that All we want to do here is build a golf course that complements the other two somehow. We don’t want to build a golf course that nobody wants to play, but we think we can do something hopefully good enough that people will appreciate it. He gave us the chance to do that and in that process, he became not only an extraordinary client, but a very, very good friend. Mike Keiser has incredible insight from the standpoint of, as he calls it, the retail golfer, what the paying customer looks for, and the experience they hope to have, as well as an affection for seaside or sand-based golf. We got to work at Bandon Trails, Lost Farm at Barnbougle Dunes (Tasmania) and then more recently, up at Cabot Cliffs in Nova Scotia, and last the par-three course, the Preserve at Bandon, so Mike has been so generous to us, that I would never know how to thank him. He has given us opportunities that anyone in this profession would be thrilled for. In my mind, he is the patron saint of modern-day architecture. He affords people in our business opportunities that we could have never dreamed of, spectacular sites to work with, and the freedom to work with them. I’ve enjoyed every walkabout, whether it’s to assess a new property or a course under construction, like the first course at Sand Valley, in Wisconsin (designed by Coore and Crenshaw, that will open for play in 2017.)
RM: Give us a sense of where you see golf course architecture heading in the next 25 years, and what you hope your firm’s role will be.
BC: We hope that golf architecture evolves in a fashion that maintains people’s interest in the game. That may be in the form of shorter courses, courses with less than 18 holes. I grew up on a nine-hole course and most of the public courses around me were nine-hole courses. Certainly, Ben and I are not dismissive of courses with less than 18 holes, or of shorter courses. If there are ways to make golf more accessible and more enjoyable for people, that’s fantastic. You only have to look at the two, non-18 hole courses at Bandon, to understand this. The one we did, the Preserve, is absolutely chock full of people, all the time, playing it over and over. It’s tremendous fun. It doesn’t require excessive strength or excessive skill to enjoy. The Punch Bowl, which Tom Doak did out there, is a giant putting course. Now, do you call that a golf course? Well, I guess it depends on your definition, but you could certainly spend all day out there, or an hour. That’s just as much golf as any of the big courses at Bandon. Those are just two examples of things that could happen. The world is so fast-paced, and families have so much going on, that it’s almost unreasonable to ask people to go spend the entire day at a golf course. Any type of golf course architecture that provides interesting golf and which can be experienced in a shorter period of time, be it three hours or an hour, is the way that golf out to go.
RM: What question haven’t we (or anyone) asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please. This was a challenge for me and Bill. It ended up being more of an idea than a question, and here it is:
BC: Any question that would allow us to express how talented the guys who work with us are.
I said earlier that Ben and I often fulfill the role of editors rather than authors. The fellows that work with us are so often referred to as shapers or bulldozer operators; they are that but so much more. There are several of them that have done their own designs. Dave Axland and Dan Proctor did Wild Horse (Nebraska.) Dave Zinkand who worked with us for twelve years, has redesigned Desert Forest (Arizona.) These fellows have all done their own designs, and yet they come out and work with us on equipment, help us build bunkers. Rod Whitman, the Canadian architect, has three or four of the top ten courses in Canada. He has worked on greens, bunkers, fairways and tees on our golf courses for years. Our list of about ten guys who are so extraordinarily talented, there’s not one of them who could not go out on his own, if circumstances presented themselves, and design one heck of a golf course, that we would all be proud of. They are just extraordinary: Jimbo Wright, Jeff Craig, Jeff Bradley, the premier bunker guy in America. It’s fun to see them, to see the talent, and to be a part of it.
Jack’s back! A first look at Reynolds Great Waters reopening
I was happy to accept a recent invitation to attend the grand reopening of the Great Waters course at Reynolds Lake Oconee. Over the last five years, I have come to know Reynolds Lake Oconee quite well. It is a gated community that is cozied up next to a man-made lake halfway between Augusta and Atlanta, Georgia (fun fact: almost all of the lakes in Georgia are man-made) and is populated by a lot of people who have that increasingly rare ability to be well-off and well-behaved, which makes it a really pleasant place to reside.
Reynolds Lake Oconee also has a Ritz-Carlton hotel for those that want to soak up some southern-style luxury; one of the things that I like most about RLO is that the place is golf-centric without having that “golf monastery” feel of some of the newer multi-course golf destinations. It is a prime location for Masters ticket holders to stay during tournament week, and I have been there a couple of times myself for their version of Monday after the Masters.
Over the years, Reynolds Lake Oconee has very quietly become one of the country’s great golf destinations, kind of a Georgia peach-flavored version of Pinehurst. The property boasts six championship golf courses, including designs by Nicklaus, Bob Cupp, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones. Great Waters (Nicklaus) and The Oconee (Jones) are ranked it the Top 100 public courses in America, with Great Waters at #2 in the state. And to top it off, the Kingdom of Golf by TaylorMade is located at RLO. Gearheads will know that The Kingdom is one of the highest-regarded instruction and club fitting facilities in the country. Make an appointment to try it out and you can tell your friends that you got fitted for a new driver or set of irons at the same place Jason Day and Rory McIlroy tweak their bags during Masters Week.
Great Waters was the first course that I had played there—five years ago I was invited to play in the Big Break Invitational. It was very cool to hang out with Tommy “Two-Gloves” Gainey, Don Donatello and the rest of the gang that I had watched on TV for years. I got to play a few holes with Tony Finau right before he jumped to the PGA Tour (you forgot he was a Big Break-er didn’t you?). I knew he was going to do OK when I saw him dismantle a short par-4 with a 290-yard 3-wood to the front of the green that led to a tap-in birdie and a big ‘ole Finau grin. Great Waters’ credentials also included hosting the WGC Match Play in its early days, as well as a slew of local and regional championships.
But after almost 30 years of play, Great Waters was in need of maintenance, repair, and upgrades to some infrastructure, so the word was that Nicklaus and the owners would do the maintenance and also take the opportunity to apply the wisdom and the advancements gained since the original launch and make some structural changes to the layout.
I flew into Atlanta and picked up my ride to Greene County, a 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG C63, a 500-horsepower SUV coupe that made the ride to RLO infinitely more comfortable and considerably shorter than the same trip in the hotel shuttle. As I cruised the satellite radio bands and dodged state troopers on I-20, I was thinking about how Jack might have changed the course. Nicklaus is nothing if not prolific as a golf course designer; he has over 260 course designs to his name and if you include co- and re-designs that number gets to 300. But the honest truth is that while every Nicklaus course is a challenge, they can take on an air of the familiar.
It’s not all his fault; a developer from Argentina plays your track in Florida and then wants to pay you a million dollars to do roughly the same thing in Caracas, you do it. And many of the Nicklaus tracks can be extremely penal, especially for resort courses. For that reason, I have developed a shortlist of favorite Bear tracks that, in my humble opinion, got the balance of challenge, opportunity, beauty and fun exactly right. The Manele Golf Course at the Four Seasons Lanai is my absolute favorite Nicklaus course, and Great Waters was just behind it. I was hoping that Jack wasn’t going to respond to the advances that had been made in club design and the ever-expanding length of the golf ball to fortify the layout to the detriment of playability. Great Waters was great fun to play, and I selfishly wanted it to stay that way.
As I arrived at the practice facility before the opening round at Great Waters, the first thing that struck me was the practice facility itself. It was opening day for that facility too, and it was immaculate. I noticed that there were a lot of thin shots being hit because no one wanted to take a divot from the immaculate turf on the practice tee. I went to the practice green to roll a couple of putts; the TIFF Eagle surface was rolling at a speed roughly equivalent to a gym floor. Not a good sign for scoring on the potato chip greens that I remembered from my previous trip around Great Waters.
The first and most predictable difference was the length of the course. It was expanded with the addition of “Golden Bear” back tees that play a robust 7,400 yards; to put that in perspective, on the first hole, they actually had to place the Golden Bear tees on the practice green! But there were also new tees placed at 4,500 yards to increase playability, pace-of-play and birdie opportunities for the less prodigious. I was playing with three 30-somethings, so I swallowed hard and played from 6,900-plus, all but assuring that most of the birdies I’d see that day would be perched in the Georgia pines.
The opening holes are classic Georgia golf, meandering through the pines with glimpses of the lake As I went through the front nine, the changes I saw were mostly technical. Extensive tree clearing took place to reduce shade and improve overall turf quality. Speaking of turf, the grasses that were used for the renovation are state of the art, with Zeon zoysia for the fairways and TifTuf Bermuda rough, both of which should hold up well with minimal water and chemical treatment in the sweltering heat of Georgia summers.
I was hitting driver well that day and was loving the way that zoysia “tees” the ball up for approach shots. The greens complexes are all new and have also been converted to TifEagle Bermuda, a grass that performs better in the shade and holds color in the fall. That, along with the lowering of some embankments allow for wider fairways and more views of the lake. The fairway bunkers, somewhat surprisingly, had not been moved, but they were in perfect condition, as were the greenside bunkers. The greens, as expected, were table-top hard, but they will definitely soften as they mature and settle after the rebuild.
As I was making the turn, I was pleased; the course so far had been improved without fundamentally changing an already exceptional experience. But if the front nine is a sonata, the back nine is a rock anthem. Perhaps the most stunning hole is the 11th, a gorgeous 311-yard par-4 that is the dictionary definition of “risk-reward” (and the hole where Tony Finau had given me a look into his future). Lowering the hillside on the left side of the hole allows the players to see much more of the lake that frames it. Deciding to go hero mode and hit driver is a common mistake on the hole; if you dunk it in the lake on the left you’ll probably find at least a sleeve of Pro V1s left by previous victims waiting for you in the grass near your drop.
Great Waters saves the best for last, as every hole except No. 10 has Lake Oconee either visible or in play, and on a perfect fall day like we had it is a lovely sight indeed. The final four holes are a chorus line of beauties that offer some of the best views in American golf, and the par-3 17th and the massive par-5 18th rank as one of the best finishing combinations in the Nicklaus portfolio. I went par/bogey on the finish, but from the distance I was playing, I couldn’t complain. On the contrary, I walked off with the same feeling that I had when I played the first time: ”I’d love to play it again tomorrow.”
The great man of Great Waters gave a press conference the day after the opening round, and he was reflective when speaking about the project in terms of his life and career.
“I think that I have learned some things over the years, and you see that [at Great Waters],” Nicklaus noted. “But the members and residents here have always wanted a property they can be proud of, and I think that’s what we gave them.”
In all, Great Waters is just as challenging and just as much fun, if not more, than before. The aesthetic changes to the course have made it more picturesque than ever, but if you want to want to score well, you’ll need to spend more time lining up your putts than your pictures.
“The thing a course designer wants to hear from golfers when they see a hole is, “Wow,” said Nicklaus.
For sure, Great Waters has provided its share of “wow” moments, and with this project completed, it is sure to be providing them for years to come.
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