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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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft review and a big golf week for me!

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This week is a big golf week — playing in a member invitational! Got the bag sorted out and there are 14 clubs that I am going to live or die on the course with. I have been hitting the new VA Composites Nemesys wood shaft and am very impressed. A great counterbalanced option with a mid-low launch and low spin.

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Opinion & Analysis

Book review: The Golf Lover’s Guide To England

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There is this notion in the British isles, completely foreign to America, that states that visitors shall have access to all but a smallish passel of private clubs. In abject contrast, the finest clubs of the USA do their level best to keep their gates closed to both the riff and the raff, neither of which is nearly as detrimental to their continuity as some fearful members might believe. In this era of the database, would it be that hard to allow a visitor access once in her/his/their lifetime to Cypress Point, or Friar’s Head, or Prairie Dunes? Into the database their GHIN number would go, and if said individual were fortunate enough to win the lottery for a coveted golden ticket, err, tee time, that would be it for all time. I digress, however, as that rant is not the purpose of this book review.

The Golf Lover’s Guide To England, written and compiled by Michael Whitehead, lists 33 elite golf clubs across that country, divided into four regions, which are further divided into nine districts. Each of these clubs would be identified as unlikely in the USA, but is certainly accessible in England. The short story is: this nearly-pocket-sized compendium should accompany any traveler of golfing purpose, as it is invaluable for understanding the ins and outs of making contact, locating courses, and learning of their nature and history. The long story goes quite a bit deeper.

Michael Whitehead has the forethought to organize his works (Scotland was his first TGLGT volume) in meticulous fashion. The volume opens with a colorful map of the targeted country, complete with numbered flags to identify each of the courses reviewed within. The entire book explodes with wondrous colors, both in page background and course photography, and heightens the sensory experience of its study.

A delightful touch is the location of the Acknowledgements section in the front of the book. Typically relegated to one of the final pages that we skip past, before closing the cover, this is not the case here. Whitehead recognizes the invaluable assistance of his supporting cast, and situates them front and center. Good for you, Mr. Whitehead.

A brief history of the game in England is followed by the first of the four (North, Midlands & East Anglia, South East, South West) regions. The most populous of these is the South East, and we will use it to break down the districts. Five courses occupy an unnamed, scattered district. Five more are situated in the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt, and four of those sites offer 36 holes on property. A final three fit into the Kent Coast district, and one of them has 27 holes within its confines. Thus it goes throughout the other three regions, albeit at a less-frenetic pace.

Moving along, each of the 33 seminal courses is granted six pages for description and assessment. Whitehead assigns color-coded price guides to each course, ranging from the up-to-49-British-Pounds entry point to the over-200-British-Pounds stratum. He also offers seasonal stratification, identifying the High (expensive) season, the Shoulder (mid-range) seasons, and the Low (economic) season. To facilitate contact with the club, Whitehead does his level best to provide online, email, and telephone booking options for each of the clubs. He adds in area courses of interest, in case the reader/traveler is confined to a specific locale. What more could one need, in advance of the golf trip of a lifetime?

For starters, one might wish to know a bit more about the course. Mr. Whitehead goes into the distances of teeing grounds, the need (or not) for a handicap certificate, the availability of caddies and rentals (push cart, electric push cart, clubs and motorized carts), the dress code, and (if any) tee time restrictions. In other words, any botched planning falls squarely on the shoulders of the golfer. Michael Whitehead has led the horse to the trough, filled it with water, and essentially dunked the equine mouth in the aqueous substance.

I’ve a friend who hates to know anything about a course he has yet to play. Attempt to mention any facet of the course and his response is a loud and grating LA-LA-LA-LA-LA, ad infinitum or until you cease your attempt at enlightenment. For the rest of us sane travelers, a bit of back story about the property, the architect, and the laying out of the course adds to the anticipation. As an architecture aficionado, I base the majority of my trips around the works of the golden-age architects, here in the USA. If afforded the opportunity to travel to England, I would seek out the works of Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie, Herbert Fowler, and their contemporaries. Thankfully, all of this information is listed in Whitehead’s thorough volume.

The old carpenter’s motto of measure twice and cut once can certainly be applied when considering a purchase of this volume. Abandon its opportunity and you risk a return trip to the lumber yard, at considerable expense. Take advantage of what it has to offer, and your trip’s chances at success are doubled at the very least.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: What’s your target score?

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Without a target score, you are just wandering in the field like a feather in the wind. The North Star for your mindset starts with a target score!

 

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