What do you say about a 3,300-yard, nine-hole course in rural Tennessee with a prefabricated shed for a clubhouse, a port-a-john for a locker room, and a practice green the size of a coffee table? For starters, it’s the most enjoyable golf experience I’ve had in years.
Sweetens Cove isn’t the kind of course where you can say, “Well, it’s like a little bit of this course and that one put together.” It will never be called “a classic so-and-so design.” I’ve played everything from munis to tour stops all the way to the Old Course, and I can promise you it’s not like anything else you’ve ever played.
Picture a world-class, challenging, and ridiculously fun golf course. Now strip off the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, the pro shop, the driving range, the short game area, and even the superfluous nine holes you can’t remember anyway. Now, go ahead and shave another 300 yards off the tips. That may sound sacrilegious, but once you’ve distilled the experience into only what is necessary, you’re left with something that takes you back to when you first fell in love with golf. Maybe even something that takes you back to the birth of golf itself.
Rob Collins is the man behind the course’s creation. When he started the project, it was May 2011 and golf was in a full recession. Courses were closing their doors, companies were struggling to make ends meet, and Rob was betting everything he had on his brand new company (King Collins Golf Course Design, a partnership with Tad King) and their first project of turning a forgettable muni called Sequatchie Valley G&CC into something memorable.
“I was inspired by my favorite courses in Great Britain and Ireland along with Pinehurst No. 2 and Tobacco Road, to name a few domestic courses that provided inspiration,” Rob said. “Additionally, the 1932 version of Augusta National was a huge inspiration for the architecture. The overall goal was to create a great strategic course that places a premium on approach and recovery shots. Hazards, angles, and green contours all work in concert with one another, laying the foundation for a course where there are no weak or indifferent shots during one’s round.”
Happily, Rob and Tad’s endeavor fared much better than many of their contemporaries’ projects in the wake of the 2008 recession, though it did have many twists and turns along the way. Chief among them was in 2013, roughly a year after construction was completed, when the ownership group disbanded and left the course for dead.
“I was desperate to do anything that I could to get the course open,” Rob said. “The course was my baby, and I believed that what we had created out there was architecturally significant and deserved to see the light of day. As it turned out, my client [the original ownership] approached me and asked if I would like to take the course over on a long-term lease. I said yes to that proposition and set about trying to find a partner for the venture. I was introduced to Ari Techner through the former superintendent at Lookout Mountain, Mark Stovall. Ari and I hit it off and partnered in a venture to take over operations of the course. Since that time, our partnership has expanded and includes Patrick Boyd as General Manager as well as a few others.”
Once securing new ownership, Sweetens Cove took off on a consistent upward trajectory that even has it ranked above some major championship venues in certain publications.
Admittedly, arriving at Sweetens Cove for the first time can be a disorienting experience for the recovering country clubber. Meandering through a town of 3,000 people in the East Tennessee foothills, you find a wooden sign marking the entrance that guides you to a gravel parking lot with no marked spaces. Stumbling out of the car, you find a curious hunter green shed for a clubhouse that might lead you to question all the buzz you’ve seen on social media. The walk from your car to the clubhouse, though, provides the perfect perch to gaze out on the King Collins creation… and you start to realize that maybe there’s really something to this place.
When you embark on your journey, you encounter absolutely no resemblance to the mechanical, formulaic assembly of a typical, rubber-stamped golf course design. Instead, you’ll find massive waste areas, perfectly placed pot bunkers, and a movement to the land that captures the imagination. The greens are equally receptive to flop shots and bump-and-runs, but they demand a precise execution of either choice.
The bermudagrass fairways are relatively firm and generously-sized, but uneven lies are a common occurrence. Should you find yourself outside those fairways, prepare to take your medicine. Waiting for you there are those waste areas, as well as tall fescue and even clover and thistle in some areas. While some may scoff at such a notion, this is a microcosm of Sweetens Cove’s ethos. It’s a palace for the golfing purist: a minimalist, essential experience that harkens back to when golf geniuses like Old Tom Morris knew exactly where (and where not) to focus their energy. If something adds to the golfing experience, Sweetens Cove has it in spades. If it doesn’t add to the golfing experience, the folks at Sweetens Cove don’t bother.
The opening hole (pictured to the far left of the above image) is a par-5 of 563 yards. It’s a three-shot hole for most mortals, but your best chance of getting home in two is to start by carrying the bunker on the left about 270 yards off the tee. Be very careful about how you approach the green. It’s guarded by a gnarly pot bunker bordered by vertical railroad ties. The green on this hole is a foreshadowing of what’s to come on the next eight with bounding ridges and multiple potential pin locations that each provide a totally different perspective.
The second hole is a par-4 of 375 yards, and the star of the show is the nastiest little pot bunker. It’s placed squarely in the middle of the fairway about 260 yards from the tee. If you miss it, you’re likely fine, but if you don’t… well, good luck. The smart play is hybrid off the tee to stay short of the bunker, leaving yourself a short iron into the green.
No. 3 is a par-5 of 582 yards. Feel free to let fly with the driver off the tee, but beware how you approach the green. The green is perched high above the fairway and guarded by a massive tree in front and a waste area to the left. If the pin is located on the left side of the green, you’re in for a surprise when you walk up to the flag. The ideal landing area isn’t much larger than a couple hundred square feet.
No. 4, King, is the only hole with a name. It’s a 169-yard par-3 according to the card, but the green is 90 yards long. The shot can play anywhere from 120-200 yards depending on pin location and the direction of the swirling winds. And did I mention the tee shot is blind from the tips?
No. 5 is a 293-yard par-4. For longer hitters, it’s reachable from the tee with the right wind, but be careful where you miss. Short right of the green is all waste area that is relatively escapable, though your second shot will likely be to a blind pin. Short left is another nasty pot bunker.
No. 6 is a massive 456-yard par-4 with a sweeping dogleg left that tempts you to hit a hard draw. What you are likely to find out after the fact is that a good portion of the fairway slopes to the left and into a water hazard that runs the length of the hole. This will be one of the hardest holes on the course for most golfers. The only way to miss this green and still be in play is to be short and/or right of it, but getting up and down from there will definitely test your nerves, skill, and imagination.
No. 7 is a 328-yard par-4. It’s all about what club you select off the tee. Driver straight at the flag (which must carry a bunker on the right) is aggressive but likely safe. A driver left will leave you with that dreaded 60-yard bunker shot, and driver right could be behind a tree. Be smart and hit a hybrid. If you miss the green left or right, you may waste a shot or two going back and forth due to the steep drop off on either side.
No. 8 was my personal nemesis. It’s a 387-yard par-4 that, in retrospect, places an emphasis on an accurately planned tee shot (notice a theme here?). By that I mean at the tee, you need to evaluate where the pin is and pick the club and line that will give you the best angle — while keeping in mind the location of the bunkers and trees that could impact your intended path.
No. 9 is an uphill, 148-yard par-3 with a massive waste area in front, another bunker beyond, and a back-right to front-left sloping green. Matt Cardis’ photo below from his @golfinyourstate Instagram account is taken from the No. 9 tee box.
A course with virtually no excess is a challenging proposition. Everything has to be in exactly the right place, as there’s nothing to divert your attention away from anything that doesn’t meet expectations. Sweetens Cove is definitely up to the task, forcing you to constantly zoom in and out mentally to evaluate the macro and micro of every single shot. There are no less than three shots that can be played from any given situation on the course, but you had better commit to the strategy you’ve chosen and execute or you will pay the price.
The entire journey is spent on the razor-thin edge between heroism and disappointment. Sure, there are elements of this designer and that designer; of links golf and American golf, but Sweetens Cove is truly a golf course without a parallel. It’s a place that serves as a refreshing counter-culture to the vast majority of 21st-century golf courses and, frankly, to the American lifestyle in general. In a world with so much excess, Sweetens Cove will remind you that if all you had left was just a fantastic golf course, all would still be very much right with the world.
The Teeth of the Dog Experience
Teeth of the Dog. Even the name is daunting. Rated the number one course in the Caribbean and number 32 in the world in the 2020 Golf Digest Course Rankings, the Pete Dye masterpiece on the south shore of the Dominican Republic lives up to the name. I visited the island with the sole purpose of playing the course, often described as Dye’s signature build, but what I ultimately found at the Casa de Campo resort in the town of La Romana was so much more than just Teeth of the Dog. My goodness.
I traveled, once again, with the old man. My dad is an able and willing golf companion and he was eager to leave the heat of our North Texas climate to escape to the Caribbean for a long weekend. The pandemic, ever-looming, created some hesitation but our research into the resort and their on-site testing and safety protocols eased our concerns. We made the trip. And the trip went smoothly.
Direct flights are available from DFW (as well as many other major cities) to Punta Cana and the airport was clean and efficient. A stay at Casa de Campo comes with a shuttle service to and from the airport provided by Prestige. More on them later, but I will tease by saying they are a tremendously useful and honest company.
We arrived around 5 p.m. and it’s a 50-minute ride to the resort. We headed straight to the main resort restaurant, La Cana, for a dinner overlooking the pool. Quite a start. I could immediately tell this place was wonderful.
Casa De Campo sits on 7,000 acres and is home to not only Teeth of the Dog, but three other golf courses, one of which is private. The other Dye course that we played, called Dye Fore, is actually three very unique nine-hole loops called Marina, Lagos, and Chavon. A round at Dye Four lets you pick which two of the three nines to play.
When you check into Casa, they give each room their very own gas-operated golf cart to navigate the property. Trust me, you need it. The activities and restaurants are sprawled about every corner of the property, but there seems to be four key locations: the Marina, Altos de Chavon, the beach club, and the main resort hotel.
Our room overlooked the 10th fairway of Teeth of the Dog and was basic yet comforting in its design. Everything you need in a golf resort.
Friday was our first round of golf at Dye Fore. You could call it a warm-up round for Teeth of the Dog, which is what I initially considered it as. But I can tell you that the Marina and Chavon are still Pete Dye designs, and with that comes pot bunkers, elevation, beauty, and challenge. The first nine holes for us was the Marina, which starts with a wide-open par 5 that goes down before it goes up to an elevated green. It felt like a course that was going to be fun right off the bat.
Dye Fore has a variety of total yardages, depending on which nine-hole tracks you decide to pair together. Each nine is named for the spectacular views found on each course. The Marina course provides just that: views of the not-so-distant marina at the mouth of the Chavon River, where the freshwater meets the sea. The gold tees played just under 7,000 yards on the Marina-Chavon combo and it felt every bit of that. There are, however, six different sets of tees for all abilities and ages.
The greens and fairways are pure. This course is incredibly well maintained. This part of the Dominican gets about 40 inches of rainfall per year and the climate is obviously tropical. The Marina nine was really fun but not quite as “Pete Dye” as I was expecting. It felt a bit more resort course than I would have pegged for Mr. Dye.
Spectacular views of the river and ocean, but this side also has quite a bit of mega-mansions worth gazing at. One of the notable aspects of Casa de Campo is that the property is home to many villas and homes owned by people with, quite obviously, a ton of money. Lebron James was rumored to be visiting days before our arrival, shopping for a property to purchase. Lionel Messi had recently vacationed there earlier this month, per his Instagram. The place is a playground for the uber-rich, which just gives us “every man” golfers something else to ogle at while we enjoy the decently (~$200) priced golf for the quality of courses provided.
Many of the villas are resort-owned or affiliated and can be rented out as a part of your stay at Casa de Campo. Pretty incredible setting for a golf buddy trip if that is your speed and style. The resort website also lists several “stay and play” packages, which can include unlimited golf and food as a part of the pricing. I’d recommend going with the food package as we later found out the dining on-site was as good as the golf, and I tend to eat more than I play on trips like this.
The Chavon Course, in contrast to Marina, is largely isolated from the rest of the property and its villas. Instead of large homes and views of the bay, you get seven scenic cliffside holes dropping over 300 feet to the Chavon River. And I don’t say this lightly, but the views on this course rival the oceanside holes of Teeth of the Dog. It was amazing.
And challenging, to boot. There aren’t many trees on this side and the afternoon wind was up. The par 3s played long and the closing ninth (18 for us) is a beautiful par-five right into the breeze. The clubhouse for Dye Fore overlooks the number one tee and the nine green from above, along with the Chavon River, and is a great spot to have a Presidente Beer.
The Chavon nine was as enjoyable a nine holes as I have played in a long time. Every hole is good and the views are just crazy amazing for an inland course. I was genuinely stunned. We could see hotel guests on boats and kayaks exploring the Chavon River, which looked like a lot of fun. But I preferred my view from the course.
This course is 100% pure Pete Dye. Bunkers everywhere you look and long enough to be enjoyably painful. I have been fortunate enough to do stories on several Dye courses (TPC Scottsdale, TPC Louisiana, Whistling Straits, TPC San Antonio) and Chavon measures up. It is not quite as consistently challenging as the other courses listed above, but it has its moments of sheer dye-abolical punishment. And the views, ah the views, leave you asking for more.
The signature pot bunkers have become, at least to me, sandy memorials to Mr. Dye on nearly every hole. We miss you.
Altos De Chavon
Just down the road (walking distance) from the Dye Fore clubhouse is Altos De Chavon, a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village. Yes, you read that correctly. This charming little collection of shops and restaurants overlooks the Chavon River and golf course and is a real-life time machine. Complete with a huge 5,000 seat amphitheater used for local music and shows, Altos de Chavon was such a unique experience. The amphitheater opened in 1982 and Frank Sinatra gave the inaugural performance, which, believe it or not, was televised on HBO.
We spent an hour or so just walking around, questioning whether this place hadn’t really been here forever instead of built in the last 1970’s. Ultimately and hungrily, we settled at Chilango Taqueria, and I had the best tacos of my life. This is high praise coming from a kid from Texas, but I mean it. The steak taco is thinly cut steak wrapped in cheese and a pickle spear-sized slice of avocado. The flavor was oustanding. This place was so good we actually came back two days later for lunch, the only restaurant we repeated all trip.
The village is only open to resort and villa guests, keeping the streets free of large crowds. St. Stanislaus Church is on-site and has regular mass each week. There are also active art studios and galleries from local Dominican artists, as well as an archeological museum. I don’t know who came up with the idea of Altos, but I am grateful to them for allowing me the chance to visit.
Lesson with Teaching Pro Eric Lillibridge
That afternoon, my dad took the first golf lesson of his life. We met with Head Teaching Professional Eric Lillibridge, who gave the stubborn golfer a short game lesson on chipping and putting. Lillibridge, who after an hour of time with us proved himself to be a first-class teacher, is also just a fun guy to hang out with. Originally from California, he hopped around professional tours a bit before accepting the job at Casa de Campo and moved to the Dominican full time. In speaking with him about his life and journey, I can say confidently he is happy right where he is. And that feeling comes through in his golf lessons and the way he speaks about Casa de Campo.
The practice facility is first class. TrackMan is utilized in two covered hitting bays along with a full short game area. My dad, who is typically averse to any form of practice, left the lesson with a smile on his face and a few swing tips in his mind for the next round. That was fun to see. He even said that he wishes Lillibridge lived in Texas so he could take more lessons with him.
Thanks so much, Eric.
Dinner at the Marina
Casa de Campo, as you can tell, can fill up your day. You can make this a beach and relax vacation if you’d like (see: tomorrow) but it also has enough to do to fill every hour of your trip. On top of the golf and dinner options, there is also a shooting range for clay pigeon shotgun shooting, horseback riding and polo fields, tennis facilities and a petting zoo for kiddos. All reachable with your golf cart.
We took our cart down to the marina for dinner, which is more than just a marina. The resort has built another residential and shopping community, which has a European plaza feel. The center of the crescent-shaped community is home to a half dozen or more restaurants, one of which was called Causa, where we had a real nice meal. Causa’s menu was a hybrid of Peruvian food (think creole) and Japanese dishes. The sushi was awesome and something I wasn’t really expecting in the Dominican.
We woke up and had breakfast at Lago. Overlooking the 9th green at Teeth of the Dog and adjacent to the clubhouse, this made-to-order style breakfast has everything you need. Omelets, local dishes and fruits, smoothie bar, pastries, you name it. Not a bad spot for a meal, with the ocean in the distance, knowing that soon you’ll be alongside the water hoping your golf ball finds the green. And then it was time.
Teeth of the Dog
The entrance to the Teeth of the Dog clubhouse is guarded by a wonderful tribute to Pete Dye, complete with a bronze statue and his signature pot bunker right in front. Walking to the pro shop, you can’t help but realize that the experience you are about to have is going to be a special one. It’s why you came all this way. And it’s why Mr. Dye came all this way too.
The pro shop is spacious and well equipped. All the major brands are available, from Polo to Under Armour, and there was a large variety of clothing and gear for women and kids, too. That isn’t always the case for many courses, as we know. I spent a fair amount of time in the shop, as I usually do, and couldn’t really identify anything that was missing. I’m a sucker for Peter Millar’s golf shirts, and they had plenty for everyone. Even mediums.
The lockerroom has a real old-world charm to it. Open-air and the locker boxes slide out and don’t lock. The showers feel like they belong on the beach. This was my first round of golf in the Caribbean, but I feel like all island locker rooms and clubhouses should feel this way. The nineteenth hole is also attached, and completely open-air as well, overlooking the number one tee box and the practice putting green.
Teeth of the Dog gets its name from the jagged coral rocks that surround the coastline around both the course and much of the island. As the course was being built, many of the locals remarked that the rocks resembled the pointy canine teeth of dogs, and the moniker stuck.
The course opened for play in 1971 and Dye, ever modest, was quick to acknowledge that he was only responsible for the design of 11 of the golf holes, while God created the seven that hugged the ocean.
The course, from the tips, plays to 7,263 yards with a slope rating of 76.0/135. The gold tees are sub 7,000 yards, however, and the blues reach 6,429.
Teeth begins somewhat benign, with a sub-400 yard par four with ever-present bunkering from tee to green. If you don’t like sand traps, just don’t play Pete Dye courses. I do want to mention the second hole because what would’ve been a very run-of-the-mill 375 inland par 4 was, instead, made very memorable with some creative design. The tee shot forces a slight carry over a large bunker complex that follows along the entire left side of the hole, but half of that bunker is filled with round stones that make any errant ball unplayable. Wooden fence posts also stand erect around the border of some of the bunkers, which serve no real purpose other than to make the hole look cool. I liked it.
Holes three and four continue out towards the ocean, but you finally get a glimpse of the sea. Good holes in their own right (there isn’t a bad hole out here–it’s one of the best courses in the world for a reason), the ocean finally being so close only gets you excited to finally make that turn and get seaside.
The par-three fifth is the course’s signature hole. The tee shot plays about 155 yards to a tiny green with the ocean left and behind. In front is a small tree, protecting the right side of the green and rejecting low shots back into a bunker and beach just below. Yes, a literal beach, with incoming waves and everything. Ask my dad, he will tell you.
Holes six, seven, and eight continue along the sea, with the shore on your left, and honestly, it was all a bit of a blur. You want to play well, but you also just want to take it all in. It was reminiscent of holes six through ten at Pebble Beach, but the water is so much closer and in play here at Teeth. Gorgeous golf.
Hole seven with worth singling out, since it is a 222-yard par three over water. Gracefully there is a bunker fronting the green to catch any short tee shots from rolling back into the saltwater. Still, this hole is an absolute beast. Beautiful and terrifying, just like the ocean herself.
Teeth of the Dog turns back inland on the back nine. With four of the first nine holes being along the ocean, my basic arithmetic skills told me there were more of those holes “created by God” to be played. Hole 13, a 180-yard par-three, is a pretty great inland hole. The green is islanded by sand on all sides and a tree just left of the green. You cannot reach the green without walking through the bunker, which is pretty unique.
There is also a little bar hut set up on the 13th tee serving ice-cold Presidente beer. Yes, sir, it’s the island life for me.
Teeth of the Dog did not waste the seven oceanside holes with a boring remaining course. The architecture does not ignore simple design techniques that make the internal holes aesthetically pleasing as well. The bunker island par three, the cobblestone bunkering on #2, uniquely raised stone tee boxes, and the beautiful coffin bunkers all over the fairways, the creative routing with challenging approaches would rank this course highly even without the Caribbean close by. The course even has several ponds that bring fresh water into play.
And then, as you leave the 14th green and follow the path to the right, you see it again. The walk between 14 green and 15 tee box is a special one. The anticipation is thrilling, even though the course has already given you a solid taste of ocean holes, you know you are about to get a second serving.
Holes 15 through 17 are wonderful. The closing stretch is wonderful. Teeth of the Dog is wonderful.
Sixteen is the last par three, once again over the sea, but this time with the water on your right and playing 180 yards from the tips. Just aim for the middle of the green as this hole plays tricks on you. The green is not as horizontal as it appears from the tee, but rather it gets deeper the closer you get to the water. That means that the carry is longer if the pin is right. Club up.
The closing hole turns back to the clubhouse with a devastatingly long and uphill par 4. Playing 473 yards up to the elevated green, it’s a nice way for Mr. Dye to tell you “goodbye and come back anytime you dare to face the Teeth. Enjoy a Presidente and see me again someday.”
Pete Dye is one of the greatest golf course builders this world has ever seen. It was a sad day when he passed in 2020 for all of us who love the game. But his legacy lives on in his work. And it seems clear that there is no course he loved more than Teeth of the Dog. Now I know why.
The Beach Club
Dinner after golf was down at the beach club, which gave us an opportunity to soak up some rays and jump into the cold water that so many of our golf balls had enjoyed earlier that day. Beach access, like everything else on the property, is just a short golf cart ride away. The beach itself is typical for the island…gorgeous white sand crystal clear blue water. The Caribbean is just the best.
There is a full bar, large swimming pool, showers, and food trucks at the beach, which honestly gives you every reason to stay there all day. The Beach Club itself is also open to all guests, but it provides an adult-only pool and full restaurant. We had dinner there our final night, a great way to say goodbye to Casa de Campo.
Time to Say Goodbye
The flight out the following day was not until 5 p.m. Unfortunately, a Tropical Storm had hit in the early morning hours and rain continued for most of the day. So we stayed around the main resort building, ate some lunch, and thought back on the weekend we just enjoyed.
Prestige Shuttles arrived on time to take us to the Punta Cana airport, and upon arrival and check-in with our airline, my dad realized he had left his wallet in the car. I got on the phone and called Casa de Campo, hoping they would be able to get our driver, Enrique, on the phone so he could somehow come back to the airport. We figured our chances of that happening was low, so we crossed through security and my dad began canceling his credit cards on his phone. A nightmare.
But an airport official found us, told us Enrique was here with the wallet, and my dad was escorted beyond security to greet him. Enrique was smiling, happy to see him again and to return such a valuable item. That is the kind of service you get with Prestige, with Casa De Campo, and, in my opinion, with the people of the Dominican Republic.
We came for Teeth of the Dog. We left with a brand new appreciation for the beautiful island and the wonderful people it propagates. I can not wait to go back.
If you want help planning your next golf experience or just have questions about some of mine, reach out to me on Instagram and shoot me a message. And definitely check out my other golf experience articles. I look forward to hearing from you!
The best golf courses in Ireland
For a tiny island with fewer than 10 million people, Ireland has an abundance of magnificent golf courses.
But which ones are the best?
The best golf courses in Ireland
Pinning down 10 to even 50 of Ireland’s best courses is a thankless task, with a country that boasts so many hidden gems along with world-renowned tracks. The island is split into four provinces—Leinster, Munster, Connacht, and Ulster—and here I’ll highlight some courses you must visit in each region for anyone heading to the Emerald Isle.
Mount Juliet Golf Course, Kilkenny
Host of the 2021 Irish Open, the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in all of the country. With five lakes and over 80 bunkers, the challenging course measures over 7,200 yards and features a unique ‘bunker walled green’ protecting the pin on the 16th hole.
Speaking on the course while playing the 2002 WGC-American Express Championship, Tiger Woods said
“I think the golf course is absolutely gorgeous, the fairways are perfect, the greens are the best greens we’ve putter on all year, including the majors. These things are absolute pure.”
Druids Glen Golf Course, Wicklow
You don’t get the nickname the ‘Augusta of Europe’ without being a little bit special, and Druids Glen is undoubtedly that. The perfectly manicured inland course boasts some of the most picturesque holes with each hole offering stunning backdrops.
The course also offers up an incredible challenge. It helps to be a high-quality ball-striker, with the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia winning titles when the course hosted professional events.
Ballybunion Golf Club, Kerry
Founded in 1883, the Ballybunion Old Course lives up to its tag as ‘One of a kind’. Measuring 6,739 yards from the tips, the wonderful dunescape sets the scene for a true links challenge, with the golf course often touted as possessing the best back nine in the country.
President Bill Clinton on Ballybunion
“I love Ballybunion. It’s perfectly Irish: beautiful, rough, and a lot like life — you get breaks you don’t deserve both ways. You just have to keep swinging and know it will all even out.”
Waterville Golf Links, Kerry
The remote Waterville Golf Links is situated on a promontory surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. With undulating fairways, the course sets out relatively flat on the front 9 with tall dunes welcoming players home for the back 9.
One of the most impressive and picturesque links courses that you will set your sights on that will instantly provide you with a mystic feel that only Ireland can provide.
Sam Snead on Waterville:
”The beautiful monster – one of the golfing wonders of the world.”
Rosappena Old Tom Morris Links, Donegal
An incredible setting for a course that offers up a wonderful mix of a traditional and modern links feel. Measuring over 6,900 yards from the back tees, the course only offers up relief on the three par-fives.
The course runs along Tramore beach overlooking Sheephaven Bay and offers up sensational views no matter what hole you are on during your round. Blustery conditions can turn this into a brutal links test.
Royal County Down
Often cited as the best golf course in the country and even the world. Royal County Down offers up monstrous blind shots, several bunkers and glorious views. The ultimate links golf test.
Rickie Fowler on Royal County Down:
”Royal County Down is my all-time favourite.”
Lahinch Golf Club, Clare
Lahinch Golf Club is a step back in time golf course often compared to the Old Course of St. Andrews. The course offers up a quirky test wth a classic out and back layout, while providing stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Phil Mickelson on Lahinch:
“Some of my fondest memories of great golfing holes in the world include the number four and five holes at Lahinch.”
Sligo Golf Club, Rosses Point, Sligo
Co. Sligo Golf Course features traditional links layout, designed by Harry Colt. The dune-covered landscape sets the scene for a course packed with undulations, elevated tees, and raised plateau greens for a stunning test of golf. The golf course is famed for its tremendous par 3s.
The Colonial Experience
Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, is home to the longest-running non-major PGA Tour event held at one location. The course opened in 1936, and it’s been hosting the Invitational at Colonial, now called the Charles Schwab Challenge, every year since 1946.
It was the golfing home of Ben Hogan, five-time winner of the event, and it’s still where most of his trophies and accomplishments are housed. The 1941 U.S. Open was here and won by Craig Wood. The Players Championship was here in 1975 and the U.S. Women’s Open was here in 1991. Colonial, quite simply, is rich golf history in a town that is proud of where it came from. And you can feel the past as soon as you step foot on the grounds.
Walking through the gates towards the course, you are immediately hugged by a “wow” moment. There’s Mr. Hogan, his follow through forever posed, larger than life and overlooking the 18th hole. Also in view is a manually operated leaderboard, permanently tucked away inside the closing hole’s dogleg, reminding you subtly that you are about to play a Tour course. It’s up year-round, and as the tournament nears, Mr. Hogan’s name always appears in the first place position.
Down the steps and around the corner, past the caddie shack and old school bag room, is the starter house and number one tee box. And shadowing over the professional tees is the Wall of Champions, with every winning player’s name and score etched to watch your opening tee shot. Hogan’s name is there five times. Sam Snead. Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and Lee Trevino all on there twice. Tom Watson. Sergio. Spieth.
Some courses are second shot courses, with approach shots being more demanding and more important than driving accuracy or distance. Some courses require length. At Colonial, you need both. That’s why the list of past winners is so impressive on the Wall of Champions. You can’t just drive or putt your way to a win at Colonial. You have to be solid in every aspect of the game. You have to earn it and deserve it. You have to be a shotmaker.
Colonial was designed by Texan John Bredemus and well-known architect Perry Maxwell, who also designed Prairie Dunes in Kansas and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It opened in 1936 and currently plays as a 7,209-yard par 70 that meanders along the banks of the Trinity River. The greens are bent grass, which at one point in time was an unheard of idea for a course in North Texas. Marvin Leonard, the club’s founder, was determined to build a world-class club in the region that could sustain bent grass. And he did it. Just five years after the club opened its doors, the 1941 United States Open was held in Fort Worth. Colonial was on the map and the Marvin Leonard dream had come true.
The course holds only two par 5’s, the first hole being one of them. A 565-yard dogleg right to a slight elevated green, getting home in two isn’t out of the question with a perfectly placed drive. But this introductory hole is the perfect way to start a round. Nothing too demanding. Get warmed up. The second hole, a short par 4, is no different. Start off easy to get some good holes under your belt.
And then you get to the Horrible Horseshoe.
The third hole at Colonial is a 483-yard par 4 that plays even longer than that, due to the severe 90-degree dogleg left near your drive’s landing area. A straight 250-yard tee shot will put you in decent position away from trouble, but you still have 230 yards into a multi-tiered green. Longer hitters can try to cut the corner, protected by bunkers at the corner, but the landing area for that shot is so narrow that the reward is often not worth the risk. This is a tough hole.
The fourth hole is a 220-yard par 3 from the men’s tees. But it tips out to 247 yards for the pros during tournament week. The green is elevated and often very firm, making it incredibly tough to stop a long iron or hybrid on the dance floor for even the best players in the world. This is a tough tough hole. Short is the safe play, though there is no easy up and down from the front, as the green is elevated to eye level and making most chip shots blind.
The fifth hole, ending the Horrible Horseshoe, is one of the finest and toughest holes in golf. Your tee shot dog legs just enough to the right to require a left-to-right ball flight. Something to make you think about standing over your ball. Anything off the tee that is too straight or has any right to left movement is going to cross through the fairway and into an oak tree-lined ditch with rough high enough to swallow a ball for weeks. If you start in the ditch, you finish in the ditch. So don’t miss left.
Don’t miss right either. Anything with too much fade or slice action is going into the Trinity River, which borders this hole on the right all the way to the green. And if you can somehow manage to find the fairway, you’re still a long way from home as this is a 481-yard par 4 leading to a well-bunkered green. This is a tough, tough, tough hole.
If you can get through these three holes, arguably the hardest three-hole stretch on tour, unscathed, you’ve done something.
The rest of the front nine is easy, in comparison to the horseshoe, but by no means simple. Six and seven are wonderfully partnered par fours, running parallel in opposite directions. The par 3 8th hole brings the Trinity River back into view, but the water itself is not a real threat. The hole plays 194 yards from the back tees to a three-tiered green. The safe play is always aiming to the middle of the green and letting the putter do the rest of the work. Missing this green completely will not likely result in par, as deep bunkering and wide trees protect on all sides.
The closing hole of the front nine requires a precise tee ball between large bunkers on both sides of the fairway. The green is tucked behind a scenic pond and in front of the starter’s house and number one tee box. Any miss, left or right off the tee, will most likely force a layup in front of the water. But if you do have a shot at the green, make sure you don’t miss short.
From nine green, you can see much of the front, hopefully recalling fond memories of the first half of your round. Thankfully, not much of the horrible horseshoe is in view…let’s keep that in the past.
That back nine at Colonial is an absolute blast. The two par 3’s on this side are both world-class holes, 13 being the course’s signature. The lone par 5, hole 11, is a straightaway 635-yard-long mammoth with a troublesome creek along the entire right side.
But it all starts with the absolutely tremendous 10th hole. Only 408 yards from the tips, the hole plays tricks on the eyes. From the tee, it looks like you have plenty of room off on the right, but course knowledge can go a long way on this hole. You absolutely have to keep your tee ball hugging the left side of this fairway, which feels like a horrifying proposition while standing over the ball. The tee box falls off into the water, which doubles as approach shot hazard on nearby 18. Driver just isn’t the club here, though it feels like it should be. Any miss slightly right is going to be shielded from the green from overhanging trees and a deceptive angle.
The back nine has a bit more undulation than the front. The formerly brush-covered Trinity River land still has plenty of mature foliage, mostly oaks, pecans, and cottonwood trees, to maintain the feel of an old-school course. It is truly a classic layout in every sense of the phrase. The bent grass greens, made famous by Mr. Leonard’s passionate pursuit, are pure most of the year, though fans are erected during the Summer months to keep them cool.
The par-3 13th hole is a tournament spectator favorite. 190 yards from the pro tees and 171 from the men’s, this hole is as beautiful as it is treacherous. The further you miss right, the more carry you’ll need to land safely. During tournament week, the professional caddies are in on a long-standing spectator event: the caddie races. Fan’s surrounding the green pick a player’s caddie to root for, then they cheer (and maybe even gamble) for that caddie to reach the green first. I’ve seen all-out sprint races and slow walk dramatic finishes alike. First foot to touch the green wins, and the caddies are hilarious about it. They eat it up.
The home stretch at Colonial is designed for drama. The 16th, a par 3, is another stunner. 185 yards over creeks and ponds to the most difficult green complex on the course. Only two tiers, but a pretty drastic climb from front left to top right. And the Sunday pin placement, top right, has caused more heartburn than any other spot on the track. Miss too far right and you’re out of bounds and in the Colonial parking lot. There is a great patio just beyond the 16th green where members can sit to watch the approach shots.
17 is a strategic short par 4, where iron is the safe play off the tee. A dogleg right, the tee shot is more about angles and accuracy than length. Miss too far right and your approach into the green is dead, blocked by trees. A proper drive on the left middle of this fairway sets up a great chance for birdie. And at Colonial, you need to take advantage of these holes. Especially with 18 coming up.
The closing hole is a classic. Now you need a long draw off the tee to this 441-yard dogleg left. The fairway slopes right to left as well, so a shot on the right side here usually ends up in a wonderful position. The green is slightly elevated and guarded by incredibly deep bunkers short and on both sides. With that sloping fairway, the approach is generally a side-hill lie that works the ball left. And remember, that pond we saw on the 10th fairway is very much in play here. Any miss left and you are wet.
As if the water left isn’t enough pressure, the clubhouse is right there watching, typically bustling with activity and eyes on your shot. Plus, there is Mr. Hogan’s statue, always there to intimidate golfers as they walk off the green to end their round. The house that Hogan built.
Which is a perfect reminder to head inside the clubhouse for cocktail and tour around the Hogan Room. Located upstairs near the main entrance, this small room could take an hour or two of your time if you aren’t careful. Major championship trophies, scorecards, Mr. Hogan’s locker, the famous Merion flagpin, the Ryder Cup. It is a genuine thrill to walk through.
Downstairs, connected to the pro shop, is another Hogan tribute…the man’s personal office sits untouched and exactly how he kept it. It’s a bit like looking into the Oval office for golf nerds.
The rest of the clubhouse is a tribute to not only Mr. Hogan, but the history of the tournament itself. Every past champion is recognized with a photo of him holding the trophy, proudly wearing the Colonial plaid jacket, and displayed next to a golf club they used to accomplish the win, donated to Colonial. Clubs pulled from the bag of every past champion…walking the halls of Colonial is like walking through the Golf Hall of Fame. History around every corner.
There is also a special tribute to Dan Jenkins. The Fort Worth native and original wild-man golf writer was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012. Jenkins played golf at nearby TCU and was a beloved member at Colonial. He was also close friends with Mr. Hogan. The display holds all of Jenkins’ wonderful books, including Dead Solid Perfect, as well as his typewriter. A hero of mine, it’s hard not to walk by the Jenkins Tribute and stop to admire. Every time.
Playing a round at Colonial is a special experience. Still one of the finest golf courses in Texas, it remains the home of golf history in the Lone Star State. Golf Mecca for Hogan fans, the course has withstood the test of time. And the clubhouse itself, with all its history and charm, is worth the price of admission. I feel better about the future of golf knowing clubs like Colonial are out there, working hard to keep the past alive.
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