Sunday, April 23, 2017

Arizona, California, and Nevada, April 10-15, 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Arizona, California, and Nevada, April 10-15, 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

I trust all of the readers of this blog were busy on Sunday April 9 watching the final round of The Masters…which is as close as I come to a religious experience each year.  About 45 years ago I decided that it felt “sloppy” to be viewing The Masters on Sunday dressed in a golf shirt, sneakers, shorts, etc., and decided that I should wear a blazer (no, not green, which seemed too pretentious, but blue) to observe the final round on the television.  It struck me that a tie would be going too far, but a blue blazer with a clean crisp button down shirt seemed just right. 

On April 9 Pat and I were joined by our close friends John Hill and his wife Cathy Carter and their house guests (who have become good friends over the past few years) Gordon & Wendy Speirs…all of Toronto.  John and Gordon were respectful enough to follow the jacket protocol.  It was a brilliant event, as usual.  We had dinner at our house at the conclusion of play and made it as early a night as possible…I had to leave early on Monday.

At 3:30am or so I was in my car for the 2 hour drive to the airport in Charlotte, NC.  My flight to Phoenix departed at 7:30am and arrived PHX at around 9:10am (at this time of year Phoenix is on Pacific Daylight Time…3 hours behind NC).  I had a 107 mile (1 hour 45 minute) drive to The Stone Canyon Club, located about 20 miles north of Tuscon.

The Stone Canyon Club, April 10, 2017: Stone Canyon opened in 2000 and was designed by Jay Moorish.  Moorish passed away in 2015 after an illustrious career working for Robert Trent Jones for 4 years, then George Fazio for 2, then Jack Nicklaus for 10, and then in partnership with Tom Weiskopf for 12 (1983-95).  Stone Canyon was one of his solo efforts.  Other excellent courses I have played by Morrish (or Weiskopf/Morrish) include, Troon (AZ), Boulders (AZ), TPC Scottsdale (AZ), Troon North (AZ), Forest Highlands-Canyon (AZ), TPC Four Seasons (TX), Double Eagle (OH), and Loch Lomond (Scotland)…and the four in bold have appeared on a recognized World Top 100 listing.  Stone Canyon made one appearance in 2009 on Golf Digest’s USA Top 100 at #68.  It stretches to 7317 yards (but plays shorter due to the altitude).

I played the first 8 holes by myself and then joined up for 9-18 with a member, Ed Fisher…a very interesting guy and good golfer.  Ed had been a high school and college football coach and then headed up the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA), which reconditions helmets and certifies those deemed safe to use in football. 

Stone Canyon was purchased (out of bankruptcy) in 2014 by Phil Mickelson and his agent Steve Loy.  Since then a new clubhouse was constructed, and this summer the greens will be redone.  It sits with spectacular views of surrounding mountains, and is a very good course.  To my mind, the desert encroaches too close to the golf course, which is one reason I am not a big fan of desert golf.  It does boast a superb practice facility.  The best hole IMO is #6, a 145 yard par 3 to a slightly elevated and very small infinity green (see pic).  I was not real crazy about #10, a double dogleg par 5 (622 yards) starting off a highly elevated tee and then bending left then right around a large pond fronting the green. 

Stone Canyon #5...425 yd par 4

Stone Canyon #6...145 yd par 3 to small infinity green

I shot a 38-42 = 80, which was pretty good after about 5 hours of sleep, 3 hours of time change, 5 hours on a plane, and almost 4 hours driving!   Now I had a 2-hour drive back to Scottsdale…and hoped to get some sleep.

We-Ko-Pa Saguaro Course, April 11, 2017:  Was up early for what was to be a long day.  Had a 6:50 tee off time at We-Ko-Pa (located about 10 miles east of Scottsdale and 20-25 miles northeast of Phoenix) followed by a 60 mile drive to Quintero located northwest of Phoenix, then play at Quintero followed by a 45 mile drive back to my hotel in Scottsdale. 

WKP Saguaro was designed by Coore-Crenshaw and opened in 2006.  Like almost all C-C courses it features wide fairways but requires the player to think his/her way around the course to have the best angle into the day’s pin placements.  It’s wide corridors mean that in general, one does not continually face the risk of hitting into the desert…although that danger is present if you try to bite off more than you can chew, or if you stop observing and thinking (as I did on the 10th tee…more later).  The land used for the course has just the right amount of movement to create real interest without the overly dramatic raised tees found at many desert courses

I played with another single, Peter Y., who I quickly learned had been born in Flushing Queens, NY about 4-5 miles from where I grew up.  Peter was a good player and lived in Denver where he heads a small band that performs at weddings and similar events. 

Course plays to 6966 yards and sits in a valley in the midst of the Sonoran Desert with mountains to the west and the south.  While it has never been included on one of the USA Top 100 course lists I track, I personally think it is the best course I have played in AZ (I have played 23 courses in AZ including all those that have been any of the Top 100 lists I track).  It has great subtlety, best exhibited by #10, a short (337 yard) par 4 which doglegs right.  The corner of the dogleg is protected by a deep bunker and the left side appears relatively open…making me think that I could get away with a draw.  However, once you leave the fairway, the left side slopes further left toward the desert, which is where my drive ended up.  In other words, I fell for this visual trick…hook, line and sinker.  The front of the green is protected by a deep narrow bunker that seems to “intrude” into the green (see pic) and must be avoided, and I eventually found that also…the folks are still calculating my score on 10.  
Devilish bunker thrust into front of #10 green WKP---to be avoided!

Other best holes on the course are:

o   #4, a 442 yard dogleg left par 4 with deep bunkers (found by me) protecting the corner of the dogleg, a dip about 60 yards short of the green and then sharply uphill to a green with no greenside bunkers (the green’s slope affording more than enough protection);

o   #15, a 255 yard downhill par 3 with bunkers down the left side and desert impinging near the left of the green; and

o   #16, 328 yard dogleg right par 4, uphill to a well protected, small infinity green.

Terrible pic of #16 at WKP---328 yd par just over right edge or fairway...blowe up and you might spot flag...two bunkers fronting green

Played well on the front but fell apart on the back…41-47 = 87.  After thanking the pro, it was off to Quintero.

Quintero Golf Club, April 11, 2017: Another casualty of the 2008 recession, Quintero was intended to be a high-end real estate development and golf club.  The Founders course was completed in 2001 and designed by Rees Jones.  After foreclosure proceedings about 6 years ago it slashed its initiation fees and monthly dues, but still could not make it as a private facility, and now is fully open to the public.  In 2002 it debuted as #39 on Golf Week’s Top 100 Modern list (#78 on my merged GW list)…and for the next 8 years fell steadily downhill on that list, finally disappearing from the merged list in 2005 and from the Modern list in 2011.  I just don’t understand how it made the list in the first place.  It was filled the dramatically uphill and downhill holes that are no substitute for thoughtful subtle architectural features.

There were no best holes here…but #8 certainly qualifies as one of the worst.  Stretching 586 yards with a totally blind tee shot, it makes a right hand turn and goes sharply uphill about 275 yards from the back tee (fairway runs out 326 yards from the back tee).  To reach the second part of the fairway going uphill to the right, player must negotiate an 80-90 yard desert wash out.  After a perfect drive to the preferred right side of the fairway, I was left with about 300 yards over the wash out and sharply up hill to the green from a downhill lie!!  Could not wait for the round to end (play was slow to add insult to injury) and I am please to end this write up.  After a 46 on the front who knows what I had on the back and who cares…  No need to visit this one, folks.

Whisper Rock-Upper, April 12, 2017:  About every 5 or 10 years in the AZ desert a new “king of the mountain” club appears…and Whisper Rock quickly climbed that mountain starting in 2001 with the opening of its Lower course designed by member Phil Mickelson.  Some four years later Tom Fazio’s Upper course opened for play.  WR is reputed to have some 30+ professional tour players…all of whom pony up their annual dues and other fees.  The handicap listing was filled with “+” signs and the “lowest” (not sure if the English or the math is the problem here) handicap I saw was +9.  Interestingly, many of the Tour players compete in the WR’s club championship…which was won by an amateur last year…who can and does hit drives through WR’s 375 yard deep driving range.

From the tips the Upper course plays to 7550 yards.  While both the Upper and Lower course have been on Golf Week’s Top 100 Modern list, neither was high enough to make any Merged GW list or any Golf Digest or Golf Magazine Top 100.  That fact has zero impact on the club or its members, as they ignore ratings.  My host, Chip W., an old friend an neighbor from Purchase, NY, pointedly advised me that if I submitted rating and the club learned of it, he could lose his membership…I of course advised that I would not submit rating and have abided by that promise.

The club is simply fabulous.  An incredible facility with true first class service and without being over the top.  It very much reminded me of Burning Tree in Bethesda, Maryland… a bunch of guys (including lots of kingpins and retired kingpins) who have a “unity of purpose” and just want to relax and enjoy their time together…whether they are shooting for birdies or bogies.  The course was challenging but very fair, and I played well, especially on the front nine (39 with a double bogey on 7).   Finished the round with a 42 on the back for an 81…disappointing after being one over through 6.  It was obvious on every green that there were a number of pin positions that would be close to impossible.  This course reminded me in many ways of McArthur GC in Hobe Sound, FL…very fair and playable, unless it is set up tough and you try to go after it. 
WP Upper #13---322 yd par 4...yes, spectacular, but very good hole with  "hollow" in front of green

As mentioned above, played with Chip W., as well as Rich L. an old friend from Citibank days who is also a member.  Was great catching up…last time I saw them was in Scottsdale election night 2012.  We reminisced about “the good old days” (which that election night was not one of) and traded remembrances.   After a quick lunch, it was off to my last stop in Phoenix…Desert Mountain’s Cochise course.  If you get the chance to go to Whisper Rock…do not pass it up…very special.

Desert Mountain-Cochise, April 12, 2017:  Desert Mountain is a huge golf club and residential development at the northern end of Scottsdale (about 6 miles north of WR) and was started by Lyle Anderson over 30 years ago.  Anderson was sitting on top of the world until crushing problems at his Hawaii development brought down his empire.

DM contains six courses all designed by Jack Nicklaus that opened between 1987 and 2003.  The Cochise course opened in 1988.  For many years, Cochise hosted the Senior Tour’s Tradition Championship which was designated a major, and from 2012-2016 it hosted the season ending Schwab Cup Championship.  Jack Nicklaus won the Tradition four times on Cochise.  From the tips it plays to 7042 yards and features a very good collection of par 5’s.  In 1993 Cochise made its only appearance on a USA Top 100 at #87 in Golf Digest.

I realized when I arrived that I would have real issues finishing my round in time to get to the airport for my flight to LAX at 8:05pm…but once again got lucky.  I was playing with a threesome and they suggested that I jump ahead on #8 when space opened in front of us.  Many groups had decided to only play 9 holes that afternoon and I was able to play the back nine in about 1:10.  On #17 I hit a drive into this par three which was playing 209 to a back pin and watched it curl around and stop about 10” behind the hole.  Clubhouse was busy with members dining and this one could have been fairly expensive.  Shot a solid 43-36 = 79…very solid back nine with two birdies.

Course is very good but does not compare to WR or WKP. 

Packed up and drove south to the PHX airport in plenty of time for my flight to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA.  Then to Las Vegas and back home on Saturday April 15.  Five more courses to play on this trip…to be covered on next post.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Southern California, March 29 & 30, 2017

Sherwood CC March 29: Up early on Wednesday 3/29 as I had a 7:30 tee time at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, CA.  Temperature was in the high 40’s when I arrived at the club…but with bright sunshine forecast it promised to warm up quickly.  Talking with the new head pro, Nick Yannotti and my caddy, Drew, it felt like I was back on the east coast.  Nick grew up in Fairfield CT and we traded stories about the courses of Westchester and Fairfield counties, especially CC of Fairfield.  Drew played in the 2013 US Amateur at Brookline (but missed qualifying for match play) and it was great fun trading Brookline stories with him during the round.

David Murdock, who developed the entire area, founded the club and it opened in late 1989.  The club membership through the years has included (and in many cases still does include) the likes of Sean Connery, Kenny G, Mel Gibson, Wayne Gretsky (and his daughter’s finance Dustin Johnson), Tom Selleck, Sylvester Stallone, and a bunch of “newies” a few of whose names are vaguely familiar.

Those of you with television sets are probably very familiar with Sherwood as it hosted the Shark Shootout from 1989-1998, the Tiger Woods World Challenge 2000-2008, and one of the Champions Tour playoff event in 2016.  It also was the site of a Tiger Woods-David Duval TV match in 1999 (Tiger won 2 & 1). 

The course gets flipped for tournaments.  Holes 1-8 become 10-17 for tournaments, 10-17 become 1-8, and 9 and 18 stay as 9 and 18…and if you can figure that out, you are better than I.  For the ease of your readers, the holes I refer to will be the tournament holes numbers.  And…even if you don’t watch golf on TC (what else is there besides Fox News and “24”?), you saw this property in the opening helicopter scenes each week on “M*A*S*H”.

The best holes are:

o   #2, a 536 yard par 5 that turns slightly right and is flat off the tee and then slightly downhill to an island green that is very deep but very very narrow and can leave one with some wild putts; laying up is not a simple option as the lay up area is fairly narrow;

o   #8, a 232 yard downhill par 3 that almost is a dogleg right to a green (well guarded by deep bunkers) that angles from front left to back right and slopes L to R…an imposing target;
Sherwood #8 par 3 tee shot

o   #14, 459 yard dogleg left with a raised green that slopes toward the back left…in a spectacular setting that you will remember from TV;

Sherwood par 4 #14 tee shot

Sherwood par 4 #14 approach shot

o   #15, 186 yard par 3 over two ponds to a green sloping heavily from back to front…again a familiar sight from TV coverage;
Sherwood par 3 #15

o   #17, 168 yard par 3 to a very small raised green…deep bunker front left must be avoided; I curled in a putt of about 50’ from back left to a front right cup location for a birdie…but the TV crew was taking a break and missed it.

Sherwood par 3 #17

Some of you may recall the “Rock Hole” (#7) which has a group of large (6’-7’ high) bolders in a cluster in the middle of the fairway…in his match with Tiger, David Duval had to take an unplayable out of that cluster.  My drive stopped just short of the cluster and I, of course, decided to make a go of it.  It hit one of the rocks firmly and darted  toward one of the large homes lining the left side of the fairway.  We heard it hit the patio and the side of the house, but did not hear any glass break or screams of “help”.  Apparently no one was home, and I left that ball behind as compensation for any damages.

My score was 38-40 = 78…based on the member’s hole order….and 40-38 = 78 based on the tournament hole order.

From the tips Sherwood is 7098 yards (par 72).  Overall, I have a very mixed view of the course…it has a very high number of excellent holes…and even more that are truly dramatic.  However, it is filled with many homes (a good number of which certainly fit the definition of mega-mansions) that line most of the holes…and “intrude” on a very special setting.  The homes and the trees separate the holes from one another thereby inhibiting the “flow” of the course.  Yes, there are many superb holes, but somehow, a golf course should be more than the “sum of its parts” IMO.

As I expected, the course was in perfect condition but too green IMO.  The service level in the clubhouse is simply superb…but a bit too “over the top” for my tastes.

After the round, I drove 18 miles north to a public course, Rustic Canyon…as different from Sherwood CC as you can imagine.

Rustic Canyon Golf Course, March 29, 2017:  Designed by Gil Hanse (opened in 2002) and set in a parched canyon, this course is simply brilliant in its simplicity.  Wide wide fairways (with a number of bunkers smack in the center) create all sorts of angles into greens that can drive a player simply nuts…but what fun! It was even fun when a superb 3 wood approach on 9, which was just about pin high before I looked away…and then ended up some 30-40 yards short of the pin.  I had a 41-40 = 81.

The front nine is relatively flat (but the entire Canyon sloped gently from N to S and this slope dominates short play around and on the greens) and the back nine is built on slightly more interesting land.  Golf Magazine called Rustic Canyon the best value in the USA and it richly deserves that title.  From the tips it plays 7044 yards (par 72) but because it is so firm and fast, it plays much shorter.  In terms of simple unpretentious fun, this course belongs right up there with Wolf Point Ranch (TX), Palmetto (SC)…and most of the courses in GB&I!!!  Better bring a good ground game here and start thinking about how the ball will react when it hit the ground.

Very tough to figure out first time around (and, of course, I only had time for 18) but just like The Old Course, this is one where you will never stop learning alternative ways to play the holes

While I loved the firm fast nature of the course, and the fairways and greens were generally in good condition, the bunkers and areas off the fairway could use some cleaning up…but at about $40/round on weekdays, no complaints.  Play was fairly slow, but that tends to be true at public access golf

Unfortunately my camera lost its charge by the time I arrived at Rustic, so no pics.  If you love wide open interesting courses and brilliant architecture…this is a must to see and play!!

La Costa Resort, March 30, 2017 (Champions Course): Truly a name from the past.  Completed in 1965 and designed by Dick Wilson, La Costa hosted:

o   The CBS Golf Classic…a made for TV series of matches featuring the golf stars of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s;

o   The Tournament of Champions (later renamed the Mercedes Championship) from 1969-1998 (when it moved to Kapalua on Maui); and

o   The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship for seven of eight years between 1999 and 2006 (when it moved to Tucson, AZ). 

The T of C was always played during the Tour’s West Coast swing during California’s rainy season…and the course was frequently very very wet when presented on TV.  It was renovated by Joe Lee in 1973 and 1984, and then by Damian Pascuzzo, Steve Pate, and Jeff Bauer in 2011.  The latter renovation was a very big change and changed the original course by splitting it up.  I had been told when I booked the tee time that today’s Champions course was built on the land that had the original T of C/CBS Golf Classic etc. course.  During my round I suspected that was not true as we did not play on land similar to the flow of the old holes #15-18…long, with water right, and flowing westward.  Talking with an old timer in the pro shop it became clear that holes 1-3 and 13-18 of the Champions Course we played was built on the old front nine and the back nine of the new Legends Course was built on the land that housed the old back nine.

I played with an old friend and fraternity brother, Bob Blumberg, who has lived in the San Diego area for about the last 35 years or so.  We have kept in touch during this time but not close enough and it was great to spend four hours with him.  Bob was a very good tennis and squash player back in the 1960’s and like many have taken up golf with a vengeance over the last 20 years or so.

I was tired this morning.  Probably a function of the very long drive from Thousand Oaks yesterday evening…right in the midst of a typical LA rush hour…only about 140 miles but it took a full four hours.  It showed during my play on the front nine of Champions but I did get my game back to some degree on the back and ended up with a 46-42 = 88. 

The course is good but certainly not “great”…and frankly based on my current recollections, the original course was probably never “great”.  The bunkering is surprisingly tough and “penal”, especially for a resort course.  Many of the holes have water or bunkering fronting the green thereby eliminating a “run-up” option so critical to the design of firm/fast strategic design.  And, not surprisingly, La Costa is very very green and soft (I should point out that CA experienced an extreme amount of rain this year).  From the back tees it totals 7172 yards (par 72) and it is not a “candidate” for either the Golf Magazine or Golf Digest Top 100 (nor should it be).

For now, I am checking it off as “played”, but know that I must return to play the old back nine (the current back nine on Legends).  Not something I want to do, but will have to get it done sometime over the next few years.

Pauma Valley Country Club, March 30, 2017:  I remember Pauma Valley consistently showing up on the Golf Digest USA Top 100 in the Golf Digest Top 100 from the mid 1960’s through mid 1980’s but knew almost nothing about the course.  I do not remember seeing it on TV, but in 1964 it hosted a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf “Challenge” match played as a four ball match play event between Arnold Palmer/Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus/Mike Souchak.  Palmer/Player ended up winning the match on the 16th hole.  As implied by its name, the area is in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the area is filled with large and beautiful avocado and citrus groves.  It lies about 50 miles inland from La Costa.

I heard a funny story from our friend Tom B at LACC about Pauma Valley.  Apparently, a couple of decades ago it was regularly used by the USGA to host sectional qualifying for the US Open…and became known for lightening fast greens due primarily to the slopes on some of the greens.  One year, some of the putts were so fast that players (and we are talking very good players) were 6 and 7 putting.  One player after hitting a slick downhiller that looked like it would never stop, walked up to the ball as it was moving and stopped it with his putter…and thereby incurred a 1-stroke penalty.  He then proceeded to tap in the 1 footer that was left for a bogey…probably saving himself 1-3 strokes.  He qualified for the Open as a result.

The greens were anything but fast on March 30, 2017!  They were in fact very slow and the fairways were in definite need of a cutting.  I played this day with an old friend from California, Steve Knudtson.  Steve is a good player but is just getting back into the game after successful open-heart surgery a few months ago.  It was good to catch up and see him coming back.

The club seemed to be very active and we were surprised by the conditioning.  The back nine was far more interesting than the front and I played better on the back (44-41 = 85).  Best holes were 10, 15, 17 and 18.  The views form almost everywhere on the course are simple gorgeous.  See pics below:

PV #10 uphill par 4 396 yards
PV #15 from tee; 397 yard par 4

PV #17 par 5 525 yards and very uphill on approach
PV #18 downhill par 4-463 yards and runs parallel  to #10

After the round, Steve headed back home, I showered at PV and then had a long drive back to LAX and the joys of a red-eye flight back to Charlotte, followed by a two hour drive to home. 

All in all a good trip but with the exception of Rustic Canyon a little disappointing in terms of courses…but I have learned that is often the case when playing the ones that were on early Top 100 lists.

Next journey (which I actually in the middle of as I am typing this) is to Arizona, California, and Nevada the week after the Masters.