Sunday, September 10, 2017

Wide Ranging Trip, August 19-15, 2017

Wide Ranging Trip, August 19-15, 2017

With only 29 courses left to complete all my current bucket lists, planning out itineraries becomes more important as the options are fewer.  I decided to make this next trip one that would cover most of the distant courses I had left, excluding the states on CO and NM (where 7 of the 29 are located).  Pat and I are planning to visit her younger son Clark and daughter in law Alex and their kids in October in Glenwood Springs, CO.  We expect to be playing these seven as part of this visit, after the birth of their third child (and our 7th grandchild) in late September.

Outside of CO and NM, the big “chunks” of distant courses are in central California (2 courses in Fresno and Sacramento) and near Lake Tahoe (three courses on either the CA or NV side of the Lake), as well as my two remaining states where I have not played…UT and AK.  So that makes 7 courses, plus one left in St. Paul, MN and two in WI.  If I can successfully play these 10, and play the 7 in CO and NM, that would bring me down to 12 left…and the end of the tunnel would then certainly be in sight.

So as I type this with my two hunt/peck fingers, I am on board a Delta flight from Boston to Minneapolis-St. Paul and hope to play Keller Golf Course at 6:45am Sunday morning 8/20.  Keller hosted two PGA Championships in 1932 and 1954 (won by Olin Dutra and Chick Harbert respectively), the 1949 Western Open won by Sam Snead, and the St. Paul Open 32 times between 1930 and 1968.  It opened in 1929, has always been a “muni”, and was designed by Paul Coates, a civil engineer with no experience in golf architecture.  In 2014 it was renovated by golf course architect Richard Mandell.  After playing Keller, the plan is to head back to MSP airport and fly to Salt Lake City to play Salt Lake Country Club around 2-2:30pm Sunday afternoon, and then fly at 8:35pm from SLC to Anchorage, AK, arriving at 11:28 Sunday night.

Monday, weather permitting (rain in forecast) I am hoping to play Anchorage Golf Course at 7am.  If all goes well to this point, I will have played in all 50 states!!  Then I need to catch a flight around 12:30pm to Seattle to connect to a flight to Fresno, CA arriving Fresno at 10:12pm.
Tuesday, I am scheduled to play San Joaquin CC (hosted 2001 Mid-Amateur won by Tim Jackson who beat George Zahringer 1 up in the match play final) at 8:22am, then drive about 3 hours to Del Paso CC near Sacramento (host of 2015 Senior Open won by Jeff Maggert).  I then drive two hours to the Lake Tahoe area and on Wednesday play three courses that have been on a USA Top 100 or are on the 2016 or 2017 Golf Week Top 100 Modern list: Edgewood Tahoe (NV), Clear Creek (NV), and Lahontan GC (CA).

On Thursday morning, I fly from Reno to Milwaukee (connecting through Las Vegas) and play Blue Mound G&CC (host of the 1933 PGA Championship won by Gene Sarazen), then drive about 2:30 northwest to Mike Keiser’s latest golf resort…Sand Valley to play its first course designed by Coore & Crenshaw as well as 9 holes that have been completed on its second course, Mammoth Dunes, designed by David McLay Kidd (who also designed Gamble Sands).  Then, I drive back to Milwaukee airport and fly to Boston…getting home about 1:00am on Saturday morning 8/26. I very tired just typing it!!!

Progress reports as the trip unwinds…

Crazy Trip Part II

Crazy Trip Part II

I meant that I would arrive Fresno around 10:15pm Monday night…but we were stuck for a while due to Westjet’s servers going down (apparently not for the first time).  I was busy exploring some crazy alternatives when they announced that the IT (that is Information Technology for you liberal arts types) systems had come back up and we were ready to go.  Arrived at hotel around 11:50pm and crashed to bed…tee time at San Joaquin CC at 8:20am!

San Joaquin Country Club, August 22, 2017:  San Joaquin opened in 1961 and hosted a US Mid-Amateur Championship in 2001, won by Tim Jackson 1-up over George Zahringer.  Zahringer is a long time outstanding amateur from the NY area, who was defending his title won in 2000 at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, CT (which was Zahringer’s home course for many years, and may still be…it is also as tough a course as you will find anyplace…perhaps unfairly so).

I must say that SJCC did not particularly stand out in my eyes.  Except around the clubhouse (which sits atop a steep hill), it is very flat, is in average condition (the fringes around the green were in very tough shape but the club is rebuilding all these fringes), and the only hole of real interest in my mind was #18, a 557 yard dogleg left par 5 with a very deep gorge in the corner of the dogleg and a large tree guarding the corner as well (see pic which is a bad pic even for me!).

Second shot on par 5, 557 yd 18th at SJCC...with clubhouse perched above green

SJCC plays to a healthy 7051 yards.  It has never been included on any USA or Worldwide Top 100.  I had a 40-39 = 79 and was able to play in about 2:15…plus was able to start around 8:10, so I finished before the real heat and humidity arrived (it gets very HOT in the San Joaquin Valley in the summer).  After thanking the golf staff and loading up on cold water, left for a 3-hour drive to Sacramento to play Del Paso Country Club.

Del Paso Country Club, August 22, 2017:  Over the past few years I have exchanged emails with Joel S. who is a Golf Digest rater from the San Francisco area.  I had never met Joel, but he said he would be pleased to join me at Del Paso for my round there.

Del Paso has hosted a slew of USGA event including the US Women’s Amateur in 1957 and 1976, the US Women’s Open in 1982 and the US Senior Open in 2015.  It was originally designed by Scottish golf pro John Black in 1916 and then was modified by Herbert Fowler (Burnham & Berrow, Eastward Ho!, Sauton, Berkshire, and Walton Heath) , Sam Whiting (Olympic, Harding Park), William Bell (Torrey Pines, Tamarisk), Gary Roger, Robert Muir Graves, and Richard Phelps, before Kyle Philips (Cal Club, Kingsbarns, YAS Links, Morfontaine, South Cape, Valderrama) pulled together a master plan that was implemented and his renovation completed in 2006.

Course has a good layout but was not in good condition…it was soft and slow.  While it is true that Sacramento has had a heat wave this summer, I cannot understand why DPCC or any course in this climate has bent grass fairways and greens.  I looked at average temperature for Sacramento and it is hotter than Atlanta every summer month and warmer than Atlanta during the winter months.  Bermuda grass simply thrives in hot weather and is a wonderful playing surface in its dormant state in the winter, so long as it does not get too cold (which can kill it).  Zoysia grass would be another alternative for the fairways…
In any case, I walked away very disappointed and surprised…but enjoyed meeting Joel and talking golf nut talk.  The round was slow and we finished around 6:15.  My score reflected my tired/disappointed state (or perhaps contributed to it) 43-44 = 87 and also reflected the fact that I played it from 6237 yards with about zero roll (excuses are important in golf…and life).  

I would have liked to stay for dinner but I was tired and with a two hour drive to Tahoe ahead of me (with the second half through mountainous passes), I thought prudence dictated that I hit the road ASAP and get to Tahoe with as little driving in the dark as possible.  Me thinks that was a good move as I arrived at my Tahoe hotel just as total darkness hit, and was fairly exhausted by then…and did get to see a lot of the beauty of that drive during twilight time.  Needed to get some sleep as Wednesday was a loaded day…less driving than Tuesday but 54 holes.  Real good news was that it would be in much more comfortable temperatures.

Edgewood Tahoe Golf Resort, August 23, 2017:  I was up early as I had the first tee time at 7:20am…the real good news was that at that time of day here, it is sweater time or cooler, and Edgewood was about 1-2 miles from my hotel.

Designed by George Fazio in 1968, Edgewood was one of the early first courses to open near Tahoe during the start of the second “gold rush” in this area.  It was remodeled by Ron Fream in 1980 and Tom Fazio in 1995 and now extends to a hefty 7529 yards (but plays much shorter given the altitude).   Over the years it was a regular on Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest from 1985-1991 peaking at #60 in 1985, and the briefly reappearing as #99 in 1999.  It has never appeared on a GW or GM Top 100 list.  You may have seen it on televised golf as it has hosted a celebrity event for many years (including, of course Charles Barkley!).

Course sits on Lake Tahoe but only holes (or part thereof) 9 and 16-18 sit on the Lake.  It is a very good but not great design.  Best holes to my mind are 3, 5, 10, 13-15, and 18.  Pictures follow.  I was the first player off at 7:20 and played quite quickly, finishing by 9:35.  I played poorly on the front and decently on the back (45-42 = 87).  In summary, a very good resort course, visually beautiful but not “stunning”, could use some updating, excellent condition (but too green as is typical of resorts), but certainly not Top 100 quality in today’s world.

Edgewood #12...214 yd par 3 with green perched above forward bunkers

Edgewood #17 207 yd par 3 along shore of Lake Tahoe

After the round, had a drive of about 30 minutes to Clear Creek.

Clear Creek Tahoe, August 23, 2017:  The drive took me from “6 o’clock” on Lake Tahoe to about 5 miles east of “3 o’clock”…in the Sierra Mountains...spectacular site even though there is no view of the Lake from here.  The golf course at Clear Creek was designed by Coore-Crenshaw.  They were reluctant to take on a mountain site, until Bill Coore made a visit and started walking the property (which among other attributes has a superb sand base).  The course/club opened in 2009 and was, not surprisingly, devastated by the financial crisis.  It declared bankruptcy shortly thereafter and just sat there “unkept” for a number of years.  As the financial crisis dissipated a number of members pulled together to purchase the club and it assets from bankruptcy.  Coore-Crenshaw came back in to resurrect the course (a task that apparently was far easier than one would imagine) and the club reopened in 2013 and today seems to be thriving.  There is a lot of construction going on…a very good sign in such a high-end development and exclusive club.  While the club is welcoming to Top 100 panelists, not so during their high season in the summer months…but I was able to secure access through contacts that knew one of the principals of the club (thank you Allan J. and David W.).

I arrived early but was able to get right off (very helpful as this was to be a 54 hole day).  There was a twosome of members going to the first tee as I got there and they immediately suggested that I go off first.  We chatted for a minute (where from etc etc) and of course discovered the usual litany of mutual golfing friends (Chip W. from  Paradise Valley, AZ, and Andy L. from Pinehurst, Chicago, and Crystal Downs).

First hole is a beautiful slightly uphill 515 yard par 5 that appropriately eases the player into the round.  After a good drive and 4-utility, I stuck a pitching wedge to about 4’ and made my birdie.  As I went to repair my ball mark on the green, I noticed something very unusual…my pitch shot (which I did hit very well) stopped on a dime after one short hop, but there was almost no ball mark on the green.  I have played lots of courses with greens that are very receptive (usually way too soft and wet), and lots of courses with greens that show nary a ball mark (usually too firm)…but cannot remember a course with the highest end of both attributes (which are generally mutually exclusive).  This simple statement basically describes the conditioning at Clear Creek.

I played very very well, firing a 39-38 = 77 (with a double bogey on 15 to go along w a bunch load of pars on the back).  The course is fun, challenging (7005 yds from tips par 71, but remember the altitude factor), fair, in perfect condition, and visually stunning.  The design, as with all Coore-Crenshaw courses, is very strategic with wide fairways, lots of angles and options, and big difficult but fun green complexes.  The property encompasses some 1576 acres of which 200 acres are devoted to the golf course and 853 acres to a nature conservatory.  The atmosphere of the club is very relaxed and comfortable.  Rating wise, Clear Creek has not “broken through” never attaining a true Top 100 status (for the last four years starting at #63 in 2014 and now #82 on Golf Week’s Top 100 Modern list…but not high enough to achieve Top 100 of the GW merged list and not yet making a GD of GM list.  After departing the club, I realized the issue…because the terrain is so hilly/mountainous, Coore had to build in some long walks/rides from green to tee especially to get through unusable transition areas…and this breaks up the flow of the course.  But aside from this…what a wonderful, brilliant and special club and course.  And so so quiet…heard the blood rushing through my ears again.

Clear Creek drive on downhill dogleg right 508 yd par 5 3rd hole

Second shot on par 5 3rd hole

200 yd downhill par 3 4th hole...I had a long but unpleasant visit to right front bunker

Tee shot on uphill 515 yard par 5 7th hole with slight turn to left

Look at this slope from the back right of the 7th green...see the big mound on right front corner of green  (just left of flag in pic)

Downhill par 3 8th hole...172 yards and a difficult green

Second shot on uphill 573 yard par 5 13th...actually reached this one in regulation

My graveyard on the back nine...ditch to left of 15th fairway...great hole nonetheless

Par 3 17th--148 yards of downhill not be short and be ready for a tough tough green to putt

Second shot on 532 yard par 5 18th...beautiful finishing hole with another great green

After the round, bought some stuff for my dear Pat and headed to around 11 o’clock on the Lake, on the California side to Lahotan Golf Club for my third round of the day.

Lahotan Golf Club, August 23, 2017:  Located in Truckee, CA, Lahotan GC is literally right next door to Martis Camp Club, a Tom Fazio course I played once in 2013.  Lahotan was designed by Tom Weiskopf and opening in 1998.  It is a hefty 7335 yards  (altitude again) and like Clear Creek, is visually stunning even though there are no views of Lake Tahoe.  The course has a good flow and the terrain/topography is less mountainous than Clear Creek with a about 7-8 holes sitting in valleys.  The course is very good but in general not a great as Clear Creek.  Conditioning wise it was excellent except for the greens which had a lot of poa and were very bumpy…they are scheduled for a regrassing (which may have started already) and the pro said I was the last panelist scheduled to play before the regrassing commenced.  A parkland design that lacks the width, angles, and options present at Clear Creek.  Do not know if they plan to address this while regrassing the greens but this I believe is the key flaw with the course and will keep it from being great.

I started poorly with bogies on #1-4 and then started playing very well…shooting 41-37 = 78 with a double bogey on 17 (dumb mental error on second shot of this par 5 put me in jail…solitary confinement).  My back nine play was even stronger than the back nine at Clear Creek, even as I closed in on 54 holes for the day.  Really wasn’t tired at the end of 54…carts make it fairly easy to play 2 or even 3 rounds in a day.

Back to the course.  Lahotan has never made a GD or GM Top 100, and it has not made a Merged GW Top 100 either.  From 2005-2016 it made the GW USA Top 100 Modern, peaking at #57 in 2008 but falling off in 2005-16 and disappearing this year (most likely due to green conditions).  Pics follow:

Lahotan #4...410 yard par 4 uphill dogleg right with pin tucked in right corner of green

#9...348 yd par needs to thread gap to left of large tree and then avoid fairway bunker (I did first but failed at second task)

#10--428 yards uphill and straight par 4

#11 downhill par 3 of 212 yards

Drive from elevated tee on 594 yd downhill par 5 hole #12

Par 4 14th hole 449 yards, downhill off tee to elevated green protected on left by deep bunker

Downhill 158 yard par 3 16th...stuck a pitching wedge (from 135 yards) to about 5' and got my birdie

Tee shot on par 5 17th...where my second shot was example of PBFU (post birdie  xxxx up)

Tee shot par 5 18th...finished with a par

After the round I drove up to Reno, NV as I had a flight the next morning Reno-Las Vagas to catch a flight to Milwaukee to play Blue Mound G&CC Thursday and the Sand Valley in northwest WI on Friday…and then HOME!!

Note---this is being posted from Scotland...Pat and I are here on the trip of a lifetime...but have to finish blog for Wisconsin and a mini trip to CT/MA...then you get to read about Scotland and the search for The Holy Grail.  So stay tuned to this, your favorite blog!!