Top 100 Courses: #55 Garden City G.C.

Continuing with our series from The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 55th rated golf course in America, Garden City G.C, New York.

Architect: Devereux Emmet
Year: 1899
315 Stewart Avenue , Garden City, New York 11530
(516) 746-8360
– driving range available
– walking only
– caddies available

Today I’ll be playing at Garden City Golf Club. Garden City is just a little over 20 miles from LaGuardia, but the route is mostly through business and residential areas so it was a good 35-40 minutes before I pulled into town.

Once I pulled up to the club and parked I did something that I’ve never done before at any other golf club I’ve visited. I stepped out of my car and put on my blue blazer. Upon arrival at Garden City Golf Club all members and guests must be wearing a jacket and leather shoes. Having a jacket rule for entrance to the clubhouse during evening hours is not uncommon, but I’m not aware of any other club in the U.S. where it is a requirement all day long. Since I would be wearing a jacket I also wore long pants to complete the ensemble and brought my golf shorts in a bag so I could change in the locker room. I found it rather humorous how easy it was to tell the difference between the members and the guests. The guests seemed to have all arrived like me, wearing slacks to go with their jackets. The members, on the other hand, were clearly more comfortable with this unique piece of club culture and were walking around in their jackets with short pants and loafers. I loved it!

Garden City Golf Club was founded in 1899 and throughout its 111 year history has always been a golf club exclusively for men. The course was originally designed by Devereux Emmet, and then redesigned in the 1900s by the great amateur golfer Walter Travis. Travis was a founding member of Garden City Golf Club and in addition to having a hand in the design of the course he is very much a large part of the club’s history. There is a wonderful biography about this great golfer entitled The Old Man. If you are interested you can pick up a copy here.

As you would expect of a club established in the 19th century, Garden City Golf Club has a rich tournament history having been host to six events put on by the U.S.G.A. There was the 1902 U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur in 1900, 1908, 1913 and 1936 and finally the Walker Cup in 1924. These days the only event held at Garden City Golf Club is the Travis Invitational which is one of the premier Mid-Amateur events in the U.S.

We elected to play the Championship tees which play to a par of 73 and a yardage of 6,911. Although this is the longest tee option on the scorecard, players who want to stretch it all the way out can move back and play the plates which give just a little bit more added length.

The photo below was taken on the first tee which is a friendly starting hole of a mere 302 yards with a par of 4. Bombing driver is an option, but I think the smarter play is a nice little 200 yard shot to the left side of the fairway.

The fairway on the first hole is a split fairway of sorts. If hitting a shorter shot the line is to take it down the left hand side. You can see the ball lying there in the fairway in the photos below. If hitting driver its better to play to the right side of the hole and have you ball land in the other part of the fairway. David hit driver here and you can see him in the white shirt up around the green. That is near where his ball landed.

The 2nd hole is a par 3 that plays 137 yards over a small valley. There are plenty of bunkers and long grass to cause problems for tee shots that come up short. The photo below was taken from the green looking back towards the tee box. This is the only par 3 on the the first nine holes.

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Top 100 Courses: #16 Chicago Golf Club

Continuing with our series from the The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 15th in the list – Chicago Golf Club.

Architect: C.B. MacDonald / Seth Raynor
Year: 1894 / 1923

25W253 Warrenville Road
Wheaton, Illinois 60189
(630) 665-2988

– Course Access: Private
– Driving range available
– Motorized golf carts and caddies available
– On-site accommodations
– U.S. Open – 1897, 1900, 1911

So why is the Chicago Golf Club one of the most important clubs in America you ask? Where shall we start? Lets see, for starters it was the first 18 hole golf course in North America and the club that established the modern Out of Bounds rule. Next, you have that the club was founded by the first US Amateur champion and de facto father of American golf, Mr. Charles Blair Macdonald. If any more evidence of the clubs importance were necessary, you can make note that Chicago Golf Club is one of the original five clubs that founded the USGA in 1894. If you’re looking for a place that has had a profound impact on golf in America, look no further than Wheaton, Illinois and the Chicago Golf Club.

And why has the golfing public at large never heard of this clearly significant and important club? Well, there are just 125 members and a great many of them play their primary golf at other clubs in the area. This results in very, very little play at Chicago Golf Club. The lack of play also means that guest invites are terribly rare, and truly something to be cherished by the lucky golfers who receive one. When I started the Top 100 quest back in 2007 I identified Chicago Golf Club as one of the five courses that may keep me from completing the quest. Everything I learned over the next three years confirmed that my fears were indeed well founded. In short, getting a chance to play Chicago Golf Club may be as likely as getting struck by lightning.

When the day arrived and I pulled into the driveway at Chicago Golf Club I was pretty excited. After parking my car I went into the locker room to change my shoes and have a look around. The first thing I noticed in the locker room were the cool subway tiled walls which were very popular in the late 1800s/early 1900s and the old metal lockers found at many of the great clubs from this era. I love a locker room with a vintage vibe so I had a good feeling about this place immediately. As would be expected the walls were adorned with golf memorabilia from the club’s history including one of the five original signed documents incorporating the USGA. It was pretty neat to see this important golf document and C.B. Macdonald’s bold signature in the flesh.

Before we tee off so to speak, I’ll give a very brief history of the course itself. Chicago Golf Club was founded in 1892 and at the time was located in Downers Grove, Illinois on Belmont Avenue. In early 1894 the club moved to the current location and C.B. Macdonald laid out the first 18 hole golf course in the United States. As years went by Macdonald felt that the technology of the game was advancing beyond the golf course he had created and it was necessary to redesign the course. He requested his protegee, Seth Raynor, do the work and in 1923 a new course was born. Raynor’s revisions and changes along with a handful of Macdonald’s original holes is the course that remains today.

As we prepared to start our game and discussed the tee selection there was not really much of a decision necessary as far as I was concerned. The back tees played 6,846 yards which on a par 70 course is a pretty serious test. We elected for the considerably more manageable 6,571 yard white tees.

The 1st hole is a 450 yard par 4 and is absolutely not your typical warm up starting hole. The golfer needs to be at ready from the start when teeing it up here. The photo below was taken from the tee and the best line of play is up the right side of the hole as the fairway falls off to the left.

The photo below is where I hit my approach shot from (the rough of course). I was still a good 200 yards out.

The 2nd hole, pictured below, is Raynor’s version of the Road Hole at St. Andrews. This one plays 440 yards from the white tees. Anything in the middle is just great here. The approach shot will be another long one.

The photo below is of the approach shot on the 2nd hole. Note the Road Hole bunker at the front left.
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Top 100 Courses: #25 Prairie Dunes Country Club

Continuing with our series from The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 25th rated golf course in America, Prairie Dunes CC. Click here for other entries on this series click.

Location: Hutchinson, KS
Architect: Perry Maxwell/Press Maxwell
Year Constructed: 1937/1957
Played: October 9, 2010

Prairie Dunes perennially ranks in the Top 25 courses in the US and is a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ among golf nerds . . . well, as much of a hidden gem as you can be when you’re listed in the Top 25 every year.

Because of the golf course’s high ranking on most of the major lists, Prairie Dunes enjoys a very robust non-resident membership, creating an interesting dynamic at the club. On one hand you’ve got your local families who use the club for tennis, golf and swimming and on the other hand you’ve got your hard core golf aficionado crowd with their Pine ValleyCypress Point and National Golf Links logos bringing in groups of their friends on golf trips. I have to believe there are a number of local members who must scratch their heads and think “why on earth did this guy from New York City join our little club??” I also have to believe that the board of directors meetings get pretty interesting with two distinctly different member groups to serve – each of whom have a different set of needs.

The golf course at Prairie Dunes Country Club has quite an interesting story to it. Perry Maxwell was the first architect on the site who, in 1937, laid out the original nine hole course. The course remained this way for twenty years until his son, Press Maxwell, came along in 1957 to add nine more holes and make a full eighteen hole course. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as just adding holes 10-18 to complete the course. The land that Press wanted to work with didn’t allow him to keep the original number sequence for the first nine holes so he ended up having to do a little renumbering. The original nine holes play today as 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 18.

At first glance Prairie Dunes doesn’t appear terribly long but it only plays to a par of 70 so the tips that play 6,759 yards are a little longer than they appear. Since it was our first trip around the course we decided to play the 6,153 yard white tees which had a rating of 71.2. That rating translates to 1.2 strokes over par for a scratch golfer and is usually a sign that a course will play fairly tough.

The photo below was taken at the 1st tee. The first hole is a dogleg to the left that played 401 yards from the white tees. If you get too cute and try to go too far to the left there is a ton of rough over there waiting for your ball to nestle down into it. Take note of the brown native grass lining the hole. Out in Kansas they call this “gunsch” and it will swallow a golf ball up just as quick as water does.

The approach to the 1st green is pictured below. It takes a pretty lengthy and well placed drive to have a short iron into the green. Most of the guys in our group were hitting mid or long irons in.

Below is a closer look at the green. It really can’t be seen in this photo but this was a pretty severe green and could be very penal if your ball ends up in the wrong spot.

The 2nd hole is a fairly short par 3 that plays 142 yards from the white tees. The green sits at the top of a hill so a little extra club is necessary. The photo below was taken from the tee.
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Top 100 Courses: #17 Oak Hill Country Club (East Course)

Location: Rochester, NY
Architect: Donald Ross
Year Constructed: 1925
Played: September 23, 2008

Sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. The day I played Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course was one of those days. Here I was playing golf at one of the world’s great courses on a day with PERFECT weather and with fantastic playing companions. On top of all that I was playing pretty well! I felt so good and relaxed that I forgot all about every other thing going on in my life and in the world for those 4 hours. The day ended up being exactly the type of escape that golf is supposed to be.

Once you pass through the main entrance to the club you drive for what feels like quite a ways down a road with golf holes lining the left hand side. After what seemed like an eternity I finally got my first glimpse of the clubhouse, a grand old tudor building with a cool slate roof. Inside it is HUGE (69,000 square feet) and has everything you would expect a clubhouse to have . . . including 8 lanes of bowling!

The Head Pro at Oak Hill is none other than Craig Harmon. Craig Harmon is the son of Claude Harmon who happens to be the 1948 Masters Champion and the last club pro to ever win a major title. Also of note is Craig’s brother, Butch Harmon, who coached Tiger Woods during his 34 month hot streak where he took home seven major titles. If there were golf royalty in America, they would surely have the last name Harmon.

A couple of noteworthy things about the course. Donald Ross did the original routing and layout of both the East and West Courses in 1925. The East Course is the tournament course and has hosted numerous USGA and PGA events including The Ryder Cup, US Open, Senior US Open, US Amateur, PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship. In 2013 the PGA Championship will be returning to Oak Hill for the 3rd time. No other club has hosted this many majors.

We played the white tees which are set up to play just over 6500 yards. The blues played 6900 and the blacks (where the pros play from) were stretched out to 7150.

The 1st hole is a fairly long par 4 at 433 yards. Below is a photo of the approach to the green. There is a creek running across the fairway about 80 yards out from the center of the green. The drive is at a tricky angle and for the second shot players need to hit a mid to long iron over the water. Not an easy starting hole. Even Ben Hogan once stated it was the hardest starting hole in golf.

Below is a photo of the 2nd green. At 361 yards this is a relatively short par 4 to an uphill green.

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Top 100 Courses: #1 Pine Valley Golf Club

Continuing with our series from the The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 1st and the top most rated golf course in America, Pine Valley Golf Club.

Pine Valley Golf Club

Location: Pine Valley, NJ  Architect: George Crump & H.S. Colt  Year Constructed: 1918 Played: August 14, 2008

It was surprising to me in the weeks leading up to my trip to Pine Valley Golf Club how many golfers I ran across who were not familiar with the club. The most common question I get these days from my golf friends is “Where are you off to next?” When I would respond with “Pine Valley” more often than not I would receive a blank stare and the question “Where is that one?”

To answer that question once and for all, Pine Valley is in Clementon, New Jersey right outside of Philadelphia and it is, at the time of this writing, not only the #1 course in America, but also the #1 course in the World. Because there has never been a PGA tournament held at Pine Valley the course is little known outside of golf course fanatics and aficionados. Among those who know the course it is widely considered the greatest test of golf on the planet. The course is a par 70 and plays to a rating of 72.7 and a slope of 153 from the member tees. For those of you following along at home, that not only makes it the #1 course in the World, but those slope and rating numbers also mean it is the hardest course in the World as well. Lets make that the greatest and most fearsome test in golf.

Pine Valley is so hard there are legendary stories about the course. Some certainly are true and some are probably just urban legend. Some of my favorites are the player who went out in 38 on the first nine and then took a 38 on the 10th hole; Professional Gene Littler’s 7 on the par 3 5th hole during Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match in 1963; British writer Bernard Darwin who played the first 7 holes in even par and then after hitting a nice drive to the middle of the fairway on the 8th took a 16 for the hole. Continue reading “Top 100 Courses: #1 Pine Valley Golf Club”

Top 100 Courses: #9 Sand Hills Golf Club

Sand Hills Golf Club
Location: Mullen, NE
Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Year Constructed: 1994
Played: July 22-25, 2010

Sand Hills Golf Club is located in Mullen, Nebraska which according to the 2000 census has a population of 491.  Unfortunately, I don’t know a single one of those 491 folks.   Even if I did, I’m not sure it would help as nearly all of Sand Hills’ members do not live in Mullen.  The club’s membership is mostly national members and therefore spread all over the country (probably the world).   When you couple the spread out geography with the fact that the club has less than 200 members, meeting a member becomes quite the proverbial needle in the haystack .

Sand Hills Golf Club is the brainchild of one man, Dick Youngscap.  Mr. Youngscap is a Lincoln based developer who was presented with an 8,000 acre parcel of land in 1990 that he thought might be ideal for a golf course.  To put the enormity of this property into perspective, my home course is built on a piece of land that is roughly 150 acres.  Theoretically, a person with 8,000 acres would have enough land to build more than 100 golf courses.  The sand hills are an enormous region of Nebraska and undeveloped land is abundant.  The photo below is a map that hangs in the clubhouse which has the sand hills region highlighted in brown.  This shows exactly how large of an area we are talking about (it must be equal to ~1/5 of the state).

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Top 100 Courses: #92 Shoreacres

Location: Lake Bluff, IL
Architect: Seth Raynor
Year Constructed: 1921
Played: October 4, 2010

Shoreacres is one of the courses that I was really looking forward to on the list. I didn’t know anything about it other than everyone who plays there seems to come away in love with the classic Seth Raynor design.

Located just north of Chicago in the town of Lake Bluff, Shoreacres has occupied its perch on the shore of Lake Michigan since 1916. While the clubhouse does have a water view I should point out that the golf course itself is completely inland with no views of the lake or coastal holes anywhere on the course. In scouring the internet for information on the club there is very, very little available. I usually like to learn a little bit of history about a club before visiting but the best I could find in this case was a very abbreviated take on the club’s 94 year history. The short story is that the club was founded in 1916 and the course designed by Raynor opened in 1921. After 70 years the course had lost many of its “Rayor-esque” qualities and Tom Doak’s firm Renaissance Golf was brought in to restore the design to its original glory. From what I hear they did a masterful job. In an interesting side note I did discover that the original clubhouse, built by David Adler, burned to the ground in 1983. A local Chicago architect by the name of Laurence Booth was commissioned to build the new clubhouse which is in use today and compliments the style and vibe of the club perfectly.

We decided to play from the “Raynor” tees which play to 6,309 yards and, as I understand it, are the course’s original tees. Sometime in the recent past there were back tees added to 8 holes which allow for the tips to stretch out to 6,530 yards . . . this does modernize the course a bit, but even the new tees are fairly short and very manageable for the average golfer when compared to many of today’s modern courses.

Raynor starts the course out fairly friendly on the 1st hole with a 478 yard par 5. The photo below was taken from the tee box and as illustrated is a fairly straight and flat hole.

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Top 100 Courses: #4 Oakmont Country Club

Continuing with our series from the The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 4th rated golf course in America, Oakmont Country Club.

Location: Oakmont, PA. Architect: Henry C. Fownes. Year Constructed: 1903. Played: 5/24/11

Oakmont Country Club is one of the most famous courses in all of golf. There have been 19 National Championships contested over the golf course at Oakmont Country Club including five US Amateurs, three PGA Championships, two US Women’s Opens and EIGHT US Opens with a ninth coming in 2017. There is no question that Oakmont Country Club is a favorite among the golf magazines that rate courses as it is always ranked in the Top 10 and quite often in the Top 5. Oakmont is a golf course that is known worldwide for its legendary green speeds and for being one of the most pure tests of championship golf on the planet.

Founded in 1903 Henry C. Fownes designed the course on the principle that “no poor shot should go unpunished”. According to legend, Mr. Fownes and his son used to sit on the golf course and watch play from the club’s members in order to “improve” the course. When they saw a poorly played shot a bunker would be placed in the spot where the player’s ball landed. Wow, that’s just downright mean!

Over its 100+ year history Oakmont has undergone many changes. The course was thought to have gotten too difficult and a significant number of the bunkers were removed over the years so the course wouldn’t be quite so penal. Most recently there was a major thinning of trees on the course. Historic photos show that when the course was built that there were not a tremendous number of trees on the property. As is apt to happen over time the trees had began to multiply, expand and ultimately impede play. As is usually the way at most clubs the idea of thinning out the trees proved to be a significant controversy among the members. During the 2007 US Open it was widely reported that the mission to remove trees had been a covert one with crews working all night under the cover of darkness so as not to arouse conflict with the members. In the morning there would be no trace of their work other than the missing trees. I wonder how long they got away with that before members started noticing their favorite trees missing!

I played the course in 2011. The clubhouse at Oakmont is a classic tudor style building and has a great aura to it. In the locker room the benches are covered in spike marks from days gone by. You just can’t help but think about all the greats who have laced up their shoes in that locker room on their way to victory . . . Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen Sam Snead, Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and many, many more.

Once we had our shoes on we hit the practice tee where we met our caddies and warmed up with a few balls. From there we walked to the practice green to roll as many putts as possible to get a feel for the lightning fast greens. I dropped a couple of balls that immediately rolled 15 feet away from me. Yikes! The practice green at Oakmont is a part of to the 9th green so technically the green is enormous. The photo below was taken on the practice green and shows the iconic Oakmont clubhouse over looking the course.

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Top 100 Courses: #7 Merion Golf Club (East Course)

Merion Golf Club (East Course)
Location: Ardmore, PA
Architect: Hugh Wilson
Year Constructed: 1912
Played: June 20, 2008

Merion Golf Club . . . so much history has happened here that a book could be written on that alone. With a current count of 17 USGA events having been contested over Merion’s East Course that is more than any other course in the United States. Bobby Jones’ first major was the 1916 US Amateur played here, he won the US Amateur here in 1924 and of course his historic US Amateur win for the Grand Slam in 1930. Ben Hogan executed a miraculous comeback to the game here at the 1950 US Open after a near death automobile accident just 1 year earlier. Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in a dramatic 18 hole play off to become the US Open champion in 1971. As much great history as there is, the story is far from finished for Merion. The USGA will be coming back to Merion for the Walker Cup in 2009 and the US Open will return in 2013.

Until 1941 when the club changed it’s name to the current version the club was known as the Merion Cricket Club. There are two courses here, the West and the more famous East. The club was originally founded in 1896 and played on the original golf course in neighboring Haverford. In 1910 the members decided to build a new course and sent member Hugh Wilson, a Scottish immigrant, to Scotland and England for 7 months to study golf course design. He returned with a head full of ideas and proceeded to layout the East Course which opened in 1912 and then the West Course which opened in 1914. That is a pretty incredible turn around time for getting courses built considering that it was done without the help of modern machinery in those days. Another amazing feat is that the East Course covers just 126 acres which is nothing compared to other golf courses. Augusta National covers almost triple that acreage at 365. If you want to get a chance at playing a Hugh Wilson course you have very few options. The only other courses he designed besides Merion’s East and West are Cobb’s Creek and the last 4 holes of Pine Valley.
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Top 100 Courses: #33 San Francisco Golf Club

Continuing with our series from the The Itinerant Golfer’s quest to play all top 100 American golf courses, The Scratch Pad is glad to bring you a profile of the 33rd rated golf course in America, San Francisco G.C.

San Francisco Golf Club
Location: San Francisco, CA
Year Constructed: 1918
Played: May 22, 2010

Please just let me find it . . . Is that really so much to ask? . . . Just give me a chance . . . All I’m asking for is a chance. These thoughts raced through my head as I walked to the left side of the 18th hole at San Francisco Golf Club. The 18th hole is a 508 yard par 5 and I REALLY would like to make a birdie here. Under normal conditions I should be able to reach the green in two, but today the wind is blowing something terrible and after floating a weakly cut drive to the middle of the fairway I was well outside the “go zone”. With the ball lying slightly above my feet for my second stroke I hooked the shot out of sight and now I’m literally just hoping I can find it. All I want is to have a chance to knock my third shot on the green so maybe I can roll a putt in for the birdie. To me, this seems like a more than reasonable request.

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