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: #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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Top 100 Courses: #40 The Golf Club

The Golf Club
Location: New Albany, OH
Architect: Pete Dye
Year Constructed: 1967
Played: June 21, 2009

If I were to start my own golf club today I would hope it came out looking exactly like The Golf Club in New Albany, OH. The Golf Club was founded in 1967 by Fred Jones with the simple goal of having a private club where he and his friends could play golf and enjoy themselves. Mr. Jones managed to piece together a 400 acre parcel of land and then took a chance on a virtually unknown architect by the name of Pete Dye to build his golf course. When the project was finished a world class golf club was left as a monument to their partnership.

Thanks to my fellow Top 100 golfer Larry Berle. I’m playing The Golf Club today with his friend Bob. I cut through the quaint little pro shop and over to the main clubhouse building where the dining and locker rooms are located. When I stepped through the door to the locker room I saw what might be my favorite locker room ever. There were tables and chairs in a bar area, leather couches for lounging, card tables, stacks of books and magazines on golf, exposed wooden beams, a huge fireplace and rows of nicely aged dark wooden lockers.

Once we were sufficiently warmed up we went to the putting green to wait our turn. The practice green here is unique in that it is a shared green with the 18th hole. This is something I’ve not ever seen before. As there are no tee times at The Golf Club so members just hang around on the putting green until its their turn to go off. The membership is VERY small at 150 so even at its busiest times there aren’t many golfers on the course.

We played from the white tees which were 6632 yards. The first hole pictured below is a 349 yard par 4 dogleg right. The smart player will avoid the bunker on the right. Its very much in play for a sliced shot and the grass in the middle of the bunker is very long and very penal . . . trust me on that. The 2nd hole is a long par 4 at 444 yards with a blind tee shot.

The 1st hole

The 3rd hole pictured below is a fantastic par 3 that plays 185 yards. Shots that fall short will find the water and those that are long will get in the nasty bunkers behind the green. Note that Pete Dye was using his signature railroad ties even this early in his career. The 4th hole is a 518 yard par 5. In the photo below you can see that the fairway throws everything to the right so the line is to play down the left hand side as close to the tree as possible.

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Top 100 Courses: #13 Seminole Golf Club

Seminole Golf Club
Location: Juno Beach, FL
Architect: Donald Ross
Year Constructed: 1929
Played: June 28, 2011

Playing the Top 100 is rife with hurdles and pitfalls. Anyone who has been following my quest at this website knows that the largest and most difficult obstacle is the fact that about 85% of the courses are private and require a member host or sponsor to play. Searching for members is difficult when it comes to all clubs, but for a variety of reasons some are considerably more difficult than others. Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida is one of the most difficult ones on the list.

Seminole is only open for a 5-6 month period of time and, as I understand it, most of the members live outside of Florida during the summer. This leaves me once again searching nationwide for the proverbial snowball in a snowstorm. Guest play at Seminole must be accompanied by a member. For Seminole members who wish to have guests but are unable to play with them, there is a very small window for two member sponsored groups of unaccompanied guests each day.

One of the many great things about the Top 100 Quest is the incredible people I have met along the way. Golf is full of kind and friendly people who have been enormous supporters of my quest which never ceases to amaze me. One of those people is a young club pro from Michigan. Corey and I became friends about two years ago and like me Corey loves, appreciates and respects great golf courses. Corey also has the great fortune to work at a top quality club that includes a large number of members who belong to multiple clubs, many of them on the Top 100 list. One day in January of this year I received a phone call from Corey who informed me that his member friend had sponsored an unaccompanied group and that Corey had a spot for me to join him!

We arrived at the club at 8:30 and the nice lady in the office opened her window and gave us the book to sign in before we made our way to the locker room. I have to say that it was a great feeling to write my name in the guest book. That simple little act was a bit of pinch me moment and drove home the gravity of the situation in which we were currently ensconced. Continue reading “Top 100 Courses: #13 Seminole Golf Club”

How many states have you played golf in?

We’re glad to welcome a new guest blogger at the Scratch Pad! is a golf blog run by Derek Franks, where he shares thoughts on golf happenings, equipment, and the tour. We’re glad to have him with us, and will be sharing some of his best posts with you. To date we’ve written a lot about golf around the world – what about right here at home?

US Map

This past December, Michigan resident Ed Ronco completed the 50-state checklist by playing a round at the Royal Kaanapali in Maui. He came up with the idea 7 years ago after realizing that he had already played in 23 states.

Through the use of creative routing of family vacations and several golf-specific trips, Ronco was able to bag every state. Alaska and Hawaii were two of the tougher states to cross of the list, mostly due to the travel/cost involved.
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