Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The move to graylynloomis.com

I have now graduated from the University of St Andrews. Four years living in the Auld Grey Toon have flown by, and I will be moving back to the United States. My time in Scotland has created some of my best memories, and I am glad that I could share many of them with you through Living As A Links Golfer. I plan to always return to St Andrews to see old friends and play the links that I have been lucky enough to call my “home course” for the past four years.

In the near future this blog will be moving to graylynloomis.com. I am extremely excited about the move, as the new site will offer a much more visual, intuitive, and conversational way to share my golfing experiences from around the world.

My new website will make it easier to search and browse for course and product reviews, and will also offer an exciting new way for any of you to share your favorite St Andrews experience as well. The new St Andrews section is full of local knowledge to help you plan your next golf trip to Scotland.

I hope that you enjoy the new site even more than Living As A Links Golfer and please share it with your friends!  It has been great connecting with readers over the past few years and I am sure that the new website will continue to create enjoyment and interest in playing great golf courses.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cruden Bay

My latest trip to Cruden Bay cemented the course's position as one of my favorites in Scotland. My first visit to the course occurred during a jam-packed golf trip in my first year at the University of St Andrews. Visiting the course again was a must, and luckily during this latest round, I had a knowledgeable local to show me the ropes. Ruairidh MacDonald, of The Scottish Golf Podcast, took me out on the course and provided the crucial local knowledge that was missing during my first visit.

The charm of Cruden Bay begins upon entering the clubhouse. A warm welcome is received and the view from the main bar area immediately comes into sight. The 180-degree view of the links land is breathtaking, and many holes can be seen tucked amidst the massive dunes between the clubhouse and beach. It is one of the best clubhouse views that I have seen in Scotland, and a post round pint thinking back over the round should be compulsory when visiting Cruden Bay.

I took an early morning train to Aberdeen from St Andrews, and a 30-minute car ride later, we were walking into the Cruden Bay Pro Shop. The course embodies so much of what I love about Scottish links golf. The Old Tom Morris design was opened in 1899, but there is evidence of golf being played across the land much earlier. Cruden Bay features giant dunes, incredible views, strong holes, and most importantly, is extremely fun to play. World class links golf holes like the 4th and 6th are intertwined with the height of unique quirkiness featured at the 14th and 15th. When the round is finished, you find yourself desperately longing to go back out and play a few more holes.
Click to enlarge
Hole #1 - 415 yards
The first hole eases golfers into the round at Cruden Bay. The key is to stay on the left half of the fairway with thick rough and a bunker guarding right.

Hole #2 - 331 yards
The course begins to expose a bit of its quirkiness on the 2nd hole. An iron down the left side of the fairway avoids the right hand bunkers and sets up a full shot into the elevated green.

 Hole #3 - 274 yards
A marker post creates an aiming point on the drivable 3rd hole. The green, hidden below the fairway and slightly behind a hill, is not visible from the tee. The photo above is taken from just beyond the marker post.

Hole #4 - 195 yards
The 4th hole at Cruden Bay is one of the best links par 3s that I have played. The green is set into the dunes, and the scene is breathtaking. Click on the photo to see a larger version that provides much fuller detail.

Hole #6 - 525 yards
Both the 6th and 7th holes are nearly impossible to play well without having seen them before. An elevated tee shot on the 6th creates an intimidating view of a narrow fairway.
It is only at the 130 yard marker that this green becomes visible. At the last moment, the hole twists left, exposing a beautiful raised green set into the dunes. The Bluidy Burn runs just in front of the green, and a single bunker snaps up any balls landing short of target.

 Hole #7 - 380 yards
Only a marker pole on a dune provides a hint about where to hit this tee shot. A 230 yard shot on the marker post sets up the perfect approach shot.
At the 150 yard marker, the hole takes an abrupt left, leaving a straight shot between the dunes to an elevated green. The green is very long, and distance control is crucial on the approach.

 Hole #8 - 257 yards
The short par 4 8th is drivable for longer hitters, but accuracy is a must. Long grass and hills surround the green on this birdie hole.

Hole #9 - 452 yards
The 9th hole provides some of the best views on the course. The tee box looks back across the front nine, and the fairway and green look over the 10th-13th holes.*

 Hole #10 - 380 yards
The downhill 10th hole requires accuracy with the drive, leaving a short iron into the bunkered green. Very long hitters should play a 3-wood or long iron to avoid the burn crossing the fairway 290+ yards from the tee.

Hole #11 - 157 yards
The approach shot to the 11th initially looks straightforward. The green is slightly raised, which creates runoff areas on all sides.
It is only when looking from above or behind the green, as seen from the photo above, that the large set of bunkers back left of the green come into view. The initially harmless looking green provides a great challenge.

 Hole #13 - 575 yards
Another blind approach shot is found at the par 5 13th. Long drives come up 50 yards short of the burn meandering through the fairway. Past the burn, a clear path leads to the hidden green, which sits at the base of a large hill.

 Hole #14 - 389 yards
If a single hole were to sum up the quirkiness of Cruden Bay, the 14th would do it well. A cut off of the right hand bunker sets up the perfect angle into the green.
The green is "sunken" and sits nearly 20 feet below the level of the fairway. In the past two years, the formally very steep front entrance to the green has been made less severe. The back of the green has also been extended.

 Hole #15 - 200 yards
The 15th is another hole where success is dependent on having seen the hole before. It is a totally blind par 3 with a large hill between the tee and green. 
The green is fairly large, and the safe play is choosing the "middle of the green" line no matter where the pin is place. After finishing the hole, players must pull on a long rope attached to a bell on the other side of the hill to announce that the green is clear.

 Hole #16 - 180 yards
The blind par 3 16th is one of the quirky holes at Cruden Bay that could draw criticism. Having never seen the green before, a player finds the only reference point is the tip of the flag. Two small grass bunkers behind the green collect the countless balls that run over the putting surface.*

Hole #18 - 397 yards
The 18th hole isn't one of the strongest on the course, but it is still an enjoyable way to finish the round. The hole moves to the right, finishing on a very large green.

View from the 9th tee
Cruden Bay is ranked #79 in the World by GOLF Magazine. While the blind shots and course knowledge required to score well may frustrate first time visitors, it is upon returning to the course that its genius is exposed. Old Tom Morris's quote about Machrihanish comes to mind when thinking of Cruden Bay's natural setting and layout. "The Almighty had golf in his eye when he created this place."
*There are a number of changes to the golf course being proposed to the Cruden Bay membership in the coming months. The 9th, 10th, and 16th holes could see major changes. The changes would be made by McKenzie & Ebert, who propose shifting the 10th fairway and green left of their current positions, and removing earth from the front of the 16th green, which would remove the blind aspect of the approach. The changes could be another blog post in themselves, so if you want to discuss them separately or would like photos of the proposal posters, just shoot me an email at livingasalinksgolfer@gmail.com.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

George Waters Interview

George Waters is the author of Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game. As you will read in the interview below, George has worked on courses all around the world with Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw, and many other great golf course architects. His new book covers many of the best golf courses in the world, looking at how nearly all of the best have been built on sandy terrain. George came to St Andrews recently and I was able to join him for a pint in the St Andrews Club to pick his brain on course architecture.

-I got the idea after calling Tom Doak’s office in the spring of 1999 asking what I needed to do to become a golf course architect. He said the first step was finding a way to study the classic Scottish links courses. I had some green keeping experience so I wrote a letter to every famous links course I could think of offering to work for free on their greens staff for the summer. Royal Dornoch expressed a strong interest in making it happen and I was very fortunate to end up there. Royal Dornoch is an amazing example of all that links golf has to offer, one of the very few courses where both the architecture and setting are truly world class. It was a great experience to work on the course during the day and play or caddy most evenings. I learned the many differences between links courses and the American parkland courses I was familiar with. I also began to understand how valuable sandy soil is to a golf course architect, indeed that summer at Dornoch laid the foundation for my new book, Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes the Game

If you could only choose three courses to represent the best of sandy golf, which courses would you name? What aspects are best at each?
-The Old Course, because the complexity of the design is unparalleled. The variety of the holes is fantastic and the course is fun and interesting in all conditions for players of all abilities. It exemplifies the value sandy terrain holds in golf course architecture because so much of the course’s strategy is derived from the rumpled contours of the links, contours that are nearly impossible to replicate away from sandy ground.
-Pine Valley, because it is the boldest example of golf course architecture on sandy ground. The course’s most memorable feature is the ruggedly beautiful bunkering and how it blends the course into the surrounding pine barrens. There is every kind of sand hazard imaginable at Pine Valley, from a vast waste area known as “Hell’s Half Acre” to a tiny, deep pit nicknamed “The Devil’s Asshole” and they all fit the landscape beautifully. There is no course like it and sandy soil is what makes it possible.
-Pacific Dunes, at the Bandon Dunes Resort, because it offers great architecture and true links conditions in a stunning natural setting. The design makes the absolute most of the site with a clever routing that maximizes the impact of the both the terrain and the strong winds. The holes reward thoughtful play as much as quality ball-striking, and each is truly memorable and distinctive. The links conditions are firm and fast, meaning shots must be played along the ground as well as through the air to be successful. In addition the dramatic coastal setting is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited. Pacific Dunes showcases the best that golf on sandy terrain has to offer and it is probably my favorite course to play in North America. 

Now that you have worked extensively on courses built on sandy terrain, would you consider building a course on something other than sand?
-If I were a golf course developer sandy ground would be the first thing I would look for. If undeveloped sandy ground wasn’t available I would look at re-developing an existing sandy course before I started looking at non-sandy sites. Sandy ground offers several important advantages to a golf development. Construction costs are significantly lower because native soil can be used for course features rather than importing expensive greens mix, bunker sand, etc. Less earthmoving and drainage are required. Subsequent maintenance costs are also lower because sand is an ideal medium for growing lean, fine turf. The course can also be open and playable during, and shortly after, rain events because sandy soils drain quickly. This means more rounds and happier golfers. In addition to these “nuts and bolts” benefits, it is much easier to build an interesting and attractive golf course on sandy ground. The natural irregularities found on sandy terrain make great golf contours and bunkering fits perfectly in a sandy setting. Firm and fast turf conditions are much easier to achieve on sandy soils, meaning more strategic options are available to the both the architect and the golfer, making for a more interesting golf experience. Sandy soil makes it possible to build and operate a better course at lower cost, a pretty good formula for golf development.

The photos in your book are particularly impressive. Considering you took all of the photos yourself, what are a couple of tips you would offer to a golfer hoping to capture the essence of a course through photos?
-Spend a lot of early mornings and late evenings walking around the course with your camera ready. I’ve been successful with my photography largely because I spend so much time walking and studying beautiful courses. Many of the best photos in my book came from brief moments when the sun poked through on an otherwise cloudy day. If I hadn’t been out walking around so much I would have missed those moments. I’d also recommend taking LOTS of photos each time you are photographing a course, you never know which ones are going to work out. Subtle changes in light and shadow make the difference between good and great, and you won’t be able to tell at the time which instant is the perfect one. My photo of the 9th hole at Rye, one of my personal favorites in Sand and Golf, came at the very end of what had been a cloudy and stormy day. I decided to walk around the course until the last possible minute of daylight because it was such a special place and I knew I wasn’t going to be back anytime soon. I was hoping that the clouds might break and give me a chance for a few good photos. Fortunately the storm blew past, leaving the links drenched in the last bits of evening sunlight, bringing all the tiny contours to life. The photo included in my book was one of about fifty that I took from the same vicinity, it took that many tries to catch a moment where the flag was extended and perfectly lit and the shadows on the fairway were just right. The image really captures the feel of the course and it was the product of patience and taking lots of photos.

You have worked extensively with Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw, and others. Is there an architect with whom you would like to work, but haven’t had the opportunity?
-Gil Hanse is high on my list, we’ve met a number of times and been in touch over the years but the timing has never quite worked out. We even worked simultaneously on different courses during development of the Prairie Club in Nebraska (another great sandy site). I’m pretty sure we are going to connect on a project sooner than later and I’m very much looking forward to it. Frank Pont is another architect I’m looking forward to working with. He does a lot of great work on sandy courses and is an expert in the work of Harry Colt, one of my favorite classic architects. I recently spent some time with Frank visiting the wonderful sandy courses in the Netherlands and I’m sure he and I will work together soon.

What do you think modern architects can learn from the forefathers of course design, such as Old Tom Morris, who truly embodied “minimalist” course architecture?
-One striking characteristic of classic courses is that many holes are designed with a degree of strategic ambiguity. They are strategic, in that there are preferred angles and locations, but they aren’t as “designed” as many modern golf holes. The holes consist of irregular contours, a smattering of bunkers (sometimes in unusual locations), and cleverly contoured greens that offer a variety of pin positions. Beyond that the strategy is left up to the golfer’s individual abilities, preferences, and the stance and lie. I feel like many modern architects try too hard to define a hole’s strategy and end up putting that strategy beyond the reach of most golfers. The forefathers of golf course architecture designed within a limited scope. They accepted what the terrain offered, because they had to, and tried to design holes that would be playable and interesting within those natural constraints. I think their courses are often more varied and fun as a result. 

Many readers come to the blog through interest in St Andrews. What are a few aspects of the St Andrews Old Course to which you would recommend paying particular attention?
-In Sand and Golf I discuss many different aspects of the Old Course because it embodies so much of what makes golf on sandy terrain special. I think course’s most significant and distinctive feature is its complexity. The links’ endless tiny wrinkles hold huge strategic influence and require an extended study to fully understand. The bunkering is similarly complex, with hazards so numerous and widespread that their full implications can only be understood after many rounds in all conditions. To my knowledge there is no other course in the world that requires such a careful study. Firm and windy conditions, huge fairways, random terrain, and profuse bunkering mean the strategy on a given hole is different from player to player, day to day, and even hour to hour. This is what has kept the Old Course fresh and interesting for so long. I’ve played and walked the course many times and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. 

What are your personal long-term goals within golf architecture?
-My goal is to continue making a meaningful contribution to golf and golf course design. I have been very fortunate to work on a number of the modern era’s most significant design and restoration projects and I hope to continue that kind of work, as the lead architect or as part of a team. I have always been especially passionate about courses situated on sandy ground and would love to do more work with existing sandy courses and eventually have the opportunity to design a new course on sandy ground. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

St Andrews Jubilee Course

The St Andrews Jubilee course is my first choice for a quick afternoon round of golf. The course flies under the radar for many golfers visiting St Andrews, and for others, including locals, it has a fearsome reputation as the hardest track in town. The course is a favorite of the University of St Andrews Golf Club, which plays many of its team and club matches on the Jubilee. The course is a stern test of golf, and any golfer who can play to his handicap during a windy day on the Jubilee could hold their own anywhere.

The Jubilee was first laid out as a 12-hole course for "beginners and lady golfers" in 1897, commemorating the Diamon Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The course was extended to 18 holes around 1900, and legendary local Willie Auchterlonie made a few changes nearly 50 years later. Donald Steel, who also worked extensively on the Eden Course, then made a complete overhaul to the course in 1988, which extended the course greatly in length and made it the difficult links known today.

The Jub, as is it referred to locally, suffers similarly to the New Course, with both courses living under the shadow of the Old Course. If you make it to St Andrews and need to have your ego checked, play a windy round on the Jubilee. This is especially true when the greenskeeping staff grows out the rough and narrows the fairways each summer in anticipation of golfers visiting from all over the world.

Hole #1 - 367 yards
The opening hole presents a subtle challenge for golfers. A slope to the right of the green kicks everything to the left, and the rock hard links green doesn't hold aerial approach shots. A bunker short of the green and a hidden bunker behind the green make front right the safest area of the green.

 Hole #2 - 360 yards
The 2nd hole is similar to the first in that the real challenge lies in approach shots. A large dune to the left, and a low lying collection area to the right, put a premium on accuracy, particularly when the pin is in the narrower rear section of the green.

 Hole #4 - 371 yards
The size of the 4th green allows for a huge variety of pin positions, each requiring a different strategy off the tee. Bunkers right and left create challenges for aerial approaches, but in classic links golf style, the center of the green is perfect for running shots.

Hole #5 - 162 yards
The 5th has another large green, and the difficulty of the hole depends primarily on the pin position. The flatter right side of the green is much less penal than the left. A pin on raised plateau on the left side of the green is extremely difficult, and any shot missed left of the green is either in gorse or knee high grass.

 Hole #6 - 498 yards
The picture seen above is taken from 185 yards out on the par 5 6th hole. A grouping of bunkers on the left side of the fairway and gorse down the right create a choke point for longer hitters. Accuracy is key off the tee.

Hole #8 - 369 yards
The dogleg left 8th hole runs parallel to the Eden Estuary, and both the fairway and green run in between two sets of dunes. The approach shot in the photo below is taken from the vanishing point in the fairway seen above.
The 8th green is deceptively long, and distance control is crucial on this bowl shaped putting surface.

Hole #9 - 192 yards
The 9th was redesigned a number of years ago. The green was moved from the upper plateau on the left to a lower area where the green is currently seen on the right. This change protects the safety of those on the 10th tee. An unseen slope on the left edge of this green kicks balls onto the putting surface.

Hole #11 - 497 yards
The dogleg left par 5 11th hole is reachable for longer hitters who aim down the left half of the fairway. During the summer months, the rough is grown out to devilish heights down the left side of the hole.

Hole #12 - 538 yards
The view above is taken from the 12th green looking back down the hole. The long par 5 is another dogleg left, and the fairway becomes frighteningly narrow in the summer. The deep green puts a premium on distance control.

Hole #13 - 188 yards
An elevated tee on the 13th hole provides an impressive view of the green and surrounding holes. Length and accuracy are required to hit this green in regulation.

Hole #15 - 356 yards
This curious hole sticks in the memories of many visiting golfers. The tee shot is seen above, with no visible green, and intimidating dunes down the right. The fairway runs into gorse around 255 yards.
Once golfers reach the 100 yards marker, the hidden green becomes visible around the back of a dune. The green itself is set into a dune and features a massive false front. The Jubilee greens are typically very fast, and any ball above the hole on the 15th risks being putted back off the front.

Hole #16 - 428 yards
The dogleg left 16th has a blind tee shot. Anyone who hasn't played the hole would think they could cut the corner. You cannot cut much off of this corner. The smartest tee shots are draws starting down the center of the fairway.
The approach shot is fairway straightforward, although it is important to leave balls below the hole on this sloping green.

Hole #17 - 211 yards
All four par 3s on the Jub are very difficult and none are short. The 17th is no exception with bunkers on the left and right guarding the green on this long par 3.

Hole #18 - 437 yards
The 18th hole rounds out a string of 5 incredibly tough finishing holes. If you have managed to stay anywhere close to par coming into the 15th tee, hold on for dear life and grind out the final five. The 18th is a long and straight par 4. A heavily bunkered green causes many final hole bogies on the course.

The St Andrews Jubilee Course often sits comparatively empty in the town. This makes it perfect for my late afternoon rounds after class, but it also means that the course is largely under appreciated. The challenging links is fair, and offers many memorable holes that will stick in your mind long after the round. If you make it to St Andrews and want to see just how good you really are, play the Jubilee in the summer with firm conditions and long rough.