Sunday, January 29, 2012

Biltmore Forest Country Club

For a post of Biltmore Forest Country Club photos, click here.

           The history between Scotland and North Carolina, USA is undeniable. Not only was North Carolina the immigration destination for many Scots, but it also attracted one of the best-known Scottish golf architects, Donald Ross. He was born in Dornoch, Scotland before eventually moving to St Andrews to serve as an apprentice to Old Tom Morris. After completing his apprenticeship, Ross moved to the US where he eventually became the professional at Pinehurst Golf Resort in North Carolina. From this point on, his career as a golf course designer began to bloom. Although his work can be seen at great courses all over the east coast, North Carolina has some of Ross’s greatest gems.
            My hometown is Asheville, North Carolina and it is one of the few places I would love living other than my current residence, St Andrews, Scotland. After recently reading an article in the Scotsman Magazine on travelling in North Carolina, I became inspired to write a blog post on my NC home club, Biltmore Forest Country Club. The course, built in 1922, is a Donald Ross design and was a product of the massive Vanderbilt family fortune.
            Biltmore Forest Country Club (BFCC) is a private club located in South Asheville. It is consistently ranked among the top 10 courses in NC, falling behind the likes of Pinehurst #2 and Wade Hampton. The course highlights many of Ross’s best-known course design attributes: his use of the land, “naturalness” of the design, and the major role of the courses greens. As the course at BFCC currently stands, it has differed relatively little from Ross’s original design. An extended and raised “championship” tee box on the second hole along with new bunkering on the 11th and 12th holes are some of the biggest changes the course has seen.
            Typical of Ross, it is a short course measuring about 6,650 yards with a par of 70 from the tips. It has not been stretched and lengthened like many newer course designs. This means that big hitters can overpower areas of the layout, but unbelievably quick and sloping greens protect the course from being dominated.
1st hole standing at 150 yards out
            The second hole at BFCC is considered by many to be the strongest hole on the course. Ben Hogan is quoted saying, “The second hole at Biltmore Forest Country Club is the strongest hole on the PGA Tour.” This was said at a time when BFCC hosted the Land of the Sky Open, a PGA Tour Event. The course no longer hosts PGA Tour events. It is a 450-yard, dogleg right par 4 with a creek running up the right side of the hole. From the new tee box, cutting of the corner is nearly impossible and a strong tee shot still leaves the player with an uphill, 200-160 yard approach. The greens slopes very severely back to front and anything above the hole is almost certain to be putted off the front of the green.
            The seventh is the only par 5 on the course. If played correctly it can produce an easy birdie. That being said, an awkward length, downhill lie third shot can create a difficult shot into a quick green which slopes front to back.
8th hole standing from 145 yards out
            The final stretch of holes from fifteen onward is very strong. A good score can easily slip away coming back up towards the impressive clubhouse. During one of my final rounds in North Carolina this summer, I witnessed club member Mark Hedberg shatter the course record by shooting 61. He achieved the incredible score by birdying both the 16th and 17th, which is something very rarely seen.
            As stated earlier, the protectors of Biltmore Forest Country Club are the blazingly fast, incredibly conditioned bentgrass greens. During season, namely during the Sweetser Memorial Tournament, they are the best greens in Western North Carolina. During the season, the greens can roll anywhere between 10.5 and 13 on the Stimpmeter with barely any imperfections. Depending on pin positions and the speed of the greens, the course can be made incredibly difficult.
            Having said all of the previous positive aspects, BFCC does have weaknesses. The bermuda grass fairways leave lots to be desired. They are patchy in areas and are only in good condition during the peak of summer. The fairways need to be re-done and the club membership cannot agree on a course of action. Another weakness is the two par 3s (holes three and nine) on the front side. Both are around 155 yards, and require similar shots and the same club selection.
            Biltmore Forest Country Club is not going to be hosting any PGA tour events any time in the near future, but it has played host to the 1999 US Women’s Amateur and will be hosting the 2013 US Women’s Mid-Amateur.
            The Club facilities have anything a golfer would want. A new wing added to the clubhouse in the early 2000’s introduced a new bar, dining room, outdoor veranda, and fitness facility among other things.
View of the clubhouse from the front -
            One of Biltmore’s greatest characters is Sheila Fender, the Pro Shop Manager. Sheila has been working at the club for over 30 years and has contacts at nearly every golf club across the country and even the world. She has friends including members at Augusta National and Cypress Point to small exclusive hidden private clubs dotting the US. I have known Sheila since birth and owe her for many of my great golf experiences. Shelia’s golfing power in combination with club pro Jon Rector’s golfing influence make an extremely powerful duo to help members.
            If ever given the opportunity to play Biltmore Forest Country Club, do not turn it down. It is an example of an old traditional Southern country club and truly is one of Donald Ross’s hidden North Carolina gems.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taylormade Driver Cracking!?

            Have you ever had a poor experience at a restaurant that was so bad you never wanted to eat there again? Apply that same idea to what has recently happened to my Taylormade R9 460 driver. During a normal round of golf, the clubhead cracked upon contact with the ball. What has followed the incident during past few weeks has led to an abandonment of my love for Taylormade woods and the purchase of a new Titleist driver.
            Here is some background to my story: I used to love Taylormade woods. I have played the Taylormade R580, the Taylormade Burner, the Taylormade Superfast, and the Taylormade R9 460. I have loved each driver and was giving thought to purchasing a new R11 before this debacle.
            Before heading home to North Carolina before Christmas, I was playing one of my final rounds here in St Andrews. I was out on the New Course on a cold December morning. My first driver of the day came on hole number two. Immediately upon contact with the ball, something didn’t feel right, and the sound produced upon contact was terrible. I looked down to realize that the head of my R9 460 had cracked right down the top of the driver. I was shocked to say the least! I finished up the remaining sixteen holes teeing off with my 3 wood.
            My disappointment with Taylormade didn’t emerge from the failure of the driver, but how they have since handled the issue. Post-round, I took the driver up to Auchterlonies, a golf store off the 18th green of the Old Course. They are an authorized Taylormade dealer and recognized that I had also flattened out the face of the driver! They called Taylormade to ask about the issue. Their answer was along the lines of, “Driver heads crack on occasion with heavy use. This driver is outside of its 2-year warranty, and therefore we can’t do anything for the customer.”
            Is it acceptable that a well-kept, non-abused driver should crack after a mere two years of use? If it does crack, isn’t it reasonable to think that the company would replace the driver even if outside of the coverage? Taylormade’s warranty states: “This warranty does not cover normal wear and tear. All cosmetic and other repairs not covered under this warranty may be made for a fee.” Is the driver head cracking during a round “normal wear and tear”? I may be off the mark, but I don’t believe it is.
            Unfortunately, Taylormade has lost a loyal customer from these interactions. Has anyone else experienced a driver head cracking? How did the company handle it?

2012 Golf Plans:
            As the cold weather passes, I will be getting back out to play some great golf. I’m going to get my fill of St Andrews golf in late January. I’m also planning on making a trip down to play Muirfield in late March in addition to an English golfing adventure at some point. I will be visiting the Masters Golf Tournament this year when going State-side over the Easter Holidays. Course write-ups and reviews will come once again when the weather is good and the courses off their winter setups. 2012 should be a great year of golf!