Friday, April 27, 2012

Renaissance Club

While sitting on the train to North Berwick on my way to Renaissance Club, I fully expected to compare every aspect of Renaissance Club to its neighbor, Archerfield. On the train back to St Andrews post-round, I had come to realize that the golf at Renaissance Club offers something different to the club just down the coast. Archerfield’s two courses are there for the entertainment of the members, but at Renaissance, Tom Doak created a challenging world-class course, worthy of fighting its way into the upper half of the UK's top 100 courses.

Renaissance Club opened up in 2008 with a similar ethos to Loch Lomond. Different from most Scottish courses, a largely international membership base is able to fly in and relax in a golfing haven, hidden from society, while being provided with anything of which a golfer could dream. To exemplify this, we overheard the chef asking a member, “What would you like for dinner tomorrow?” to which the member replied, “Lobster would be good...” The chef answered, “I’ll have one brought in.”
The temporary clubhouse would make most permanent clubhouses jealous. Marble floors, sinks, and showers in the locker room make me wonder what the permanent locker room will be like. (Could we see a PowerShower rating of 10??) I could go on about the club’s offerings and treatment of the exclusive membership, but what really stood out was the golf course. (Click on the pictures to see full, large detail.)
The hole in the above picture is the 4th. After a strong first three holes, this fourth sets the tone for the round. The fairway has plenty of room to the left, but the left tree forces the golfer to favor the right side of the fairway. The green complex is something of genius with bunkers short right, and a massive backstop on the left side of the green, again encouraging the right side of the fairway for an optimal angle into the backstop. 
The 7th hole is a dogleg right with the picture above being taken right at the bend of the dogleg. The green was extremely large with a tree guarding far left pins, slopes guarding the front, and bunkers guarding the right side. 
The 8th hole (green above) is a drivable par 4. It is also the first place that the original stone walls surrounding the course come into play. The green, like many others on the course, is massive and very undulating. None of these pictures do the slopes justice. The unfinished clubhouse can be seen in the background... It will be extremely impressive. 

At the turn, a member of staff came out to offer us tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks.

There wasn't a single weak hole on the back nine. The 10th, pictured above, is a long dogleg right requiring a carefully placed drive on the left side of the fairway. In another stroke of designing skill, Doak placed the last bunker on the hole at 185 yards out. How many par 5s have you seen without a single bunker around the green? Instead of bunkers, large slopes guard the green. 
The 11th hole was my favorite hole on the golf course. It was an extremely strong hole, which carefully straddled the balance between too difficult and enjoyable. The picture above is taken from the tee, while the picture below is taken looking backwards from the green. The pictures don't do the massive scale of the hole justice. 
Another massive green is found at the 11th with bunkers forty yards out, thick grass and dunes left, and slopes filtering towards the ancient walls to the right. A common theme seen at the course is open, harmless entries to the greens, but miss left or right, and you're in trouble. 
The 14th hole puts a premium on accurate driving. I know this personally, as I was stuck in a deep fairway bunkers on the right side of the fairway (look carefully in the picture). A "figure 8" style bunker guards the dead center, but a natural chute on the left side of the fairway will slingshot a good drive past it. 
The 18th hole was playing downwind during our round and I took full advantage with a high flighted "North Carolina" style drive. The wall running across the fairway makes for a distinctive last hole that will not soon be forgotten. A shelf on the back left portion of the green makes for an interesting pin in a "make or break" situation. 

As you can tell from this writeup, I can only say good things about Renaissance Club. I was treated extremely well and everyone was extremely friendly. The course was in perfect condition, although the greens were slow. I can't wait to go play again when the greens are running fast on a less windy day. I found myself wanting to write about every single hole on the course.
Looking over the 14th, 13th, and 11th holes on the course.
After reading about the course and hearing me sing its praises, you may ask yourself, why isn’t Renaissance higher in the Top 100 in the UK? The main reason is that, due to its young age and high level of exclusivity, much of the golfing world has not seen Renaissance Club. That is how the membership likes it. Another reason would be the lack of seaside views, like those found at Kingsbarns or Castle Stuart. According to my host, once the new seaside holes are finished, they will welcome the ranking panelists. At that point, I would be shocked if Renaissance doesn’t place solidly within the top 100. 

There are a number of new holes in the process of creation at the course. They will change the routing fairly drastically. I am going to focus on one hole in particular that will likely be the signature hole. It is a par four with the sea down the entire left side. I was told by my host that the range of tee boxes will allow the hole to be made barely driveable if hosting a Scottish Open or other event. I cannot wait to play the course again once these holes are complete. 
Tee box set within the dunes
New fairway being shaped right beside the beach
New green with grass growing immediately ocean-side

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Masters 2012 - What was it like?

What better way for the 2012 Masters to end than a playoff duel between Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen? It was only a matter of time before the very talented Watson pieced together four good rounds to win a major. With the wet Augusta National unexpectedly playing longer and softer than usual, Bubba’s massive length played to his advantage, and without too many errant drives in the woods, it was a good week for him to win. Even though my call of Tiger winning failed hopelessly, I still stand by my previous post. Any of the eventual 96 players in the field could have played well and won (bar the amateurs and old-timers...). This was exemplified with the massive number of players who held the lead or were within a handful of strokes at various points in the tournament.

            My purpose for writing this post is not to re-cap the competition or explain the layout. Instead, I am writing to describe my visit to the 2012 Masters. I want you to feel as if you’re in my shoes, experiencing the best event in the world of golf.

            My girlfriend Isla and I entered Augusta National on Thursday through the main security gate. Metal detectors and guards made sure we weren’t carrying any phones, cameras, or other contraband. We had a game plan: 1) Watch the ceremonial tee off by Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player; 2) Walk the entire course while it was relatively empty and open; and 3) See as much golf as possible in the remaining time.
            After we passed through the gates, the practice facilities, recently redone and considered some of the best in the world, appeared on the left- hand side. Short game areas with full size, real speed greens, dot the area and replicate shots found on the actual course. Sticking to our game plan, we proceeded to the right, passing “Masters green” permanent buildings for merchandise and food. Funneling past the buildings, the trees cleared and opened to the first, vast view of Augusta National.
            Once through this dark portal, it was an uphill left to the clubhouse, oak tree, and first tee. The small, simple clubhouse looked elegant and was full of members and their friends relaxing on the warm day. We didn’t have clubhouse passes, and we envied the patrons and members relaxing under the shade of the famous oak tree and lounging on the porch wrapping around the white, square clubhouse.
            The size of the place is massive, and everywhere you look, there is strikingly dark, lush green grass. All of the typical sayings associated with Augusta National ring true: “Try to find a weed... bet you can’t!” or “There’s not a single blade of grass out of place!” Every bit of the course was in perfect condition. It is hard to imagine the amount of work that goes into preparing the course for its magnum opus: The Masters. The only disappointment this year was unexpectedly warm temperatures, which led to a premature blooming of all the bushes, trees, and flowers that line nearly every hole of the course. Instead of the beautiful colors normally observed during Masters week, we had dark, healthy, green. I wasn’t complaining.
            The “hilliness” or elevation changes at Augusta National are also striking. Many of the holes require blind shots to elevated greens. The greens are extremely undulating. These features don’t fully come across on the television.
            It was surreal seeing holes that I had studied for years previously on the TV. I soon realized after reviewing the first few holes, Augusta National is a different kind of penal to other great courses. The rough is cut short, the bunkers are massive, but shallow, and the course isn’t unbelievably long. The course instead shows its bite in fast undulating greens, and a large premium must be put on local knowledge. Knowing where to miss is just as important as knowing where to hit. Six inches on either side of a ridge could be the difference between a fifty-foot putt and a two footer.
            At an interesting point in the day, we took a look left while making our way down the left side of number ten. Sitting with his family, within earshot, was Jack Nicklaus, enjoying the porch of one of Augusta National’s white cabins. He was taking in the nice afternoon with hundreds of people passing him, too busy to notice the golfing icon. Ironically, these were the same cabins that provided the backdrop for Rory McIlroy’s massive hook on the tenth hole and his eventual collapse in the 2011 Masters.
            I have been lucky enough to attend both the 2011 US Open at Congressional and the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St Georges. The Masters was completely different. The numbers of people are much smaller at the Masters. The people in attendance aren’t fans; they are “patrons.” Patrons’ personal green Masters chairs dot the course and line the greens. Once a chair is placed, nobody other than the owner can sit in it or move it. There is an unspoken honor code upheld by nearly everyone. This is simply not found at other golfing events.
            Where the US Open and the Open Championship offered overpriced and bad food, the Masters has its famous sandwiches and drinks. $2.00 for a pimento cheese sandwich (among other kinds), $1.00 for chips, and $1.50 for a drink. There may be few options, but everything is fresh, tasty, and very inexpensive. They simply want to provide the patrons with food and drink for the day instead of seeing another area in which to make money.
            The overarching factor that sets the Masters apart is simply Augusta National’s aura. It is the “x factor” that no other course can replicate. It is the perfection of the course, the secrecy of the club, the traditions, the history, the members circulating in their green jackets, and it all adds up to create something unlike anything else. You pass through those gates into another world.
Magnolia Lane (
            What the Masters did for me personally was further instill an incredibly deep desire to play a round of my own at Augusta National. I can only wish hard for the time being, but one day I think I’ll play it, and when I do, I’ll savor every moment as if it were my last.