Monday, April 29, 2013

St Andrews Castle Course

The St Andrews Castle Course draws mixed reactions from those who have played the course. David Kidd designed the Castle, which opened in 2008. The course is set just outside of St Andrews, a short eight-minute drive south down the coast towards Crail.
The views at the course are second to none. The sea is visible from nearly every hole, and certain holes bordering the cliffs are literally breathtaking.
My main point of contention with the Castle Course is its greens. Since the course was built, the greens have been “redesigned” (read flattened) four times. Even with all the tempering, the greens are still extreme. The severity of the slopes limit pin placements, and during strong winds, certain greens border unplayable.
The crazy greens begin on the 2nd hole where, depending on the wind, approach shots can vary between 130-200 yards. The green has a massive false front, a large valley running through the middle, and severely slopes falling off the back into tall grass. It is simply unfair. The pin placement pictured is one of the few accessible pins. Aiming center of the green and hoping to end up in the valley is a player's best option. 
The two photos above are of the par 3 3rd hole. The lower photo is of the collection area behind the green. It is a two level green, with a large false front and a large collection area behind the green. The hole is 179 yards from the standard tees and the prevailing wind is behind the player. If the wind is even slightly strong, it becomes close to impossible to hold this green. 
The 4th and 5th holes are both par 5s at the Castle Course and both have horrendously difficult greens. The green pictured above is the fifth. The slopes are so severe and numerous that there are roughly only three usable pin positions depending on green speeds.
The 11th hole is an uphill par 4 to yet another sloping green. If the greens are running fast, there are only two useable pin positions, one of which is where the pin is placed in this photo. A large slope on the back of the green acts as a very useful backstop. A large false front forces any short approach shots thirty yards backwards off the front of the green. 
I consider the 12th hole to be the hardest hole on the golf course. From the medal tees, the hole plays 454 yards uphill with a prevailing headwind. The picture above shows the uphill approach shot to the green. Thankfully, Kidd had the sense to make this green large and not unreasonably difficult. The card shows the hole as stroke index 8 - very debatable....
The approach to the 16th hole can be intimidating. The green contains a valley and features yet another massive false front. Anything short of the pin runs back into the massive valley in front of the green. As is the theme with many of the Castle greens, aim for the center of the green and settle for the 25 foot putt.
The 17th hole at the Castle Course is the signature hole. It is a 174 yard par four over a large gully. At high tide the waves are crashing below the tee. The view is breathtaking! It is one of my favorite par 3s in the World. A large slope left of the green feeds balls down to the pin. Smart players utilize this slope depending on the pin placement. 
The 18th is a dogleg right par 5 with a massive shared double green. It is a compelling final view. The green is difficult, but fair. The approach shot into the tough green requires distance control and accuracy - something that should be found on a risk/reward par 5.

You may have seen a theme in this blog post of tremendously difficult greens and massive false fronts. Now, think on the topic again factoring in that the greens have been tempered and flattened four times since they were built. I would recommend playing the Castle Course to anyone visiting St Andrews, but leave the scorecard in the bag and keep the camera out. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Masters - What Makes the Week So Special?

Masters week is unquestionably my favorite week of the year. Many obvious factors make the week special, but it was not until I came over to St Andrews that I fully realized the value one of the specific feature - the CBS television coverage.

The CBS coverage of the Masters began in 1956, and has run a consecutive 58 years. It is all of the little things about this coverage that make the Masters so much more enjoyable to watch than any other golf tournament or sporting event. The most obvious benefit is the knowledgeable and unobtrusive commentary (unlike the Sky Sports commentary with which I have been stuck). Spectators are referred to as “patrons” and the rough is called the “second cut.” Inadherence to these rules is not tolerated, just take the examples of Gary McCord and Jack Whitaker. Despite all of these restrictions and rules, the commentary rarely feels scripted.

Augusta National mandates the number of commercials running during the broadcast. Commercial play is currently limited to four minutes per hour. There were no commercials during the 2003 and 2004 broadcasts. This makes watching the tournament endlessly more enjoyable. It isn't the Super Bowl; I don't want to see any commercials. The three tournament sponsors - Exxon Mobile, AT&T, and IBM - make this amazing commercial-less coverage possible. Augusta National also didn’t allow CBS to show all 18 holes of the course on television until 2002 in order to preserve some of the course’s mystique. It is all of these factors that add up to a great viewing experience.

Interestingly, CBS signs one-year contracts with Augusta National to continue its coverage of the Masters. This is one surefire way for the club to dictate coverage and maintain its rule over the coverage. I would venture to say that CBS would bend over backwards to meet Augusta National’s requests. It would be safe to say that things will not be changing in the Masters coverage any time soon.
I went to the 2012 Masters (view post here), and the course and experience held up to all of the myths and legends. I walked the course and made an effort to study each hole. I wanted to see Augusta National Golf Club more than any golf course in the World. I would never turn down another chance to go back to watch the tournament and would sacrifice nearly anything to play it, but right now, if I wanted to watch the golf, I would choose the comfort of my couch and the CBS coverage.