As 2019 drew to a close, a lot of my friends in the golf world shared their favorite photos from the year. I’d like to do the same, but with a twist: instead of just posting my prettiest shots, I thought I’d run through the ones that bring up the richest memories. This is the best way I know how to sum up where I’ve been and what I’ve learned in 2019.
An old-school cart at Iron River
The small towns of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan have an old-school charm, and Iron River is no exception. I played Iron River Country Club, a 1930 nine-holer designed by Langford & Moreau, on league night. The course was packed with local golfers, many of whom brought their own carts. Little has changed at Iron River over the years, which, for an architecture fan, is almost always a good thing. Langford & Moreau’s bold greens and memorable shots remain, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the greens mown close to their original size. Whenever you find yourself in the area, head over to this local country club—it won’t disappoint.
The 5th at Blackwolf Run's River Course, with its Langford & Moreau-style shaping
The golf internet has often been cruel to Pete Dye, and undeservingly so. His work transformed the field of golf course architecture. Rather than focusing on what he did—usher in a new style and construction practice—people seem to focus on what he’s not: a minimalist. That’s not the right approach, in my opinion. Without Pete Dye, Bill Coore and Tom Doak, to name just two of the many architects who cut their teeth on Dye’s crew, wouldn’t be where they are today.
To be reminded of Pete Dye’s genius, I often look at this photo of the 5th hole at Blackwolf Run’s River Course. I see a Langford & Moreau influence in the shaping of this hole, which might surprise those golfers who associate Dye with the penal TPC style. But since Dye grew up in central Indiana, he would have been familiar with the Golden Age duo’s work.
The double green at Old Town and its muffins
Two years ago, Bill Coore spoke on our podcast about how deeply influenced he was by Perry Maxwell’s work at Old Town Club. Right away, Old Town shot to the top of my must-visit list. This fall, I finally got to go there, play the course, and photograph the much-admired double green serves Nos. 8 and 17.
As I learned, it’s actually the only non-Maxwell green on the course; Coore & Crenshaw built it during their 2013 restoration of Old Town. Completely indiscernible from the originals, the green pays tribute to the simple brilliance of Maxwell’s approach. Its interest comes from a few humble rolls, which wreak havoc on attempts to hit approaches close. Anything that finds the wrong side of a roll leads to a difficult two-putt. After seeing Old Town’s greens, I understood how profound an influence Maxwell had on Coore, whose designs often strive for the same natural, elegant simplicity.
Raynor's artistry at Country Club of Charleston
From the Golden Age’s preeminent minimalist to its most prolific maximalist: Seth Raynor. As Raynor’s Chicago Golf Club shows, spectacular greens and surrounds can compensate for less-than-inspiring ground. At Country Club of Charleston, too, the terrain has little to no natural advantages, so Raynor created interest with massive hazards and severely contoured greens. Aesthetically, these greens could hardly be more different from Maxwell’s at Old Town Club, yet they are just as effective and fun to play. It goes to show that there’s more than one way to build great golf. Today, minimalism (in aesthetics if not in actual construction practices) has become dominant. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back toward a more manufactured look—though hopefully with a sustainable and environmentally respectful ethic behind it.
The adventurous 8th at Greywalls
A northern adventure
At its core, golf is an adventure, pitting the player against the land and its hazards. Few golf experiences have evoked that feeling more for me than Mike DeVries’s Greywalls design at Marquette Golf Club on the Upper Peninsula. This course is brash, naturalistic, and thrilling, routinely asking players to attempt daring shots over wild terrain. For a fully adventurous experience, I recommend walking the course, if you’re able. It’s a hike, but it’s worth every step.
The photogenic 10th and 11th at The Creek
Eye candy vs. grounds for golf
Who doesn’t love golf on the shore of a body of water? And who doesn’t love photos of it? Rarely, however, are the best grounds for golf directly on the shore. Rather, they are often just inland.
This is certainly true at The Creek in Locust Valley, New York. If you follow any golf photography-focused social media accounts, you’ve most likely seen aerial shots of The Creek’s Leven 10th and Biarritz 11th along the Long Island Sound. These are great and beautiful golf holes, no doubt.
The rolling topography of the 15th at The Creek
But from a pure golf standpoint, they pale in comparison to the holes just inland—such as the one pictured here, the Double Plateau 15th. This short par 4 sits on a magnificent piece of ground, its rolling fairway falling off the world to the left and rolling onto an exquisite green to the right. This land adds a strategic dimension that the shore holes can’t quite match. Do you lay back? Or do you drive it close and deal with an awkward, semi-blind pitch to a severe green? One thing my travels have taught me is that a course’s most photographed hole is rarely my favorite.
The vexing 1st green at Winged Foot West—with the NYC skyline in the background
A gentle handshake vs. a punch in the face
When I play a great golf course, there is often one green that sticks in my memory, and it’s usually one that terrifies me. At most courses, that green will be somewhere in the middle of the round. Not so at Winged Foot’s West Course, where the green I think (and worry) about the most comes at the end of the 1st fairway. It sets the tone for what the day will be: difficult, especially on and around the putting surfaces. I can’t wait to see how the pros handle these challenges at the U.S. Open this coming June.
Behind the par-3 closer at Pasatiempo
A perfect finish
I don’t understand why some people hate par 3s as 18th holes. In fact, for me, there may be no better way to end a match than on a make-or-break final shot. The last time I played Pasatiempo, that exact scenario occurred. Knotted at all-square after No. 17, our match came down to Alister MacKenzie’s spectacular par-3 finisher. My opponent and I both hit excellent shots that set up birdie tries, and we both made them. It was as thrilling as a halve could get.
At Pasatiempo, the one-shot 18th fits beautifully in the routing, offering one final tussle with the barranca that defines the back nine.
With the pups at Soule Park
Golf with dogs
I played more golf with my dog than ever this year, and I hope to continue that in 2020. It makes golf feel less selfish. My round at Soule Park was on a Saturday, and rather than abandoning my wife and dog for six hours, including the drive each way, I brought the dog along with me. She got to enjoy a day of running and exercise, and I got to enjoy her company. In this day and age, people seem to have less and less time for golf, so it makes sense for more courses to have dog-friendly policies. It might attract more dog lovers to the game, and it would allow golfers to feel as though they aren’t completely skipping out on their commitments.
Evening at Pinehurst No. 2
Since I started The Fried Egg, the way I experience golf has changed drastically—in some ways for the better, and in others for the worse. One thing I miss is chasing the closing minutes of sunlight in the evening. It’s the most beautiful time to be on a golf course, and it has been the backdrop for some of my fondest memories. These days, though, I often reserve last few hours of a day for taking pictures or capturing drone footage. Fortunately, one evening this year at Pinehurst No. 2, I was able to step out of content creator mode and just play golf as the sun set. My group and I were basically by ourselves in the closing minutes of the day on one of the world’s best courses. Pure magic.