5/5/20

Maylbag, Part 1

Andy fields a batch of reader questions about golf courses, architecture, and travel

by

Welcome to the Maylbag! Get it?

Anyway, this is the first of two parts that we have planned for this month. If you have a question between mailbags, feel free to reach out on social media or send us an email.

Today, I dive into questions about Midwest golf, Tour golf without fans, and Walter Travis.

Favorite hole on the Sand Valley property? (dylblo)

No. 9 – Par 4 – Sand Valley 

The best quality of this Coore & Crenshaw short par 4 is the simplicity of its concept. The farther you push up toward the green, the narrower it gets. This works against players’ dispersion patterns, which get wider with more yardage. So what you have is a tempting, drivable par 4 with serious risk. Slight misses right or left could lead to big numbers. The smart, logical play is to lay back and take the free wedge, but that’s hard to convince yourself to do. Besides, the small green isn’t a pushover; its vicious false front and tiny back shelf present challenges to even the highest-spinning wedge shots. Of all the holes at Sand Valley, this is the one I’d most like to see a group of PGA Tour players play. It would probably make them uncomfortable—and in my book, that’s a good thing.

No. 16 – Par 3 – Mammoth Dunes

I love this par 3 because architect David McLay Kidd gives you a number of different ways to hit it close. A straightforward high mid-iron is an option—and probably the most used one. But for low-trajectory players, or those who just want to have fun, I recommend a low, running shot. If you punch one at the middle of the dune that obscures the right side of the green, you’ll have a chance of getting it close to any pin. If you go right, your ball will disappear for a few seconds, then reappear as it races toward the hole. Try it out, it’s fun.

No. 1 – The Sandbox

In his video on the 1st hole at Southern Hills, Garrett Morrison says that a great opener “arrests your attention.” The 1st at Coore & Crenshaw’s Sandbox does just that, especially when the pin is on the front shelf of the fallaway green. A 60-degree wedge isn’t necessarily the answer, as the firm turf tends to reject any high shots that are less than precisely played. Savvy players will look away from the pin for their route, and they will find a kicker slope short and right of the green, which funnels shots towards the front shelf. Any number of clubs, including a putter, can take advantage of this subtle feature for a chance at a 2.

How do we think Tour courses will play without fans and the usual infrastructure? Easier or tougher? (@gfordgolf)

Overall, I think it will be much tougher, and we will see a more realistic competitive setting. Yes, no fans on site may mean less pressure and fewer distractions, but I doubt those factors make much of a difference to seasoned Tour pros in the first place. Whether the players acknowledge it or not, fans and infrastructure help them a great deal. Galleries mat down the rough. Fans and volunteers search for lost balls. And grandstands around greens often offer backboards, limiting the range of potential misses. While we’re talking about mere decimal points of a shot here, these factors do have an effect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see courses play a half a shot more difficult or more without fans.

Overrated/Underrated: Walter Travis (tagrest7)

One way I organize my travel schedule each year is by zeroing in on architects and making sure to see a healthy sample of their work. In 2018, I focused on Alister MacKenzie and Langford & Moreau; last year, Perry Maxwell. This year was supposed to be all about Walter Travis. To date, the only course of his I have seen is Garden City, so I’m not the best person to assign him an overrated/underrated label.

But I’ll take a leap of faith: underrated. Among Golden Age architects who worked mainly on the East Coast, Travis is overshadowed by Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Seth Raynor, and C. B. Macdonald. But Travis seems to have a distinctive architectural signature, particularly in his wild green contouring. At the top of my to-see list are two of his courses, Hollywood in New Jersey and Cape Arundel in Maine, the latter of which is open to the public.

[Note from Garrett: Walter Travis was also a great amateur player (three U.S. Ams and a British Am), an early adopter of both the Haskell ball and the Schenectady putter, and the founder of The American Golfer, one of the best and most influential golf magazines in history. So yes, incredibly underrated.]

Cog Hill Dubsdread worth playing on my way to the Ryder Cup? (walkdawggg)

Are you a sadist? If so, enjoy getting your ass kicked at Dubsdread. If not, check out one of the many affordable and compelling courses in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Why doesn’t the University of Michigan MacKenzie course get more love? (louisbeck)

A few reasons jump to mind…

1) Location. While Ann Arbor is by no means rural America, it’s not a metropolis. It’s just far enough from Detroit to make getting there a hike for city dwellers.

2) Inaccessibility. It’s private, and the number of people who have actually seen it is limited.

3) Less-than-stellar faithfulness to Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell’s original design. On the whole, the course just needs some attention from a good architect. Fortunately, I believe Mike DeVries has a plan in the works.

That said, the University of Michigan Golf Course deserves more pub. It’s excellent right now and, if restored, could be spectacular. Given the current state of the world and the challenges that universities will soon face, however, a full restoration is likely a long-term dream.

Where’s the first place you’ll go to play a leisurely round next during this whole madness? (abitbetterthanbogey)

On Friday, I played my first round since the COVID-19 outbreak. A buddy and I were first off at Langford & Moreau-designed Kankakee Elks ($20). It was refreshing and therapeutic just to be out on the golf course. It allowed us to escape from the real world for a bit, and we got around in two-and-a-half hours.

Illinois golf courses are limited to twosomes every 15 minutes, and numerous friends have texted me to say how much they have enjoyed the pace of play. Instead of four-plus hours, most rounds are sub-3:30. This makes the game so much more approachable and acceptable, especially for golfers who live with non-golfers. In an awful time like this, it’s tough to find positives, but right now in the golf world, we’re seeing more walking, lower (or just more realistic) expectations for maintenance, and faster play. Those sound like good things!

Favorite hole or stretch of holes at Greywalls? (tylertowns23)

Anyone who has played Greywalls would immediately think of the unforgettable stretch from 4 to 8, which winds through massive rock outcroppings. But what impresses me most is how architect Mike DeVries transitions out of this section of the property without a sense of letdown. Of course, 9-12 doesn’t have the jaw-dropping natural spectacle of 4-8, but somehow it transports you seamlessly from the Jurassic-scale granite into the sandy Northern Michigan forest.

The par-4 9th, which has to be one of the most aesthetically striking holes in the world, starts the transition out of the rockscape. Teeing off from the top of the same massive granite structure that the 6th green occupies, players have a view of Lake Superior in the distance and the more muted landscape below.

No. 10 moves away from Lake Superior and has some classic strategy. A large rock obscures the view of the green from the safer right side of the fairway. In addition to asking a strategic question, this rock is your final reminder of the outcroppings above.

Plays off a ridge and into a valley, the 11th hole completes the transition into sandy terrain. Staggered bunkers crowd the rolling landforms, and the green complex funnels good shots slightly right while repelling any misses to the left.

After a few scorable par 4s, you’re in for one of most challenging holes at Greywalls, the long par-4 12th, which favors those who can find the right half of the fairway.

Beyond the individual holes, what I marvel at is how Mike DeVries sustains the momentum of the round through dramatically different landscapes.

Thoughts on Orchard Lake? (headcoverguy)

Orchard Lake is one of the best courses in Michigan. It has strong, undulating topography, and from tee to green it can stand toe-to-toe with any course in the country. What keeps the course from truly elite status, in my opinion, is the relative lack of interest on and around the greens.

Here’s where I’ll give what might be a hot take about Charles Alison, the designer of Orchard Lake. I grew up caddying at an Alison course, and my impression is that, at least on his American designs, his greens are… well, “subtle” and “understated” would be the positive adjectives. But sometimes I find them a bit dull. They tend to slope one way, lacking the kind of internal intricacies that I enjoy. I just prefer bolder green contours. And that’s why I would rate Orchard Lake a notch below Michigan courses like Kingsley Club and Crystal Downs (and the currently-being-restored South Course at Oakland Hills, which has some of the coolest greens I’ve seen).

The 17th hole at Orchard Lake. Photo credit: Andy Johnson

Best hole at Shoreacres? (flynnbradley23)

It’s hard to choose a best hole at a course as great as Shoreacres. The one I think about most, though, is the par-4 11th, which shows that Seth Raynor was much more than the “template trick pony” his critics argue he was. It’s one of the most natural holes Raynor ever designed and contains two of the most thrilling shots in golf. From the tee shot, you play over a ravine that turns and runs along the right side of the fairway before cutting back in front of the green. This hazard takes driver out of longer players’ hands and forces them to hit two quality shots for a chance at birdie.

The 11th hole at Shoreacres. Photo credit: Andy Johnson

I just ordered the Mavic Air 2, my first drone. I’m so excited to take golf course photos. Do you have any tips or helpful resources to study? (Chriswalters0990)

One of the most helpful things for my drone photography was shooting video. As I recorded, I naturally stumbled upon photos I liked. So now, when I finish a video shot, I bring the drone back to the spot where I saw the cool image and take a few stills. They usually aren’t your standard center-of-the-fairway perspectives; they’re off the beaten path. In my experience, people like photos from quirky angles.

As for the drone, you just need practice. It takes time to get comfortable and confident flying it around. There’s no way around putting in the hours.

When are you going to do a Minnesota course profile? (Pat Craig)

It was in our plans for 2020. We’re hoping we can still make it happen.