Having had the opportunity to watch the majority of the NBC broadcast over the weekend I was very impressed with the diversity and interest that Riviera seemed to possess in just about each of her holes. I have never had the good fortune to play or visit Riviera Country Club, but the images of the course on television forced me to make a mental note to get there at my first opportunity. And I certainly don't need Jack or Sly or Arnold to complete my experience - the course itself appears to be more than enough thank you!
Of the holes that caught my eye none was more exciting or interesting than the 315 yard 10th. Designed in 1926 by George Thomas Jr. this could be my new favorite hole in golf. A well thought out hole that rewards just the right amount of bravery one day and just the right amount of caution the next - just be sure to get your days matched up.
Arguably Riviera’s finest hole, the 10th ranks among the world’s great short par fours, its timeless strategic challenge having perplexed golfers for more than eight decades. The key is the putting surface, an angled, extremely narrow target with a dangerous right-to-left slope. Though reachable from the tee, only a perfect drive will hold this green – and a tee ball missed even slightly right will generally result in a bogey, or worse. The smart play is a fairway metal down the left side, but the temptation to go for the green remains eternally tantalizing…
As you study the picture above taken by Geoff Shackelford (who did a fantastic job covering the event in person) on Saturday you'll notice many of the subtle design features. As Steve Stricker plays this approach into the green (which is the perfect position to play from!) keep in mind that the green slopes quite aggressively from right to left. This means that if you have a go and happen to miss right, you now have a shortish pitch from the rough to an extremely narrow green that runs away from you. No bargain even from close range.
Should you have a go and happen to hit the low, left quacker (we all know it!) then you're only faced with a 50-60 yard sand shot. No bargain either.
Jack Nicklaus on the 10th at Riviera:
I love option holes and this one has more than any short Par 4 I know.
My question is this: Where have all the golf courses like Riviera and holes like the 10th gone? Can it possibly be that difficult to build a golf course that incorporated a little thought and planning? Golfers are pleading for interest over torture.
Give me a golf course filled with interest and I'll play it over a long, torturous monster anyday. I'll start with the 10th at Riviera, then play the 9th at Harbourtown, then the 4th at Spyglass and follow that with the 6th at Ballybunion......
Golf should be fun and Riviera looked exactly that!
It's not hard to find the best things in life - with a bag of money and a few of the right connections you can have it all. For me, the joy lies in finding hidden gems; things that are every bit as enjoyable as the best might be, but for one reason or another are not as mainstream or popular as the main attraction. A little secret or discovery that is all your own. These experiences very often are more memorable than experiencing, and paying handsomely for, the finest in life. Golf in Scotland can be the same way. We all know the Open rota courses of St. Andrews, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Troon and Turnberry; they are like Pebble Beach, Pine Valley and Winged Foot in the US; they are like Ruth's Chris, Del Frisco's or Shula's in steakhouse terms; or in wine terms like Caymus, Silver Oak or Far Niente. You don't need to be a golf, food or wine geek to know or experience these instituions, just connected or rich, or preferably both. The art is in being able to duplicate or upgrade the experience for way less money and with way more satisfaction.Read More
I believe that the game of golf is too difficult, too expensive and too time consuming. By the time you can earn a living to be able to afford the game, you don't have the time to play. Not to mention all those years you missed out on learning how to play. For years I have envisioned a particular type of golf course that is challenging and still maintains the essence of the game, yet addresses three of golf's greatest challenges - difficulty, expense and the time it takes to play. Here's what it would look like:
This golf course will be based on the model of St. Andrews - an open field style course with a limited number of hazards. There will preferably be no water and a limited number of very shallow, firm shell-based traps that encroach on the tee shots. These shallow traps will be in play for multple holes as they straddle the space between prefered avenues of play. The length will still be there as every golfer loves to swing away at the driver, but there will distance specific tee boxes vs. ego or gender specific options. For example, if you hit an 8 iron 150 yards+ you'll play the back tees (which would never measure more than 6,500 yards long), if you hit an 8 iron 125-150 then you play the next set up and all the way to somebody who hits an 8 iron less than 75 yards. There will be no rough on the golf course. Closely mown fairway from wall to wall! The greens will not have any bunkers or other hazards around them. They will be raised and feauture tightly mown grass swales as their interest feature. This is most important as it is still a challenge to the better player who must make par, yet for the average golfer it is a decidedly easier shot than the one played from a sand bunker. Putt the ball onto the green, two putt and make a net par! Alister Mackenzie once said that out of all of golf's hazards, undulation is best. Whether it's water, sand, rough, or wind I love a golf golf course that utilizes this subtle hazard as its primary defense. The course will feature fairly severe undulation countered with flatter lies in the optimal playing areas. Once again, still challenging for the good player, yet easier than traps or water for the higher handicapper.Read More
I first played there with my father, some old friends and Mr. Seamus Finnerty, Club Captain and everything you could hope for in a host. What a special experience it was! On a calm day there are no holes that will overpower you, but even a subtle breeze blowing in the right direction will make holes # 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and 17 become unreachable monsters. Keep in mind that there is no direction the wind can blow that will make all the aforementioned holes play into the wind, as they are all going in different directions.
There is some debate as to who the course design should be credited to; Murphy in 1893; 0r Hewison in 1906? Nobody seems to know! The course has been upgraded by it's biggest fan, Tom Watson, over the last few years and the changes are subtle and positive. Just as you might expect from Old Tom! Ballybunion was actually the course where Tom Watson learned to love the links game.
The course only plays to 6638 yards from the back tees, but is all the challenge any golfer could hope for. The contours on the fairways and greens are a large part of what make Ballybunion a great golf course. The foward half of the 9th green is entirely a false front! The signature hole is the par four 11th. A longish par four where the tee shot must be soundly struck between dunes and the Atlantic Ocean. The hope is to place your ball on the appropriate tier in the fairway from which to play the thrilling second shot to the green below. I would rate the approach to this green alongside the approach to the 8th at Pebble Beach. It will get your heart racing!
I asked Tom Watson what his favorite hole was and he gave me a sly look and said I would never guess. My reply was, that with that look, it must be the 6th hole. He was amazed that I selected that hole, as the 6th has no dunes, no bunkers and no ocean or graveyard in play. The 6th only has a tee, a fairway and a green, oh yes, and the prevailing wind! Play it a few times and you will understand why we both rate it so highly!
Ballybunion has no weak holes and every hole is a unique and memorable experience. Conditioning is generally quite good for a links course and the caddies can be hit or miss. The Cashen or New course is actually built on a "wilder" (better!) piece of property but Mr. Robert Trent Jones Snr. has done a disservice to all of links golf with his design. I would stay off the Cashen. No matter how good it looks!
Any golfer who loves links golf and plans on making a pilgrimage to Ireland must count Ballybunion Old as the number one course to play! As Tom Watson said,
"I am now of the opinion this is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links anywhere in the world."
The golf course, designed by Greg Norman, is a true links gem with nine holes going out and nine more bringing you home. The course plays 6,885 yards from the back tees and it has everything from pot bunkers, to undulating greens, exciting, driveable par fours and treacherous par threes. The five par threes are exhilarating with the shorter 9th, 11th and 14th leading the pack.
The signature 14th hole plays to 111yards from the back tees and I have hit every club in my bag from a seven iron up in to the green. Or at least the vicinity of the green! As you can tell from the picture above it really is a case of do or die! While the ocean is in view from sixteen of the eighteen holes it certainly does not come into play (on all of them!) and all skill levels should be able to have a fantastic day of golf. There are five different sets of tees offered. Other than one questionable green complex (#12) I thought all the holes were memorable, very playable and interesting. Actually quite a rare combination.
While the course has been known to abuse a few of it's guests you will not experience anything of the sort at the Lodge at Doonbeg. I have had the privilege of spending a handful of nights within her solid stone walls and I have never experienced a finer hotel in all my travels. The food, bedding, customer service and attention to detail are second to none! Oh, and the view is not too bad either! Should the Guinness not have done the trick after the round, the ladies, and gents if you prefer, have access to the world class spa to soothe away those few too many swings out on the course.
Terri and I will travel with a group of 'friends' to Doonbeg later this year to compete in the Norman Trophy. We cannot wait to experience all the luxury and links Doonbeg has to offer.
Things to Ponder:
- The other day my son asked asked me why I had a Bobby Jones haircut?! That boy is getting crazy about golf....
- My prayers are with the Mickelson family at the moment. Occasions like this make me realize what truly is important. Tell someone you care about that you love them!
- Look for my pick this week, Mr. Ian Poulter, to dominate the field!
- Thanks to you all for feedback on my post "Family Golf" - I appreciate the words of encouragement.
- Charles Barkley is a funny man, but Hank Haney has had no chance from day one! You cannot cure yips with instruction! The only hope Sir Charles has is cross handed (my choice) or left handed. End of story!
- Anybody out there know of some secret links golf destinations please let me know.