From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
A story about the late country music superstar Waylon Jennings comes to mind—when he was asked once to watch a tribute artist’s performance. The young singer looked like Waylon, sang like Waylon, had Waylon's mannerisms and stage presence. After the show, the kid asked the legend what he thought. You’re good, Waylon told him, but you’ll always be one hit behind.
So it is with The Tribute Golf Links, a Tripp Davis design on the eastern shore of Lake Lewisville, north of Dallas. It’s one of the best replica courses in the country, replicating 18 of Great Britain’s most iconic golf holes, as good a links experience as one could expect on Bermuda turf.
Some holes are more homage than duplicates. The par-3 fifth is Royal Troon’s Postage Stamp, and while architect Davis nailed the topography, the green is far bigger than the original, a grudging concession, I suppose, to the demands of public golf.
Conspicuously absent from The Tribute is North Berwick’s par-3 Redan hole. Davis’ original routing had it slotted as his 14th hole, but in construction it was replaced in favor of Muirfield’s heavily bunkered par-3 13th, which is now labeled “Tripp’s Favorite.”
My point is, most of the holes are dead ringers, until you look closely. The 418-yard par-4 16th seems like a painstaking reproduction of the famed 16th at Trump Turnberry’s Ailsa Course, with a sneaky burn wrapping itself around its steeply pitched green. The problem is, The Tribute was built in 2000. In 2007, the Turnberry Ailsa hole was remodeled in preparation for the 2009 Open, lengthened and turned into a dogleg right, with new fairway bunkers and a new approach angle over the burn into the green. Should The Tribute have followed suit and remodeled its 16th to conform? Or is it OK that the hole remains as built to remind golfers just how good Ailsa’s 16th was before its remodeling?
The Tribute's first, 17th and 18th are full-scale reproductions of the first, 17th and 18th at the Old Course at St. Andrews, complete with the Swilcan Burn and Valley of Sin on the last green. Though The Tribute’s par-4 17th is certainly the Road Hole at St. Andrews, including the blind tee shot over faux black sheds, a Road Bunker left and to the right a road and rock wall, it measures 471 yards, not the 495 yards that the real Road Hole has played in The Opens of 2010 and 2015. Of course, that was from a temporary tee installed just for those Opens, so maybe there’s no necessity for The Tribute to expand its Road Hole. Still, if a purist expects the total experience when playing The Tribute, will he or she be disappointed if it's not the accurate length?
Therein lies the conundrum for any copycat course. They’re always one renovation behind.
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