June 25, 2007

Heading for home

America's best 18 holes: Our man modernizes his list

PART 2: The back nine

Long time in the halfway house, huh? In case you don't recall from last month's introduction to the Best Modern 18 Holes in America-an update to the original Best 18 35 years ago-the layout spreads itself over 14 states and enhances the scenery behind 15 residential security gates, which, apart from everything else, suggests that manufacturing resident decals for homeowner automobiles hasn't been all that bad a business itself. One thing that makes our back nine a little different from the front is that four of the clubs from which the holes were selected play host to events on the regular PGA Tour, whereas none on the front nine do. This was purely accidental. The search for excellence just worked out that way. But let's get back out there.

No. 10, Castle Pines Golf Club

Castle Rock, Colo., 485 yards, par 4,

Jack Nicklaus (1981)

From the elevated tee, sweeping downhill to a green nestled right behind a pond-with Pikes Peak looming in the background-this hole looks like a brilliant par 5, and certainly can play like it is. Sure, the ball's supposed to go farther in Colorado, but only if you get it in the air. The green mainly accepts a high fade-it's Nicklaus, remember. The fairway is lined with pines, but there are no fairway bunkers, because none are needed. Two bunkers behind the green make the explosion a little touchy, since you're facing water beyond the putting surface. This is our first "tour" hole, for Castle Pines annually hosts the International-and its arcane scoring system.

Honorable mention No. 10s:

Crystal Springs Golf Country Club, Hamburg, N.J., 186 yards, par 3, Robert von Hagge (1991); Wild Dunes Resort (Links Course), Isle of Palms, S.C., 331 yards, par 4, Tom Fazio (1980); True Blue, Pawleys Island, S.C., 586 yards, par 5, Mike Strantz (1998).

No. 11, Mira Vista Golf Club

Fort Worth, 540 yards, par 5,

Jay Morrish Tom Weiskopf (1987)

The elevations on Mira Vista are stunning, considering that it's located in a reasonably flat part of Texas, and the course has long since taken its place among the best in the state. On a clear day from the clubhouse veranda, you can see practically all the way to cowboys and Indians out west. A trademark of Morrish and Weiskopf architecture is the use of a dynamic, drivable par 4 somewhere along the way, but they give you the same thing on this par 5. After your tee shot has avoided the trees on the right, there are alternative routes to the green. You can try to thread it down the chute on the right, or take the safer but still tricky route to the left. Even going left, you're pre-sented with a testy pitch to a ravine-fronted, well-bunkered green. It's both a reachable par 5 and a true three- shot par 5.

This is a magnificent and totally natural hole. It might be added, if you'll excuse a personal reference, that some of the scenes from the movie "Dead Solid Perfect" were filmed on this hole and elsewhere at Mira Vista.

Honorable mention No. 11s: Atlantic Golf Club, Bridgehampton, N.Y., 127 yards, par 3, Rees Jones (1992); Annbriar Golf Club, Waterloo, Ill., 404 yards, par 4, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, (1993); The Fort Golf Course, Indianapolis, 547 yards, par 5, Pete Dye (1997).

No. 12, The Challenge at Manele

Lanai, Hawaii, 202 yards, par 3,

Jack Nicklaus (1993)

This striking hole was such a no-brainer for Jack, he was forced to give you two looks at it. The 11th green is behind it, to the right and slightly uphill. Therefore, after you play the 11th, the cartpath takes you right past the 12th green on your way to the 12th tee. But if anything, this rather awkward route only adds to the anticipation-and apprehension-of playing the hole. Of all the photogenic ocean-cove holes in golf, this must be the highest. The tee and green are both about 150 feet above the surf. Well-traveled golfers may think of the tee shot as a mirror image of one of the great second shots in the game: the approach to the eighth green at Pebble Beach. Except the bailout here is to the right, so the terminal slicer's ball doesn't end up out to sea-at least not as often.

Honorable mention No. 12s:

Wild Dunes Resort (Links Course), Isle of Palms, S.C., 192 yards, par 3, Tom Fazio (1980); Marsh Landing Country Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 437 yards, par 4, Ed Seay (1986); Oxmoor Valley Golf Club (Ridge Course), Birmingham, Ala., 539 yards, par 5, Robert Trent Jones and Roger Rulewich (1992).

No. 13, Shadow Glen Golf Club

Olathe, Kan., 477 yards, par 4,

Jay Morrish, Tom Weiskopf and Tom Watson (1989)

Built down in a floodplain of Cedar Creek, here's another superb natural design by Morrish and Weiskopf. The hole is basically flat with only gentle rolls throughout to aid drainage and pose some interesting stances. Oaks and deep rough on the inside corner prevent a shortcut on this dogleg right for anyone but Godzilla. The green, which sits above a horseshoe bend of the creek, is overly large, but it's designed to hold long irons and fairway woods. A grove of huge sycamores originally stood behind the green, but a severe tornado removed them one day, which makes this our only hole that's survived a tornado.

Honorable mention No. 13s:

Black Diamond Ranch Golf Country Club (Quarry Course), Lecanto, Fla., 183 yards, par 3, Tom Fazio (1987); The Prince at Princeville Resort Golf Club, Kauai, Hawaii, 418 yards, par 4, Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1990); Hawthorne Valley at Snowshoe (W.Va.), 548 yards, par 5, Gary Player (1994).

No. 14, Muirfield Village G.C.

Dublin, Ohio, 363 yards, par 4,

Jack Nicklaus (1974)

Another "tour" hole-home of the Memorial-and a lot of pros aren't in love with it, because they think it puts an iron in their hands off the tee for position, and, well, it's embarrassing for a pro to put an iron in the water on the left when trying to play safe. Jack says so what, and so what again about the grim left-to-right slope of the green that sends any indifferent pitch down into the water. This sort of "Augusta" effect is installed all over Muirfield Village, and among the routine sights at the Memorial is watching balls trickling down slopes into water hazards. Maybe it ought to be mentioned that Desmond Muirhead, once Nicklaus' design partner, had something to do with the routing of the course, but the 14th was pure Jack. All in all, this is still one of the great par-4 holes anywhere.

Honorable mention No. 14s:

Waterwood National Resort Country Club, Huntsville, Tex., 225 yards, par 3, Roy Dye (1975); TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium Course), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 438 yards, par 4, Pete Dye (1981); Grand Harbour Golf Club (River Course), Vero Beach, Fla., 593 yards, par 5, Joe Lee (1989).

No. 15, Black Diamond Ranch Golf Country Club (Quarry Course)

Lecanto, Fla., 371 yards, par 4,

Tom Fazio (1987)

When you think of the foremost stretches in golf, you tend to start with the 10th through the 13th at Augusta National, or the eighth, ninth and 10th at Pebble Beach, or the last three at Merion, but once you've seen the five quarry holes at Black Diamond-13 through 17-and pick your jaw up off the ground, they'll be at the top of your list for awesome. First of all, Black Diamond is in Florida's rolling "horse country," thoroughbred farms here and there. Tom Fazio couldn't believe how lucky he was when he was given this land to work with-in Florida, of all places-and then his own jaw dropped when he saw the deep, deserted dolomite quarry with a lake at the bottom. It's a splendid layout before you reach the quarry, but then it becomes spectacular, lodged permanently in the memory. On the 15th you play from high up on a rim of the quarry right down into its bowels. The quarry lake is close on the left of the fairway, once you're down there, but there are "buffer" bunkers all along the way to catch anything but your worst snap hook. Although it doesn't look like it from back down the fairway, the approach barely skirts the corner of the lake, but you've got to get the ball up-there's no bouncing it onto the green. The Quarry at Black Diamond may be the only course in modern golf design where you can play five "signature holes" in a row.

Honorable mention No. 15s:

Pinon Hills Golf Course, Farmington, N.M., 228 yards, par 3, Ken Dye (1989); Nantucket Golf Club, Siasconset, Mass., 475 yards, par 4, Rees Jones (1997); Southwind Country Club, Garden City, Kan., 564 yards, par 5, Don Sechrest (1978).

No. 16, Blackwolf Run G.C. (River Course),

Kohler, Wis., 560 yards, par 5,

Pete Dye (1988)

Nobody does more risk-and-reward par-5 holes than Pete Dye, and in our judgment this is his best. It plays downhill and turns left off the tee, then it curves right, then comes back left again. The long fairway bunker left of the tee is deep and edged in tilted railroad ties-what else? Hug this off the tee or get past it, and you can see the green, but play down the right side, or even the center, and you can't. Now the green. It rests on a high bank of the Sheboygan River, and a railroad-tie bulkhead rambles all along the left side, dropping down into the water. Over on the right, a cavernous bunker. Aside from all this, a linden tree languishes at the inside corner of the last dogleg, just at the turn of the river, blocking the direct route to the green. Needless to say, you have plenty of options here. Additionally, you may want to heed the warning on the yardage-book diagram, which states: "Be careful not to back off the green and into the river as you line up your putt."

Honorable mention No. 16s:

La Quinta Resort Golf Club (Mountain Course), La Quinta, Calif., 168 yards, par 3, Pete Dye (1981); Mira Vista Golf Club, Fort Worth, 310 yards, par 4, Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf (1987); Galloway (N.J.) National Golf Club, 532 yards, par 5, Tom Fazio (1995).

No. 17, TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium Course)

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 132 yards, par 3,

Pete Dye (1980)

It was easy enough to find other 17th holes that were just as dangerous as this one, and in their own way just as fetching-Secession, Harbour Town, Kiawah, Giants Ridge in Minnesota-but in the end we couldn't beat it, even though it's become something of a cliché in only 18 years, what with so many millions having become so familiar with it both in person and on TV during the Players Championship every spring. Frankly, we figured, if we left this hole off the Best Modern 18, all of our other holes, the entire course, in fact, might well lose credibility. "Why, them two hackers don't know nothing-where's that danged old little par 3 down there in Florida with the island green you can't hit?" And it is a hell of a hole, after all.

*Honorable mention No. 17s: *

Secession Golf Club, Beaufort, S.C., 134 yards, par 3, Bruce Devlin (1991); Quarry Oaks Golf Club, Ashland, Neb., 394 yards, par 4, John Lafoy (1996); Marsh Harbour Golf Links, Calabash, N.C., 570 yards, par 5, Dan Maples (1980).

No. 18, Harbour Town Golf Links

Hilton Head, S.C., 478 yards, par 4,

Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus (1969)

So we finish with the guys who started it all. One of the amazing things about this hole is that it looks so natural, and yet it isn't. The peninsula and fairway were formed by depositing sand dredged during the creation of the harbor behind the green. Pete favors a closing hole that makes you play one direction off the tee, then another to the green. Harbour Town's does it in subtle ways. You may have noticed that year to year, it seems to play rather passively during the tour stop, but be assured that when the wind comes up, it can be a brute. More than one visitor has been known to find his ball seeking the old plantation graveyard in the scrub oaks to the right of the fairway.

Curiously, there aren't that many extraordinary finishing holes in modern course design. In some cases, maybe you can blame the developer for reserving the choicest patch of land for the clubhouse, or selling it to a dentist who wanted to build Morro Castle for his second home. We think it probably has more to do with the fact that a lot of the architects get so excited about the unusual property they're given to work with, they use up all their best ideas somewhere else on the course.

Honorable mention No. 18s:

The Desert Mountain Club (Geronimo Course), Scottsdale, 197 yards, par 3, Jack Nicklaus (1989); Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Neb. 467 yards, par 4, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (1995); Rush Creek Golf Club, Maple Grove, Minn., 569 yards, par 5, Bob Cupp (1996).

(Editor's note: The authors suggest that if you want to try to play any of the private courses from which the Best Modern 18 Holes and the Honorable Mentions were selected, just mention the authors' names. Then mention a name that works.)