Friday, April 30, 2010

Crooked Cat #9- Plenty of Options

Located in Winter Garden, Fl the Crooked Cat Course was a 1997 collaboration of Phil Ritson, Dave Harmon, and Isao Aoki. Along with the Panther Lake Course, a short course, and possibly the worlds largest practice facility this is a great place to sharpen your game. The 2010 PGA Tour School finals will be held here in the Fall.

The 9th hole plays 375 yards as a dogleg left or about 300 to the front edge of the green if you want to take it over Bend Lake. My game doesn't allow me to consider going for the green so my choice was to take it 250 yards at the bamboo trees hoping to end up either right or left of them. I hit it straight as could be and the last I saw the ball it was flying half way up the middle clump of trees. I hit a provisional, this time to the right and found the far side of the fairway 108 yards from the pin. After searching and not finding my first ball, I suspected it was somewhere in the middle of the bunch of bamboos. A more conservative route would be to play an iron or hybrid towards the largest part of the fairway at the 150 stake. Short of the fairway you will find a long serpentine bunker. Surprisingly there is about a 30 yard wide strip between the lake and front bunker that you could play out of if you fall way short of your target. Bordering the fairway long are about a dozen bunkers that will catch the long drive. Long on your approach you will find another group of bunkers. My approach landed about eight feet past the hole and the missed putt left me with a double. What a great hole this would be in match play. You can play it as aggressive or conservative as you want with the several routes available to the green and either be putting or hitting a seven iron.

Other notable holes: #2, #8, #12, #13, #18.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In Jail at Venetian Bay #5 & #13

Venetian Bay Golf Club is located in New Smyrna Beach. It was opened just after the peak of the great real estate bubble in 2008 and designed by Lloyd Clifton. Clifton has done several courses in central Florida and is to this region what Jerry Mathews is to Michigan. By his own admission this site was going to be a challenge to create an interesting golf course. Maybe this is why he created holes #5 and #13 with the features he did. I thought the par 3's at this course were its strongest set of holes.

Hole #5 is a dog leg right that plays at around 500 yards. If you can hit a big fade off the tee it will allow you to get on the right portion of the fairway and have a go at it in two. Otherwise, your best option would be to layup on your approach well left. My drive ended up in the left rough just short of one of the many bunkers. I laid up to the 100 mark but a bit more right than I liked which brought the front right bunker in play. That alone would not be a problem except of what you see in the picture, about ten large palm trees planted in it. I hit a fat shot with my 51 degree wedge and clunked one of the trees and dropped down in the sand. Continuing my chunkyness, my bunker shot barely made it out and left me with a chip over the front ridge onto the green. As luck would have it, once it hit the green it was tracking right for the hole and 25 feet later it dropped in for my par. Feeling like I was in jail in that bunker, I used my first of two get out of jail free cards and made par.

Hole #13 plays slightly uphill at 430 yards. Off the tee you have plenty of room right but again you find a large bunker right front of the green filled with palm trees. Ideally, you would like to kill a drive down the left side and have an open look at the pin which was on the far right portion of the green. Some days you just can't back up want you want to do with your game. My drive was mediocre down the right side leaving me with a three hybrid. Needing to either play it to the left short or play a shot over the trees I went for the pin and again caught the cluster of palm trees. This time I dropped down to where I was blocked out and had to play a long bunker shot to the left side of the green. Now with over 30 feet left pin high, I rolled in a right breaking putt for yet another get out of jail free par.

Usually I only post my favorite holes, these two were not. Both holes without the palms would be good holes. Adding the palms really makes them both way too penal. #5 would still have a good risk/reward option and allow you a better chance of making it in two with just a lake and bunker to deal with. #13 is a brute of a par 4 to begin with and by placing a wall of 15 palm trees in front of the green now turns it into almost a par 5.

As the architect noted he was going to have to work to make it interesting, using the palms didn't add any more interest but a uniqueness to those two holes. I can not remember playing a course that had more than one tree growing in a bunker. The closest I have seen are the several yucca plants growing in the bunkers at Prairie Dunes. Fortunately, this day I had a couple of get out jail cards in my pocket to salvage pars on these two. Luck somedays beats skill.

Other notable holes: #3, #9, & #16.

Friday, April 23, 2010

LPGA-Champions #18

The Rees Jones designed Champions Course at LPGA opened in 1994. It with the Arthur Hills, Legends Course comprise this 36 hole complex in Daytona Beach. Where the Legends is more tropical vegetation, secluded with moderate bunkering, the Champions is wide open, with some residential development, and lots of sand. Two very different courses indeed. Both courses are always impeccably conditioned due to the diligent work of Director of Maintenance, John Lammrish.

Hole #18 is a very challenging, dogleg left, finishing hole that plays around 445 yards. Off the tee you have about 150 yards of carry over a swampy area. Push your drive to far right and you find the long lateral bunker, to far left and you find water. Ideally, a drive with a slight draw will leave you in a position to have a go at the green in two. Again, the hazards of your approach shot are similar to your drive, water on the left and several bunkers protecting the front and right side of the green. I have played this course several times and probably only find the fairway half of the time. The right bunker is my common miss here, but today I flirted with the left side more due to the strong east wind. I ended up 177 yards to a front pin about 5 yards into the left side of the fairway. Couldn't have had a better angle because of the opening on the left third of the green. My five iron found the left fringe pin high. My SW chip hit the pin and left me with two inches for my par.

The front pin position is by far the easiest spot to score on this hole. If you are hitting in from the right side you will have to contend with several bunkers when the pin is back. Most often because you are coming in with a long iron or hybrid you will not hold the green and run off the back. This is not a bad option to error long when the pin is middle to back.

I personally like strong finishing holes that have risk/reward options and a need for length with accuracy to be able to make birdie. I would like to have the 18th hole make a strong impression with which to remember the course. This hole has all of those traits along with the need for some finesse to be able to draw the ball off the tee. No surprise that this is the toughest par 4 at Champions and my favorite. Making a par here is a great end to your days play. Make birdie and you have picked up a couple of strokes on the field.

Other notable holes: #5, #10, #13, #14, #17.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Course called Ireland

A Long Walk in Search of a Country, A Pint, and the Next Tee by Tom Coyne. I would highly recommend reading this book.

This is about a married man in his early 30's who decides to "walk" around Ireland, playing all the links courses and others on his way. The journey takes him 4 months and almost 1200 miles on foot. It took 4,531 strokes , he was 636 over par, and 129 golf balls to play 56 courses.

The bulk of the book is not about golf but the trials and tribulations of his walk, the history of Ireland, and the time spent with locals in the many Irish Pubs. I especially liked how he interspersed Ireland's centuries of conflicts into the story. It gave me more insight into why the Protestants and Catholics have had issues with each other over time.

I have to admit that this is the first 300 page book I can remember finishing off in less than a week. It not only kept my interest but has gotten me fired up for a future tour of Ireland, hopefully in 2011 or 2012, to follow Coyne's path and experience some of their great Links courses. When I go I will definitely be taking motor transportation and trying to see as much as I can in only three weeks.

Speaking of Links Courses does anyone have a list of Links courses in the World? I would gladly post it here and share it. Doing some research it appears that there is not a consensus as what constitutes a true links golf course. The range is somewhere between 150-250 courses worldwide depending upon who you read. In the USA I am told that the following could qualify: Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, Highland Links, and the back nine at Pacific Grove.

Update- In November, 2010, George Pepper and Malcolm Campbell came out with a book, TRUE LINKS. They feel there are 246 links courses in the world, of which five are in North America: Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Highland Links, Old Macdonald, and Pacific Dunes. Personally, I think they are on the high end of reality but it sure doesn't hurt book sales to include more courses than less. Interesting book and a great reference for links golf. To date I have played about 70 of the True Links courses.