Friday, May 21, 2010

A Very Special Day

On Tuesday May 11th, I had the distinct pleasure of playing all 27 holes at Hamilton G&CC, the #2 course in Canada according to ScoreGolf and the #34 course outside the U.S. according to Golf Digest.

I've been hoping to play Hamilton for about 7 years, falling in love on first sight when I walked the course during the 2003 Canadian Open, won by Bob Tway. I've had various invitations over the past few years but every single one of them fell through or never came to fruition.

I was the beneficiary of kindness from a fellow St. Catharines member and one of my regular playing partners Jon, who accompanied me to Oakmont a few years back with Harry and Preston. It was Jon's 45th birthday and he was looking for a special place to spend his day.

This would certainly qualify!

I'm eternally grateful to the man who set this up for Jon and myself, along with Cal and Jon's buddy Ritch - I think he'd prefer to stay anonymous but I know he occasionally reads my blog so again, please accept my thanks for an experience that ranks up there among my top five golf highlights.

I will fully document my experience on Harry S. Colt's masterful West/South course in my next post but wanted to briefly go over the sporty East Nine, which opened for play in 1975 and was designed by C.E. (Robbie) Robinson and built by Dick Kirkpatrick.

We played the East first on what turned out to be a cold and wet day at Hamilton. You get a good feel for the rolling topography at the course right away on the 396 yard par four first hole, a slight dogleg right from an elevated tee that bends around a hillside on the right, as seen below.

From there, you have a mid to short iron approach into a long but narrow green protected by bunkers left and right.

I'd bogey the first hole and the second is a 414 yard par four that doglegs close to 90 degrees to the right with bunkers through the fairway just past the landing area. The approach shot, shown below, is a lovely one with trees framing both sides of the fairway and a large welcoming green that is open in front.

The third is another sweeping dogleg right but this time, the approach shot is played over a large stream to a green that slopes severely from back to front. I stiffed an approach here into about five feet but missed the ticklish birdie putt, instead making par for the second hole in a row.

The fourth hole, a 391 yard par four, is a stunner and wouldn't look out of place on the championship course.

The tee shot is uphill and bends right to left around some trees and around the left fairway bunker, as seen below.

The fairway cants sharply from right to left and downhill in the approach area, giving a major boost to drives down the pipe. From there, the approach, as seen below, is well uphill to an elevated green protected by deep bunkers in the front. The green is pretty shallow and features some solid undulations. This is a tremendous golf hole, even with a double bogey from yours truly! I'm now three over through four holes.

The fifth hole is a par three measuring 196 yards from the back tees. It's open in front but framed by bunkers left and right and the green is very long. I'd hit a pretty solid 5-iron into about 20 feet and two-putt for my par.

The sixth is another gorgeous golf hole and one of my favourites on the entire course. It's a 431 yard par four with a downhill tee shot through a crowned fairway, as seen below.

You also need to avoid the fairway bunkers left and if you do, you'll face a slightly downhill approach, as seen below, to a very tricky little green with some large swales near the back that will cause problems for those who go long...like me! I'd skull my little chip across the green and ended up having to make a 12 footer just for bogey. Four over through six!

The seventh hole is a pretty straightforward par three measuring 159 yards. There's a large pond that fronts the very wide but relatively shallow putting surface. A hole that is a bit out of character with the rest of the course in my humble opinion and one I'd bogey.

The eighth hole is the only par five on this nine, a 532 yarder that bends slightly from left to right. Trees come into play quite a bit on the first two shots, especially the willows on the right side. You also have to cross a creek on your second shot and the approach is over a little pond front right to a large tiered green. I had some tree trouble and needed a six-iron for my approach shot but hit it to about 20 feet and made the putt for my first birdie of the day at Hamilton to move back to +4.

The ninth is quite a worthy finisher on the East course, a 386 yard par four that doglegs right to left off the tee, as shown below.

There are a bunch of very penal bunkers protecting the inside of the dogleg but if you hit the fairway or go slightly right, you'll be rewarded with an open look at the very large and unbelievably treacherous green that slopes hard from back to front and right to left. We had a front pin position and it was a big challenge for most of us just to stay on the green. Thankfully, I left my approach a bit short and it was a relatively simple up and down for par and a score of 39 (+4) on the East Course.

I really enjoyed this side of the course and truly think holes like #4 and #6 wouldn't look out of place on the Colt Course.

Check back in the next couple days for my full review of the celebrated Harry Colt West/South course, which I will likely split into two parts as I've done with most of the top courses I've played.

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