Monday, March 25, 2013

Southampton Golf Club

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Southampton Golf Club
Southampton, New York, USA

6359 YARDS (PAR 70)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Seth Raynor (1925)
LAST PLAYED: May 24, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 76 (+6)

- Golfweek Best Classic Courses 2016: #176

Southampton Golf Club has largely been an afterthought when talking about the best its town has to offer from a golf standpoint. The 1925 Seth Raynor design sits directly adjacent to three world-renowned clubs: modern gem Sebonack, a Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak collaboration, and two classic masterpieces of strategic design in William Flynn's Shinnecock Hills and C.B. Macdonald's National Golf Links of America.

Very few courses in the world of golf can compare favourably to those three but Southampton is most definitely a course worthy of study, especially after Brian Silva was hired to restore Raynor's trademark bunkering and recapture the original green sizes and shapes. Combined with a massive tree removal program that opened up vistas throughout the course and brought wind back into play, Southampton GC's members have every right to be proud of the results of Mr. Silva's work.

The first hole, "Silo" is a gentle opener, a mid-length par four with a very clever bunker complex on the left side in the landing area. The hazard cuts into the fairway at a diagonal angle, offering some visual deception right at the outset. The green is large and subtle but is pitched quite a bit from back to front, making positioning on the green vital.

The second is the "Short" hole and this picturesque one shotter features two steep faced bunkers in front of a raised green. The third hole, "Maiden", is a 410 yard dogleg right that features a partially blind tee shot around a couple of fairway bunkers but the real interest is at the green, with two pronounced tiers back left and back right.

The fourth hole is another very strong par four called "Squaw Hill". This 423 yarder is straight away over rolling land and features an exacting approach shot from a hogback fairway to a smallish elevated green protected by a deep bunker on the right and out of bounds long.

"Knoll", the reachable par four 5th hole, is a beauty. The defining feature here is a centerline bunker at the base of the hill leading up to the green that will devour poorly hit drives. The green falls off both in front and in back and there is plenty of short grass behind the green, offering plenty of options for recovery shots. Delightful golf hole!

The 6th hole is intriguingly titled "Raynor's Prized Dogleg" and obviously features a dramatic right to left tee shot that bends close to 90 degrees. The green has plenty of movement and two putts are no bargain here.

"Redan" is next, a 196 yard par three with the trademark right to left swing at the green. The long par four 8th, "Double Plateau" is pretty self-explanatory with its two-tiered green and the mid-length par four ninth, called "Tuckahoe" closes out the outgoing nine in fine fashion.

The 10th is another gorgeous harlot. "Eden" is a faithful rendition of the famous par three template, with the prominent front bunker dictating strategy from the tee. The green is absolutely wild here, almost channelling Donald Ross with its upside down bowl shaping.

"Valley" is an aesthetically pleasing mid-length par four that doglegs gently to the left and tumbles down the hill off the tee. The green is slightly elevated and sits hard in front of a road protected by a row of hedges. I recall the green being pitched severely from back to front here as well.

The 12th is the "Long" hole, the first par five of the day and one measuring only 510 yards from the back tees. Deep fairway bunkers dot both sides and cut into the fairway, making accuracy off the tee and on the layup a must. Bunkers also sit in front and behind the green but birdie is a definite possibility here.

The expansive tree removal project by Silva opens up this stretch of holes in dramatic fashion and showcases some nice, rolling topography on the 13th, called "Horseshoe". The approach is hit from a right to left sloping fairway to a green surrounded, of course, by a horseshoe-shaped bunker.

The 14th, "Biarritz", isn't faithful to its name in its current form but is a solid and testing 197 yard par three. The 434 yard 15th, called "Sebonack", is another fine par four, with a left to right tee shot needed to clear a centerline bunker at the crest of a hill. I really liked the subtle greensite as well, with trees to the left and bunkers front left and off to the right.

The 16th is very memorable: a 334 yard par four called "Punchbowl", your eyes immediately are drawn to an enormous bunker complex directly on the line between the tee and green. An aggressive tee shot right of that bunker (and over another off to the right) is needed to open up a view of the green, otherwise the player will have a completely blind approach over the mammoth hazard to the punchbowl-shaped green. Probably my favourite hole on the golf course and incredibly distinctive.

The 17th, called "Narrows", is a 491 yard par five with bunkers pinching the fairway on both sides. This is another great scoring opportunity and probably the last one, as the 397 yard finisher, "Road", is no bargain. The hole plays straight away and is relatively open off the tee, albeit with a gaping bunker down the left side that cuts toward the middle of the fairway. It is the approach that makes the hole, however, as the green may be one of the smallest on the course and an intimidating bunker sits in the front right, gobbling up plenty of wayward second shots.

I had seen some pictures of the work at Southampton prior to my round, so I had some idea of what I was in for but honestly, I was still pleasantly surprised by how good this course was. The land is not remarkable, especially when compared to Southampton's more famous neighbours but there is still plenty of subtle movement throughout the course and strategic shotmaking is in abundance. The gorgeous and distinctive Raynor-styled bunkering is a particular highlight along with the unique, squared-off green shaping.

The course was still in the final stages of growing in during my round, with the 9th green having just been seeded from my recollection but I was still extremely impressed with how firm the course played. Ground game shots can be utilized throughout the day and actually might be the preferred option a lot of the time, with wind being a major factor once again due to the newly opened vistas.

Southampton is a delightful and easy walk and the routing features short green to tee transfers all the way around. I'd imagine that 3 1/2 hour rounds are commonplace here, allowing many of their members and guests the opportunity to head right back to the 1st tee and play a second round.

This was my first experience playing a Raynor design and I came away very impressed. While quite short at less than 6400 yards from the back tees, this par 70 features plenty of shot values, a very strong walkable routing and clever design features throughout. Players who drive into town to play the big three but pass by Southampton are making a big mistake. It's one I certainly won't be making - I'll be at my "access whoring" best when I make my return trip to Long Island and look forward to another great day of golf at Southampton in the hopefully very near future.

The straight-away par four opener at Southampton - "Silo"

The Brian Silva restoration brought back Raynor's incredible bunkering - here is a diagonal hazard down the left side that cuts into the landing zone on the opening hole

The par three second hole - "Short"

A semi-blind uphill tee shot awaits on the par four third hole, "Maiden"

The approach into the par four 3rd hole

A look at the deep greenside bunker on the 3rd hole

The tee shot on the par four 4th hole - "Squaw Hill"

An intimidating approach awaits on the 4th hole, uphill to a small target

The beguilling short par four 5th hole at Southampton - "Knoll"

Another look at the gorgeous restored bunkering at Southampton from the layup area on the short 5th hole

The mid-length dogleg left par four 6th - "Raynor's Prize Dogleg"

The second shot on the par four 6th hole

The devilish par three 7th hole, "Redan"

The approach into the par four 8th hole, "Double Plateau"

Tee shot on the long par four 9th hole, "Tuckahoe"

The approach into the 9th hole

The lovely one shot 10th hole, "Eden"

The appropriately named "Valley" hole, the par four 11th at Southampton

The slightly uphill approach at #11

Looking at the 13th green, "Horseshoe", from the 14th tee

The long par three 14th, "Biarritz"

The par four 15th hole, "Sebonack"

A long approach is usually required on the 15th

The short par four 16th, "Punchbowl"

An imposing steep-faced bunker adds some blindness to the approach on the 16th

The tee shot on the par five 17th hole, "Narrows"

Cleverly placed bunkers wreak havoc on the 17th hole

The tee shot on the par four 18th, "Road Hole"

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Wait for Golf Continues in Niagara...

Only a year ago, members at my home club were lucky enough to be enjoying late winter golf due to unseasonably mild temperatures and dry course conditions. Our March 14, 2012 opening date was the earliest on record at St. Catharines G&CC, beating the record from the year before by a single day.

What a difference a year makes.

A photo from the practice green, taken earlier today

We've had a pretty routine winter, all things considered but the cold temperatures have persisted throughout the month of March and as I write this, snow is falling once again and temperatures are a couple degrees below freezing.

The long range forecast looks decent as we move into next week but I'm going to guess that we won't be playing golf until after Easter this year.

To be honest, I'm okay with that. I've been keeping myself pretty busy over the winter with other things and with the weather being as cold as it's been, golf hasn't exactly been on my mind. That said, I'm starting to get a little bit of an itch and I'm hopeful that we can get a round or two in at the course before Masters weekend!

I'll certainly have my customary season-opening post when the time is right. I'm going to seriously look at upgrading my gear in 2013 and trips to California and Colorado beckon, so there is a lot to look forward to this year!

In the meantime, I'm starting to work on a course profile of Southampton Golf Club. This Seth Raynor design was recently restored by Brian Silva and the results are astounding, with expansive views brought back due to an extensive tree-clearing program and Raynor's original green sizes and shapes were recaptured. GolfWeek Magazine has noticed, deservedly placing Southampton inside the Top 200 Classic Courses in America in their 2013 survey and that is prompting me to profile it here at Now on the Tee.

I'll have that up within the next seven days. I hope it's warmer where you are!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The National Golf Club of Canada

The National Golf Club of Canada
Woodbridge, Ontario, CANADA

7235 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE ARCHITECT: George Fazio and Tom Fazio (1975)
LAST PLAYED: June 21, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 88 (+17)

- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #36
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2017: #3
- Canada's Top 100 2017: #9
- ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #3

"If you can play four rounds in a row on The National at par or better, you can play The TOUR."
- George Knudson, iconic Canadian Touring Professional

The National, which opened in 1975, was designed by George Fazio and his nephew Tom, who was relatively unknown at the time but would eventually become one of the most famous architects in the modern era. The course has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the toughest tests of golf in the world. To prove the point, the course record score of 67 was shot by Lee Trevino in 1979 at the Canadian PGA Championship and astonishingly, that record still stands 34 years later, a testament to the difficulty of the course.

Through the years, the National has received near universal praise for its layout and design and currently sits at the top of ScoreGolf's list of top Canadian golf courses.

The course opens with a dogleg right par four and thankfully, it's a relatively gentle opener. The second is a longer hole but relatively straight forward as well but things start to get interesting on the 3rd, a mid-length dogleg right par four. The tee shot is relatively blind for the first-timer, with the green finally revealing itself once you crest the hill at the top of the fairway. The second shot is slightly downhill to a green flanked by bunkers on the right and water on the left.

The par five 4th hole will raise the blood pressure of even the most lucid player. At 600 yards, this is a true three shot hole for all but the longest hitters in the game and the drive itself demands supreme accuracy, as there are bunkers and large willow trees left of the tight fairway and a creek that runs down the entire right side. Even if you successfully find the short grass off the tee, a challenging layup lies ahead. The aforementioned creek winds its way across the fairway and over to the left side right around the natural landing area, forcing you to attempt a heroic carry to the other side or alternatively, laying well back. Even the third shot offers significant challenges, as the green sits elevated from the fairway and is surrounded on both sides by deep bunkers. A very unique and extremely difficult par five.

The excellent par three 5th is up next and that is followed by the 531 yard par five 6th, which offers a rare birdie opportunity for those that keep the ball in play off the tee.

The par four 7th is an outstanding par four. 460 yards and slightly uphill, the hole bends well to the left, with bunkers to the right and a native area and ravine to the left. The approach demands a mid to long iron or even a fairway metal and it's almost all carry over the ravine to an angled green that best accepts a draw. Great golf hole.

The 8th is another strong par three, with a mammoth bunker protecting the entire front portion of the green. Good luck to low-ball hitters here! The last hole on the outgoing nine is a mid-length par four that bends right to left, with the driving range coming into play off the tee on the right side.

The 10th is calendar material: a significantly downhill and pretty par three over water. Equally as beautiful is the par four 11th, which shows off the tremendous topography available to the Fazio's at the National. This stellar hole demands a draw off the right fairway bunker off the tee then follows up by asking for a fade approach over a depression area to an angled green protected by bunkers front right and back left.

The par five 12th is another interesting hole. At only 503 yards, it looks like a breather hole on the scorecard but diabolical challenges await, especially near the green. The tee shot is a tight one and there is a bunker ready to gobble up shots that run too far through the fairway. At the landing area, the hole shifts about 45 degrees to the left and you finally get a look at the sliver...and I mean sliver of a green. Perhaps Jack Nicklaus in his prime had the requisite high fade needed to hold a long iron or fairway metal to hit this green in two but not this writer! Even hitting a wedge third shot is a challenge, as the green is extremely narrow, angled from front left to back right and features a large ridge that runs right through the middle. I was really proud of my par here and I believe this is one of the toughest short par fives I've ever played.

The 13th is a pretty dogleg left par four, with a creek causing issues down the left side in the landing area off the tee while the 14th is a long but relatively routine par four that features one of the very few open-in-front greensites, allowing for a ground approach.

The 15th is yet another tough par three, this one measuring 221 yards from the back tees, with a large native area and deep bunkers all needing to be successfully navigated in order to hit the angled green. The 16th is a shorter par four that was being worked on when I visited in 2011 - I believe they were lengthening the hole and making it more difficult - perhaps that's the reason why I was able to make my only birdie of the day here!

The finish is enough to make anyone a bit queasy. The 17th is a true beast - 458 yards to a ridiculously tight landing area flanked on the left by trees and the right by a large holding pond. If you're somehow able to hit a straight ball here, something that elluded me, you still have a challenging uphill approach over bunkers to a very small green. A round killer!

That's followed by the difficult 18th, a 460 yard par four that starts from an elevated tee but requires a nerve-rattling drive over the same pond you were forced to avoid on the previous hole. The landing area is wide but looks like it's only ten yards wide from the tee, especially if you were driving it as crooked as I was on the day I played! From the fairway, the approach is straight uphill to a long and multi-tiered green flanked on both sides by deep bunkers.

The National is, quite simply, a ball-buster and perhaps the most difficult driving course I've ever played.

The fairways, for the most part, have enough width but the penalty for missing is almost always severe, whether it's a 1/2 stroke penalty for hitting a fairway bunker or a full shot penalty for hitting in a creek or pond. Even if you have your driver working, one could argue that the National is, at heart, a second shot golf course. Most of the holes feature challenging uphill approaches, many of them to well-bunkered and undulating greens.

The land at the National is superb and the Fazio's did a fine job of routing the golf course. The green to tee transfers are all reasonable and while the walk would be a challenge for many players, it's certainly doable. Conditioning is superb for the most part - I played after an aeration, so green speeds were down somewhat from the norm but the course itself played firm and fast, just how I like it.

This would really be an interesting course to hold a Canadian Open on but it likely won't happen anytime soon. The National is one of the very few courses left that has a male-only membership, something that's an absolute no-no for anyplace that would like to host a PGA Tour event. Despite its modest length, I'd bet the National would hold up quite well to the touring professionals.

To sum up, the National Golf Club of Canada ranks up there with the likes of Oakmont and Bethpage Black as being one of the toughest golf courses I've played. It's an unrelenting test and I wonder how much fun this course is for the bogey golfer - I played with three very strong players that day but I'd be interested to watch an average player try to navigate his/her way through the course. I wonder about playability a bit for the lesser player, with all of the demanding tee shots and approaches necessary and that's saying nothing about getting the ball into the hole, a daunting challenge for sure on the incredibly fast and undulating greens.

While it may be tough to love, the National GC of Canada is a course to be respected. As my 88 would attest, it certainly can be a humbling experience trying to score here but I'd love the opportunity to give it another shot when my game is in a better place.

The approach on the par four 1st hole

Looking back toward the fairway from behind the 1st green

The long par four 2nd hole

The approach into the 2nd

The large greenside bunker on the 2nd hole

The partially blind drive on the 3rd, with the green completely out of site from the tee

The lovely greensite for the 3rd hole

A look back toward the 3rd green from the 4th tee

Nerves of steel are required on the incredibly intimidating par five 4th hole

The par five 4th hole from the landing area off the tee

The layup at the 4th is no bargain: do you lay back in front of the creek or take the aggressive approach and challenge it to give a better opportunity for a wedge approach?

The very strong par three 5th hole

Greenside at the par three 5th

Tee shot on the par five 6th hole

The approach on the 6th

The very challenging dogleg left 7th hole, a long par four

A nervous approach awaits at the 7th

Tee shot on the par three 8th

The visually-striking downhill par three 10th hole

The National occupies a great piece of land and that is in evidence on the lovely par four 11th hole

The approach into the 11th hole

A daunting challenge awaits on the serpentine par five 12th hole

The uniquely shaped green at the par five 12th: angled, long and very narrow

Yet another challenging approach shot awaits on the 13th hole, a mid-length par four

Whereas the second shot on the 14th is open and inviting in front, a necessity on the 461 yard par four

The tee shot on the 221 yard par three 15th

The tee shot on the par four 16th, a hole that was being toughened up when I visited

The extremely intimidating tee shot on the long par four 17th, with trees left and water right

The uphill approach on 17

A lovely vista awaits on the elevated 18th tee but you have yet another teeth-clenching drive ahead!

A look at the 18th green from the approach area just left of the fairway