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I am pursuing the ultimate golf experience. In doing so, I am playing the top 100 courses in Canada (initial goal), as well as the top 100 in America and top 100 in the world. Please email me or leave a comment to join me on my journey, and help me reach my goals! Thank you for being a part of my great quest! Luke, The Golfing Canuck

Friday, 29 July 2016

Riviera & LACC

Although I promised to supplement my Pete Dye GC/Greenbrier post with Valhalla/Victoria National, I have decided to hold off on those courses until I am caught up on Canadian courses and focusing on American posts...

...AND because yours truly has recently completely one of the greatest days a golfer can have: a 36 hole day starting at LA Country Clubs North course, followed by Riviera Country Club. I'm still trying to convince myself that it happened to me, a kid from a city that sits under ice and snow for half of the year, and (fittingly) cares a lot more about hockey that all other sports combined.

The first round at LACC was all the more sweet, since I have had arrangements to play the course twice before, but was denied on both occasions very last-minute for reasons beyond my or anyone else's control. This time my fortunes were different!

Proof that I finally got through the glorious gates at LACC
To make a long story short, it was 100% worth the wait. What a course. What an experience!

As is often written about LACC, the course is built on very hilly terrain with barrancas running through many holes on the course (sometimes more than once on a hole). Having read much about the course, I had an idea what to expect.. I was still not expecting the course to be as hilly as it was!

Holes 3, 4, 6 and 8 are much hillier than pictures can capture. That being said, I'll try to show the severity of the 6th. This short par 4 is on my short list of the best par 4s I've ever played (ever bit as good as #10 at Riviera). From the tee the green is not visible, but can be reached if you take an aggressive line down the right (over the small bunch of trees in the foreground).

Dramatic drop from the tee on the reachable 6th
The layup area over the hillside to the left is generous, but leaves a devilish approach to a very narrow green. Its simply one of the world's great short par 4s... my playing partners all agreed!

Almost every green on the course is fantastic. Multiple tiers on the 9th green come to mind immediately, as well as the reverse redan 11th, tricky 12th, and nervy 14th. The tiny par 3 15th could potentially play under 100 yds for the US Open if a front pin position is used, and I sure hope this is the case. The green is most similar to the 6th.. not severely sloping, but extremely shallow (depending on pin position). At 100 yds it is no pushover!

I also thought #17 was a terrific hole - a tough, long and narrow par 4 with plenty of bunkers and a barranca running down the right. The approach puts Gil Hanse's stunning bunkering on display.

17th green
One of very few weaker points on the course is the 18th. With the tees back for the US Open it will be a very long finisher, but has no real distinguishing features. I wouldn't say its a bad hole, but I felt as though it was an underwhelming conclusion to an outstanding round of golf.

There was hardly time to catch my breath as I grabbed a sandwich for the short drive over to Riviera. Speaking of lunch at LACC, the clubhouse was closed for renovations, but the halfway house is the among the best I've had the pleasure of stopping in at. I highly recommend the tuna salad sandwich with a cactus cooler.

The Riviera Country Club needs little introduction. It has been a fixture on the PGA Tour for decades, and has hosted a number of majors, although none since the 1995 PGA Championship. The course is always among the top courses in America, and at the time of my round was ranked #57 in the world.

I made it just in time to tee off, and was happy to stripe a drive from the famous elevated tee near the even more famous clubhouse. I visited the club a few months prior to watch the Northern Trust Open, but was still surprised by the depth of the bunker fronting the 1st green. The bunkering on the entire course is world class. There isn't a single hole on the course that doesn't have at least 1 jaw-dropping deep bunker.

The intimidating deep bunker short-left of the 2nd green
The entire property the course is built on is painfully flat, lacking natural features to work with. The only assistance offered by the land is the hillside on the north-west side of the course, and the barranca running through the south side of the land. The first 5 holes benefit from the hillside on the north side, playing up and down it 4 times.

The 6th is one of few holes on the course with no aid from nature, but Thomas' work here is spectacular. The small bunker in the middle of the green is as famous as the course itself. Having a temporary green on this hole was the biggest disappointment of the day. This must be the best example of Thomas making something from nothing.

Holes 7 and 8 bring the barranca into play, while 9 comes back to the north hillside. I was surprised how uninviting the left fairway is on the dual-fairway 8th; the right fairway seems more welcoming, and sets up a better angle for the approach. Either way, it is a really cool hole.

When dreams come true....
The 10th is as good as everyone says it is. Mesmerizing. It is hard to choose a target because there appears to be even less fairway than there actually is. In an attempt to hit it just past the green on the left side, I found the large left bunker short of the green. With the golfing gods smiling down upon me, I flushed the 60 yard bunker shot to 8 ft, and made one of the most memorable birdies I will ever have.

While the barranca running through the 11th isn't really in play, it can wreak havoc on the 12th and 13th holes. Both are awesome, long par 4s. The bunkers on the 14th are deeper than they look on TV, as is the fairway bunker on 15 (which I made the mistake of entering.. 1 shot penalty!). The 15th green doesn't get as much attention as it should; it is really good, and hard to read.

The 16th is one of the world's prettiest short par 3s. The most striking characteristic of this hole is the it is surrounded by trees not found on the rest of the course. It is like stepping into a bubble for a short while. SO cool. The bunkers here are also among Thomas' best, and the green is delightfully tiny,

Some of the best bunkering I've ever seen, at the par 3 16th
The 17th is a strong 5 which is almost unreachable. I say 'almost' only because I watched Rory hit a 310 yard second shot to 15 ft when I was here a few months ago to watch the PGA.. thats what it takes to hit the green in 2. The right greenside bunker is unimaginably deep. I almost couldn't see my playing partner who found the bunker. It is incredible architectural work on land that offers the architect nothing.

#18 is one of the best parts of the property for natural features. The famous uphill tee shot is not very intimidating if you trust your driver, but can be an automatic double bogey for those who don't.

World-renowned tee shot at #18
The trees to the right creep into play for the approach unless you really favor the left side of the fairway (which doesn't necessarily leave an easier approach). It truly is one of the great finishing holes in golf. A fitting conclusion to a dream day of golf!

Everyone always wants to know - which course is better, LACC or Riveria? Here's my quick take:

Natural landscape/quality of natural features - LACC > Riviera
Use of natural features/maximizing the land - Riviera > LACC
Playing conditions - LACC > Riviera (Riviera was far more green and visually appealing, but the kikuyu is a pain in the backside for anyone who isn't used to it.. it really does impact your shot selection)
Bunkering - Riviera > LACC ... although this is marginal and completely subjective.. both are absolutely awesome
Atmosphere - Riviera is world-class... LACC is second to none.
1st hole/opening stretch - Riviera > LACC
18th hole/closing stretch - Riviera > LACC
Short par 4 - LACC 6th > Riviera 10th
Long par 3 - LACC 11th > Riviera 4th
Short par 3 - LACC 15th = Riviera 16th
Overall par 3s - Riviera > LACC
Short 5 - LACC 8 > Riviera 1
Long 5 - LACC 14 = Riviera 17
Green complexes - LACC > Riviera (With the exception of #6 at Riviera, WOW)

Take all of that as you may! If I had to choose which one to play again, I would choose to play them both. George C. Thomas is easily among my favorite architects.. What a day!


'Til next time, keep your stick on the ice!

The Golfing Canuck

Monday, 27 June 2016

Mid-June Getaway!

I've recently returned from a quick trip to West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. In my 3 full days there I did a loop starting/finishing in Cincinnati, in which I played the Pete Dye GC, the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier, Valhalla and Victoria National. It was a very busy couple of days (particularly the first day, when I played an early round at Pete Dye GC, drove 3 hours to Old White for an afternoon tee off, and later drove into the night to arrive in Lexington)!

This, along with trips to Scottsdale in January and LA/Palm Springs in February, has pointed out a huge flaw in my blogging: the heading "Playing Canada's Top 100 Golf Courses". When I started this blog a few years ago I was still quite early in my university career, and was very limited with travel. Consequently, the realm of possibility seemed quite narrow in the immediate future. I thought Canada's top 100 courses was an achievable goal, and set my sights on this near-sighted target.

I am still placing a large emphasis on the Canadian top 100 (for the purposes of this blog), but will be broadening this emphasis as I catch up on course write-ups. This seems only fair, as I have been making 2-3 golf trips in the USA for every trip I take in Canada. The posts in this blog don't reflect all of my recent travels, but I will keep with the current format for the time being so I can find a proper way to document my American adventures! For now, I will just provide a brief write-up on this last trip of mine, in which I played the #1 private and public courses in West Virginia, along with the #1 private courses in Kentucky and Indiana.

PETE DYE GC

Front entrance of the Pete Dye Golf Club. Bridgeport, WV
As the front entrance indicates, the Pete Dye GC is built on an old mine, and the course is covered with remnants of the old mine. Train cars, tee markers made of the old tracks, and even open mine shafts provide a reminder of the properties previous occupants.

Some of my favorite tee markers...very fitting!
In short, the Pete Dye GC is the best Dye course I have played at this point in my travels, rankings aside. There is a plaque at the bag drop that says "18 of the most exciting and memorable holes I have ever built on one course"-Dye, which gives you an indication of what is to come. My quick take is that holes 1-2, 7-17 are just that: some of Dye's most exciting and memorable. There truly are some stretches of world-class holes. I started on hole 10, but will start from #1 for ease of describing the course. #1 and #2 are good starting holes, the first being relatively gentle, and the second having more teeth. 3,4 and 6 were the most bland on the course, with the 5th being a very awkward and uninviting hole. This is certainly the worst stretch on the course. Hole 7 is where the fun really begins.

The beautiful downhill par 3 7th
The downhill 7th, and roller-coaster ride par 5 8th are the most dramatic holes on the course among those without water in play. I thought 9 was a good strong par 4 which plays well as an 18th (as I played it). #10 is the most photographed hole, and rightly so!

Severely sloped par 4 10th
The drive and approach are obviously quite intimidating, but much more forgiving than you might think. At around 300 yards, the 12th is one of my favorite holes on the course. The green is out of sight from the tee, but there is enough room around the green to allow an aggressive play from the tee. The fairway is wide and encourages a layup, but a huge bunker on the left side of the hole obstructs the view to the green from a poorly positioned tee shot. The hole is both beautiful, and strategically interesting!

From right of the fairway on the awesome short 12th
While I really liked the 13th and 16th, and had no issue with 14 and 15, I'll skip ahead for now. The closing stretch is brutally difficult, but I really enjoyed 16 and 17, a long 3 and shorter 4. The challenge of 17 is the approach; the green is one of the toughest I've ever played. The green has a number of humps and ridges, and falls off on almost all sides. As I can attest to, the green is receptive and playable.. but I wouldn't want to put myself out of position!

The WILD 17th green
The closing hole is really unfortunate. It is far too difficult, bordering on unfair. The hole demands a long, straight drive over water, which will leave a mid-length, blind approach to a narrow green with bunkers on both sides, and water close to the left edge of the green. The hole is gorgeous... but almost unplayable. It was my least favorite on an otherwise incredible course.

After finishing I grabbed a quick lunch and drove 3 hours south to The Greenbrier, where I had an afternoon tee time at the Old White TPC. My first Macdonald/Raynor course!

Old White TPC

Simly put, it was love at first sight.

Within 2 weeks of visiting, the course was flooded, causing a cancellation of the PGA Tour's upcoming Greenbrier Classic. Devastating! Fortunately I had ideal conditions, and an amazing experience!

The first 2 holes are refreshingly simple par 4s with nice green complexes, leading you to the biarritz 3rd. My first authentic biarritz! Laying eyes on the 3rd was one of my favorite golf experiences in recent memory, it is an absolute stunner!

Biarritz from the tee

The biarritz from just off the back of the green looking back
Having read plenty about Raynor's template holes, I knew exactly what to expect from this gem... but seeing this hole in person was so much better than anything you can read. The green is massively long, it really is like 2 full greens. I can forever say that I birdied my first biarritz with a strong back pin. What a day!

The approach to the 4th may be the most bland on the front side, but whatever it lacks, the approach to #5 makes up for. Huge cone-line mounds obstruct the view of the left side of the green, which is actually much larger than it appears.

The fascinating par 4 5th, one of my favorites
#6 is the toughest hole on the course, while #7 is a birdie chance (a really aesthetically pleasing one at that!). The 8th was my first ever authentic Macdonald/Raynor redan, which also has mounds similar to the 5th.

Redan 8th
So much has been said about the original redans, I don't know what more I can add. All I can say is that this is a really, really good redan.. and that the green was far deeper than I imagined it would be. It is a generous hole if you hit a solid shot. I absolutely loved it.

The punchbowl 9th and principal's nose 10th are some of the prettiest holes on a course full of gorgeous holes. Both are birdie chances, particularly the 9th. #11's main defense is length, and has softer bunkering than most holes on the course.

The 'long' par 5 12th is breathtaking, and strategically fantastic. The green can be reached in 2, but takes a perfect drive, and precise 200+ yard second shot. As a 3 shot hole, it is no bargain either. The cross-bunkers and creek demand a careful layup.

The second shot on the par 5 12th.. Go for it or lay back?
The 'alps' 13th is a very beautiful hole, but I found that the mound fronting the right of the green was unnecessary, as the doglog right has heavy tree growth to the right. As such, it is almost impossible to hit a drive that will cause the small mountain to obstruct the view of the green. It is, nonetheless, a really cool hole.

A really beautiful 14th guides you to the 'eden' 15th. This rendition of the eden is extremely pretty, but I was slightly disappointed that the slope of the green wasn't greater. By no means a bad hole, however.

The 'cape' 16th wasn't a bad hole, but it may have been my least favorite on the back 9. In retrospect, I think this may have been because I found it difficult to identify a reference point/target line from the tee. In other words, I couldn't tell how aggressive I was actually playing. I feel like this takes away from the purpose (risk/reward) of a cape hole.

I loved #17, a long par 5. The classic design includes a series of cross bunkers which must be navigated on a lay-up. None of my pictures captured the feel you have standing there in person. It wasn't until I got up to the green that I realized the plateau-like drop off that lies beyond the green.

Back edge of the 17th green
The slope is only about 2 ft high, but is steep enough to prevent a 'bump-and-run' into the hill, and likely deter the use of a putter. With a green running away, it is a really tough chip. I absolutely loved #17, tee to green.

As many know, the Old White TPC is one of few courses that ends on a par 3. I didn't get to play it from normal tees (due to tournament preparation), so I will not further comment. It is easy to find pictures of the green, which is the main defense, with a large slope bisecting the green.

Of the 4 courses I played on this quick trip, Old White certainly is not the best course, but it very well could have been my favorite. It truly is a classic gem. Raynor's work (the amount of Macdonald's original design that still exists is up for debate) is just incredible. Without exaggeration, there are 9 signature holes. Of the remaining holes, I felt as though 6 were really good, and 3 were okay. If not for the hefty price tag, I would happily play here every day and never get tired of it... isn't that what actually makes a course great? I sure think so.

I intended on including all 4 of the courses from my trip in this post, but I have already written a lot more than I expected I would. Therefore, I am going to end here, and write a supplemental post for the other 2 courses I played: Valhalla and Victoria National. Stay posted for what's to come!


'Til next time, keep your stick on the ice!

The Golfing Canuck