Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pine Valley Golf Club

The Crump Cup

Pine Valley is a very difficult course to gain access to, however, they admit the public once a year to view the final day of the Crump Cup championship. They allow you to walk the course unescorted. The great thing is that there are normally only a handful of matches of the course and you are allowed to walk wherever you want and I generally choose to walk the holes ahead of the match and can usually do so in quiet isolation. I don’t have any pictures of the course to share because they don’t allow you to bring a camera. You are also not allowed in the pro shop or clubhouse. Nevertheless, it may be the only way some of us will ever see the course.

A Reader's Impression of Pine Valley

I am waiting until I play the course to provide my personal impressions of the experience but I would like to share with you the experience of a reader who wrote to me after playing the course a couple of weeks ago. His passion and excitement are reflected in his writing. I can’t wait to play.

"I just returned from a memorable East Coast Swing, albeit short - it was indeed sweet. I now can just sum up all of the top 100 questers in the world like yourself by stating it all ends at Pine Valley. I have now played about 30 top 100's (depending on which year’s list) and Pine Valley definitely stands alone. That includes all of the top 25's that I have seen. It is golf's Holy Grail. It is a Mecca of perfection from A to Z. It is simply the best experience on this planet. Experiencing it ranks number four in my lifetime achievements, behind my wedding and the birth of my two sons. It is not just the course, but the whole package. If you could ever dream up how does it right, just blueprint everything about the place. Starting with the property itself, continuing to clubhouse, the cottages, and the simplicity of what a true great golf experience should be. It has it all. I had the privilege of a Saturday night dinner (that was exceptional yet simple - New York strip med. rare, a fine Bordeaux, incredible pie for dessert) followed by Port and Cuban cigars on the terrace. I was the first to stay overnight in my room in the new cottage building.

Perfection again with a simple room designed only for a comfortable night's sleep (A members mattress company provided the beds and it is so comfortable - many members order them for their own houses). The room only includes a flat screen television and an incredible overhead shower. No locks on any doors, no telephones, nothing written anywhere re. rules, etc. So we awake to breakfast (a small buffet that appeases a simple early a.m. appetite) and then golf. A perfect driving range, large and immaculate, of course with Pro V-1s. Before our early a.m. tee off, I noticed the course workers dragging the fairways to remove the morning dew and dry the fairways. Wow. Have not seen that at Riviera, LACC or anywhere for that matter. Then 18 different holes of absolute perfection. Waste areas, waste areas, waste areas. Perfect fairways, perfect rough, perfect greens. A layout and routing unmatched by any course in the world. With due respect to Old Tom, H.S., C.B., Dr. Mackenzie, Tillie, Raynor and Thomas.........Mr. Crump is the greatest golf architect that ever lived. Pine Valley is all he needed.

The caddies there are as great and colorful as any lot at St. Andrews or Augusta. On the course they even address members by first names and nicknames. It is not about the pomp at Pine Valley, it is about the golf and the nirvana like experience. The only yardage markers you see are codes on a few sprinkler heads.....for the caddies. Wow. No smoking on the golf course. Yes! No rakes on the golf course. Brilliant! After playing many of the holes you may have heard about or seen pictures of in books, magazines, the Golf Atlas on the web, etc., you come to the 13th tee and finish with best of the best. What a string of six finishing holes. Awesome.

I love the fact that there are only 350 members. A perfect amount. And women are not allowed to set foot on the property until Sundays after 1:00 p.m. Annika herself who wanted to play there this year was resigned to only that brief window of time. Love it! Tiger has never seen the course, albeit he has been invited. Trevino played there for the first time last year. I feel blessed, and as if my life is complete having had the whole Pine Valley experience. Passing thru the gates one gets the feeling of achieving a physical and spiritual wholeness. It is truly AWESOME.

If you can, save it for last. Play it after 99 others. Then go to heaven. "

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kingsbarns Golf Links

The first golden era of golf course design was in the 1920s when some of the best all time architects were alive and designing: Alister Mackenzie, Seth Raynor, A.W. Tillinghast, H.S. Colt and George Thomas. "The Roaring Twenties" were also a time of unprecedented global prosperity with markets booming around the world. Of the 100 top courses in the world an astonishing 28 are were built in the 1920s.

We are lucky to live in the new golden era of golf course architecture. Kingsbarns (ranked #65 in the world) is one of the new generation of courses that have graced the world in the 1990s and 2000s, specifically having been built in 1999. The new golden era is characterized by architects such as David Kidd, Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and Kyle Phillips, the designer of Kingsbarns. This new group has designed many new courses that rank in the top 100. This new generation of world-ranked courses follows a dearth in good design. During the entire forty year period between the 1940s and the 1970s only nine courses were worthy of inclusion on the top 100 list and most of them were toward the latter half of the period and were designed by Pete Dye.

Part of the reason we are in a new golf course design renaissance is the favorable economic environment we find ourselves. A new generation of multi-millionaires, fueled by entrepreneurship and rising real estate and capital markets, have had both the vision and the money to put together some of the these great new courses.

Kingsbarns, located in the Kingdom of Fife, south of St. Andrews in Scotland, is a course I like very much. I have been fortunate enough to have played Kingsbarns twice on two different trips.

The course is varied and interesting. Memorable holes include the par five 12th hole that is often compared to the 18th at Pebble Beach. In my opinion, the views at Kingsbarns are better than those at Pebble Beach. The 6th hole is also worthy of a mention. It is a 337 yard par four that plays down-hill and to the left and is driveable. You really have to think before hitting your tee shot here as well. You can't just get up and hit the ball into the fairway and lay up, either. You have to hit it to an appropriate place or you will have a blind shot to the green. The hole reminds me of the 16th at Royal County Down because you have to hit your ball over a valley to land it on the green if you are going for it.

What do I like so much about Kingsbarns? It has everything I like in a course:

1. An interesting routing, not just an out-and-back layout
2. Holes of varying length which test your skill on short shots as well as long. I'm not a big fan of having to hit 80% of your shots all day as long shots.
3. Six holes along the Ocean that rival any course in the world for scenic beauty
4. The ability to hit a variety of shots - bump and run, pitches, and a variety of wedge shots
5. Challenging but fair greens - some contoured significantly, some not, but appropriate for the size of the green and the type of hole
6. An intelligent use of terrain and elevation - some uphill shots, some downhill, but not overdone.
7. Lots of good caddies

The course should rank higher in the world rankings in my view. It is, I believe, the first modern course worthy to be put on the rotation to hold an Open Championship. To me, the place the feel of a Scottish equivalent of Bandon Dunes.