ISABELA, Puerto Rico – Maybe the best way to appreciate the ground is to see it from the air.
The 70-mile helicopter ride west from San Juan reveals the beauty and the contradictions of the Puerto Rican landscape. The city’s modernist clutter quickly gives way to the historic setting of Old San Juan and its coastal fortress. And from there the land variously morphs into a strange juxtaposition of open farm land – mainly former sugar plantations – and small-town ramshackle homes, metal-roofed sheds and small industrial buildings. But out near the island’s northwest corner, the land takes on more dramatic form, with rolling hills and deep river valleys that blend into oceanside cliffs. It is here, on a plain perched 200 feet above the surf, that a sparkling addition to the region’s golf repertoire has come to life.
Royal Isabela has been 20 years in the making. Brothers Charles and Stanley Pasarell, native Puerto Ricans who enjoyed prominent pro tennis careers in the 1960s and ’70s before pursuing various real estate and business ventures, revived the project after it had failed in the hands of other developers. The site comprises 426 acres of cleared grazing land, tropical forest, limestone ...
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 3
Too boxy, too linear, too parallel.
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2. Quality of feature shaping: 8
High marks here; edges of fairways bleed into rough at grade level; fairway shaping and contours of approach areas into greens show careful thought to different angles of play. Green platforms, however, are too uniform when viewed from approach areas and have similar structure to the fall-offs around and behind.
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3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 7
An elegant drive up to the Waldorf Astoria provides a tantalizing look at the back nine. The modest but modernistic clubhouse sets a confident, luxurious tone that matches the quality of the adjoining hotel. And throughout the round, golfers encounter lovely wildlife and attractive, dense beds of muhly grass and cordgrass. Four large ponds envelop the course, and oddly enough, the 16-story hotel along the east side provides much-needed orientation as golfers tack their way around.
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4. Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 5
Modest contours, with slopes limited to back right/left decks or the occasional “bump” that oozes down from the back through the middle; but there’s ...
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 3
You either rue the disconnection of holes or admire the tenacity of the architects for fitting the routing. However impressive the technical achievement, as a golf experience it suffers.
2. Quality of feature shaping: 6
Individually, many of the holes sit elegantly on the land, and there has been an impressive effort to incorporate greenside surrounds and rolloffs. But there are just a few too many incursions of arbitrary hazards or tightened layup areas.
3. Natural setting/overall land plan: 3
The site compresses too much in too many small pockets across too large of an area.
4. Interest of greens and surrounds: 4
It seems that ever since he collaborated with Tom Doak on Sebonack (2006), Jack Nicklaus has been willing to go to extremes in the name of creating challenging greens. But here he goes beyond, nowhere with more abandon than at the 539-yard, par-5 10th, where the putting surface feels like it’s sliding off a hill.
5. Variety & memorability of par 3s: 5
The five par 3s range from very short iron to long iron/fairway metal ...
HARRIS, Mich. – The nice thing about not having expectations is that you have a chance to be surprised. And that’s exactly what makes a round at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula worthwhile.
OK, the drive through the wooded flatlands here, 115 miles northeast of Green Bay, Wis., gets a little numbing. And the first thing you see upon arriving at the Island Resort & Casino is an 11-story building that’s best described as nondescript. But once you make your way through the casino (as I did, wearing golf shoes and toting my clubs) and get to the golf course at the back of the building, the scene changes for the better. Turns out this is a pleasant stroll through 300 acres of prairie, meadow and cedar forest.
Architect Paul Albanese worked closely with the Hannahville Indian Community, Band of the Potawatomi, in converting its tribal land into elegant golf ground. Minimal earth-moving was involved, native prairie grass was grown back onsite, and a half-dozen old railway bridges rescued from the state’s Department of Transportation were incorporated into cart paths and wetlands crossings to convey a historical sense of rural landscape.
The course name derives from ...
1. Routing: 8
Non-returning nines, easily walkable thanks to intimate green-to-tee spacing, and ideal use of open land and more varied terrain. One drawback is some potential crossfire from the drive on the par-5 18th tee to the tee on the par-3 17th.
2. Quality of shaping: 8
Flat-bottomed bunkers and nearly conical mounds have substance; a few too many of the tees are small, raised platforms that pop up out of the grades and look a touch conspicuous.
3. Overall land plan: 7
Ideal terrain; 66 feet of elevation change, with a modest clubhouse looking out upon rolling ground, but the flow of the course does get misdirected with that road. Course will get better as more of the macadam cart path is converted to natural-looking gravel.
4. Greens and surrounds: 9
Bentgrass/Poa annua greens are very modest size, averaging 4,600 square feet, but have all manner of shape, from near square platforms to rococo curves at grade level, with carefully sculpted mounding around as well.
5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 8
The five par 3s all seem to offer a big space ...
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 5
Not a self-explanatory walk, with lots of turnarounds for the pond holes (Nos. 6-14) and an inexcusable walk just to get to the 15th and back. The walk in from the 16th tee to the 18th green overlooking the entire valley is dramatic.
2. Quality of feature shaping: 8
Greenside features and bunkers generally fit in well, though too many tees seem like bulked platforms.
3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 7
Great long views, but proximity to the river is a mere seduction. The sense of place is enhanced by old cottages and the occasional ruin dotting the site.
4. Interest of greens and surrounds: 6
Well-done, uncomplicated, not heavily bedecked or tiered bentgrass/Poa annua surfaces. U.S. team take note: the speed will be less than at Valhalla in 2008, though perhaps not as deliberately sluggish as at Ireland’s K Club in 2006.
5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 4
All call for mid-length irons when played from the proper tees and all play (slightly) downhill. The best ...
1.) Ease and intimacy of routing: 9
Arrayed in an elegant butterfly shape, with returning nines that are symmetrical: two holes inland, two holes lakefront, two holes inland again, two more holes on the shoreline and finishing holes (ninth and 18th) that are stout par 4s with their backs to the water.
2.) Quality of feature shaping: 8
A raw, angry lunar look throughout.
3.) Natural setting and overall land plan: 10
Two miles of lakefront along a bluff, towering dunes, distant barns and silos, along with a country manor-style clubhouse and first-rate practice grounds.
4.) Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 9
Great sense of angle created by entirely visible green surfaces. Small misses kick into big trouble, leaving varied short-game shots back.
5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 10
All are situated on the lakefront, and presuming the prevailing southwest wind they range from a delicate, parachuted wedge at the 143-yard 12th to a powerfully shaped long iron at the 223-yard 17th. The latter hole, into a headwind, is absurd, even hysterical, thanks to a 12-foot high sea stack (totally artificial, of course) with a fearsome bunker atop it that is directly in play for anyone ...
RICHMOND, R.I. – There is little doubt that the owners of the newly reopened Meadow Brook Golf Club will tout theirs as the “longest course in the littlest state.” If so, they’ll have a clever marketing angle on their hands, even if it has little relevance to the everyday golfers who actually will play this daily-fee course in southern Rhode Island.
Why bother to expend the extra acreage for the tees needed to get a public course up to 7,468 yards? If one-half of 1 percent of all rounds are played from those markers, it would constitute a revolution in market share – and even then, the bulk of such play would come from nonrevenue scratch golfers such as PGA pros and varsity collegians.
Everything about Meadow Brook is big – except the green fee. The course sits at the center of a 260-acre parcel formerly occupied by a small golf course of the same name that was plowed over and rebuilt anew in 2008-09 by designers Roger Rulewich and Dave Fleury. The driving force behind the project was the owner/development team of Patrick and Jay Hendrick. Father and son, they are self-described “swamp Yankees,” a term used to ...
OWASSO, Okla. – Maj. Dan Rooney makes for a good story. His golf course might make for a better one.
The 37-year-old Oklahoma native is the only PGA golf professional who’s also a certified Air Force fighter jet pilot. Rooney has served three tours of duty in Iraq. For two years, he has been making the rounds of board rooms, media outlets and veterans groups, raising awareness and $6.5 million for the Folds of Honor Foundation scholarship program to benefit the families of U.S. troops disabled or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rooney’s patriotic commitments now have a fitting home, 19 miles northeast of downtown Tulsa in the burgeoning suburb of Owasso. What makes The Patriot Golf Club isn’t just the charitable spirit behind it but the fact that it’s a stunning technical and aesthetic achievement. The course sits on very tough ground. In the hands of lesser talents, golf here could have been a disaster. But the design team of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his associates, Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi, has routed compelling holes that weave through limestone canyons and incorporate lowland meadows, traditional Midwest uplands prairie and densely wooded ground.
THE COLONY, Texas – Tripp Davis doesn’t have a chance.
The former Nationwide Tour player has a handicap index of plus-2.2 and hits the ball well enough to have made the quarterfinals of the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Now a full-time course architect, he’s playing a casual match against his design partner on the course that they’ve just completed north of Dallas. Yet Davis, playing his normal game, looks like a mid-handicapper against Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion.
Leonard isn’t really trying to win. He’s just wanting to hit solid shots. As he tests a prototype driver on this autumn day, he finds that the fairway bunkers scattered over The Old American Golf Club are just the right distance from the tee.
On the 588-yard, par-5 14th hole along the shoreline of Lake Lewisville, Leonard takes aim at a gnarly bunker on the inside right corner of the double dogleg. It’s 264 yards to carry the bunker, with a large oak tree protecting the right and thus all but unmanageable for Leonard’s stock draw. If he plays too far safe on the left side, his drive could run into unplayable ground ...
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic – Whether it’s the quality of the light, the effect of the sea or simply the sharpness of the design, there’s something about Corales Golf Club that is just overwhelming.
Of course, golf is always fascinating when played on land that touches the sea. Here on the eastern shore, the game is additionally blessed by tropical warmth and the stark crystalline blue that’s tossed back and forth between the sky and the Caribbean Sea.
The same heat in a desert climate would be searing and oppressive because there the dominant tones are flash white, red and ocher. But along this coast the sensory experience leans toward the cooler side of the color wheel. Instead of shimmering in some torpid heat, shapes assume a steely coherence and lucidity that is calming, peaceful and stable.
It takes a designer’s eye to plan all of this, and the considerable virtue of Corales is that the team involved course architects, artists and visionaries. Tom Fazio and his associate Tom Marzolf did the golf course, but the setting – the palette of plant materials and its juxtaposition of turf against rocky shoreline – was the deliberate choice of the principals ...
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico - Cancun, once the Daytona Beach of family vacations in Mexico, gradually is becoming a refined golf destination.
It helps having beachfront exposure along the Caribbean Sea. And with major travel markets in the U.S. less than a three-hour direct flight away, there’s no shortage of potential resort-goers. What has been lacking until recently is quality golf.
But with a half-dozen courses opening here in the past few years and four more under construction, the coastal stretch along the Yucatan Peninsula south of Cancun finally has courses that meet the expectations of the clientele visiting a new class of upscale, full-service resorts. This past week, the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic set up shop here for its fourth year at Mayakoba’s El Camaleon course. The Greg Norman-designed layout, opened in 2005, is owned by OHL Development and operated by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts.
Mayakoba Resort last fall underscored its emphasis on golf by opening a Jim McLean Golf Academy, complete with JC Video Swing Analysis technology. It is McLean’s second international golf school.
The 148-acre course occupies a fascinating site, one that’s certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and incorporates three distinct ...
This might be the only course in the country that merits a two-digit phone code – as in Area 51.
Technically, Coyote Springs lies just outside “The Box,” the legendary zone of restricted air space north of Las Vegas comprising Nellis Air Force Range and the Nevada Test Site. There, where mushroom clouds once flourished, civilians still dare not wander and only UFOs enjoy free reign. The ground immediately to the east has been zoned for a massive planned community: 43,000 acres (67 square miles), on a tract straddling Clark and Lincoln counties, with schemes on paper for as many as 159,000 homes and 16 golf courses.
So far, there is only one 18-hole layout, Coyote Springs – The Chase, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Construction has started on a second (yet-to-be-named) layout, co-designed by Nicklaus and Pete Dye. A partnership with the PGA of America on a teaching center and associated housing has, as of the new year, been dropped. Developer Harvey Whittemore plans to go it alone.
As for evidence of those homes and planned schools, shopping areas and community centers – well, not yet a trace. Director of golf Mike Sizemore reverted to real-estate language when he said of ...
SAN ANTONIO – You know you’re at a freshly minted golf course when the superintendent who greets you hasn’t even taken the plastic seat covering off his John Deere Gator utility vehicle.
Finally, TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks course is slated to open Jan. 22. Good timing, because in May, the course, designed by Greg Norman, with consulting input by Sergio Garcia, debuts as the home of the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open. The facility’s other course, AT&T Canyons, designed by Pete Dye with Bruce Lietzke as player consultant, opens the same day and is in line for the Champions Tour’s AT&T Championship in 2011.
It has been a long road getting to this point, with environmental sensitivities of the 36-hole site having delayed development for years. The 2,855-acre golf resort and community sit atop the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone 22 miles north of downtown San Antonio. Initial plans involving the PGA of America with Forestar Development ran into sustained opposition from ecologists who worried about runoff as well as habitat for the golden-cheeked warbler. Eventually, Miller Global, the resort and golf course owner, hired the PGA Tour’s Construction Services ...
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 7 (regular layout) / 4 (Presidents Cup)
Regular routing is a simple counter-clockwise interior loop for the front nine that returns to the clubhouse and a large clockwise exterior loop for the back. Presidents Cup routing is aimed at drama, but requires awkward long walks and doubling back.
2. Quality of feature shaping: 5
Everything from the mounds to the greens and bunkers betray a manufactured look.
3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 6
Set on an isthmus but would benefit from more exposure to the water.
4. Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 7
Bentgrass/Poa surfaces offer low-key contours and slight decks, and every green has at least one tucked hole location.
5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 6
Visual differentiation is not strong. Tough 164-yard 14th hole plays to a tiny green. The long, downhill 11th is the scariest, as the green falls out sharply on the left.
6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 5
Good flexibility in length, but fairway bunkers are a minimal hazard on full drives, and there’s no strong incentive for playing sides of fairways to greens.
7. Variety and memorability of par ...