Rater’s Notebook

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July 10, 2011 | 4:44 p.m.

Skills test

Bradley S. Klein
The ninth hole at Royal St. George's
The ninth hole at Royal St. George's

SANDWICH, England – Royal St. George’s is everything that Congressional Country Club is not.

This charming gem of an English links, located on the Kent Coast along the North Sea, is a windswept, rollicking and occasionally maddening gathering of golf holes that defies aerial control.

In an era of target golf in which players are asked to parachute the ball onto carefully engineered segments of greens, Royal St. George’s requires an entirely different set of demands. The task here is to thrust and parry and work with the ground contours in hopes of keeping the ball in play. It ...

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May 9, 2011 | 5:41 p.m.

Caribbean cliffhanger

Bradley S. Klein
At Royal Isabela, there is drama in the cliffs, such as here at the 14th hole.
At Royal Isabela, there is drama in the cliffs, such as here at the 14th hole.

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 ...

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March 2, 2011 | 3:02 p.m.

Rater's notebook: Waldorf Astoria GC

Bradley S. Klein
The par-3 11th hole at Waldorf Astoria Golf Club
The par-3 11th hole at Waldorf Astoria Golf Club


Click here for Bradley S. Klein’s profile of Waldorf Astoria GC



1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 3

Too boxy, too linear, too parallel.

• • •

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.

• • •

3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 7

An elegant drive up to the Waldorf Astoria provides a tantalizing ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
January 25, 2011 | 3:14 p.m.

Rater's notebook: The Golf Club at Harbor ...

Bradley S. Klein
No. 6 at Harbor Shores.
No. 6 at Harbor Shores.


Click here for a story about The Golf Club at Harbor Shores



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 ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
December 17, 2010 | 2:05 p.m.

Up with Sweetgrass

Bradley S. Klein
No. 7 at Sweetgrass
No. 7 at Sweetgrass

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 an aromatic, perennial long-stem plant called sweet grass. In its native prairie form, sweet grass comprises one of four traditional Potawatomi medicines (along with cedar, tobacco and sage). It has a less therapeutic effect on the golf course, where it serves as knee-high rough. It’s one of many understated ways in which Albanese has woven themes from the local Native American culture into the layout.

The yardage book does a fine job of explaining how the hole names establish a link between modern golf and traditional Potawatomi culture. The 400-yard, par-4 second hole, “God’s Kettle,” features a natural depression on the right side that symbolizes a great copper kettle used centuries ago for boiling maple sap into sugar.

This is not a case of complex explanation decoding what would otherwise be mysterious. The cultural gesturing only works because the golf holes already make good sense on their own and comprise a coherent picture. The one glaring drawback comes at the end of each of the returning nine-hole loops; they feature virtual mirror-image par 5s that ascend with baffling complexity around a central water hazard and waterfalls, then end at a double green. Both holes jangle the nerves when the softer tone ...

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November 30, 2010 | 10:55 a.m.

Rater’s Notebook: St. George’s G&CC

Bradley S. Klein
The par-3 15th hole at St. George's
The par-3 15th hole at St. George's


Click here for a story about St. George's Golf & Country Club



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 ...

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Categories: Travel, Rater's Notebook
September 27, 2010 | 2:15 p.m.

Rater’s Notebook: The Twenty Ten Course

Bradley S. Klein
Celtic Manor's Twenty-Ten Course
Celtic Manor's Twenty-Ten Course


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Click here for a review of the Twenty Ten Course



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 ...

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August 5, 2010 | 3:23 p.m.

Rater’s notebook: Whistling Straits

Bradley S. Klein
No. 13 at Whistling Straits
No. 13 at Whistling Straits

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 ...

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July 19, 2010 | 1:36 p.m.

Rater’s notebook: Meadow Brook Golf Club

Bradley S. Klein
The 10th at Meadow Brook is one of a strong quartet of par 3s.
The 10th at Meadow Brook is one of a strong quartet of par 3s.

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 ...

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June 15, 2010 | 5:56 p.m.

Rater’s notebook: The Patriot Golf Club

Bradley S. Klein
The Patriot Golf Club.
The Patriot Golf Club.

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 ...

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May 20, 2010 | 7:38 p.m.

Classic touch in Texas

Bradley S. Klein
The double-dogleg par-5 14th hole at The Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.
The double-dogleg par-5 14th hole at The Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.

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 ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
April 5, 2010 | 5:22 p.m.

Golf Rorschach test

Bradley S. Klein
No. 8 at Corales Golf Club
No. 8 at Corales Golf Club

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 ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
March 4, 2010 | 11:11 a.m.

A whole new Yucatan

Bradley S. Klein
No. 17 at El Camaleon
No. 17 at El Camaleon

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 ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
January 25, 2010 | 5:40 p.m.

Chase scene

Bradley S. Klein
No. 12 at Coyote Springs – The Chase
No. 12 at Coyote Springs – The Chase

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 ...

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Categories: Rater's Notebook
November 30, 2009 | 11:59 a.m.

Dialed in

Bradley S. Klein
No. 16 on the AT&T Oaks.
No. 16 on the AT&T Oaks.

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 to manage development of the golf courses and contracted with the TPC Network to manage golf operations.

The key to getting approvals was a closed-loop irrigation/drainage system that captures rainwater and recycles runoff through a series of ponds that were built. Developers had to route the entire property around a 750-acre bird sanctuary. Thousands of live oak, cedar and pecan trees were left in place, and the courses are slated for certification in the Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary system.

The native limestone base of the site was scarcely suited for golf-quality turf or anything else. To ensure adequate soil and to maximize drainage, the courses were capped with 1 foot of clay and then 8 inches of sand – all of which had to be trucked in at the rate of 300 loads per day for 200-plus working days.

Norman’s AT&T Oaks Course has been cut low into the limestone base, with deep bunkers and slightly raised greens that require lofted carries. There are ground-level entrances to the putting surface, but they are narrow and require so much shotmaking acumen to hit they scarcely qualify as bailouts. Fairways are on the narrow side, averaging 26-28 yards in the landing areas, with fairly generous roughs to cushion wayward shots from reaching the dense, all-but-irrecoverable native areas.

Dye’s AT&T Canyons course, by contrast, has been propped up above natural grade, with wider fairways that roll off into shallow bunkers and greens that, while small, allow for access along the ground.

Both courses are unspoiled by home sites. All of the development’s 1,700 residences are to one side and out of sight. A reminder that the place is, as per its subtitle, “A PGA Tour Experience,” comes in the form of a 25-acre, 450-yard practice range.

And there’s no escaping the Texas-sized hotel and conference center, a 1,002-room facility with a 1.2-million-square-foot, nine-story bulk that engulfs the TPC’s clubhouse. It’s the only excess to be found.

• • •

Rater’s notebook: TPC San Antonio – AT&T Oaks Course

1.) Ease and intimacy of routing: 7

Out-and-back routing of returning nines, with most of the holes isolated in their own pocket and arrayed along a north/south axis, with the only big gap at the turn.

2.) Quality of feature shaping: 8

Everything is visible off the squared-off tees, with classic raised greens above steep-faced bunkers and lots of confounding spill-offs to the sides and behind greens.

3.) Natural setting and overall land plan: 5

On arrival, you realize this is where the Hill Country ends and the cutting edge of San Antonio suburban development begins. The golf is isolated from this, except for the towering hotel. Large areas of native roughs help cocoon the holes and insulate the course.

4.) Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 6

Champions Bermudagrass greens average 6,200 square feet and at times are heavily sectioned in an effort to create defined targets for championship play. Almost all approaches are aerial over protective front bunkers, with plenty of chipping areas long and on the sides.

5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7

An interesting mix of holes, which from the standard 6,624-yard tees ranged from a 3-hybrid to a 6-iron. The forced-carry third hole over a pond is a bit discordant; the most intriguing (and controversial) will be the short 16th, 183 yards from the back to a green with a pot bunker at the center – an obvious nod to Riviera’s sixth and one that works.

6.) Variety and memorability of par 4s: 8

Fine mix of long and short, including two tempting short holes in the drivable category, a split-fairway ...

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