Our hole of the day is sadly one which no longer exists. The old 17th hole at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland (along with the 18th) have just been replaced with two new holes to be played on the front nine in preparation for the 2019 Open Championship.
The old 17th hole at Portrush was a mid-length par 5 that had one of the most defining features in golf…. the Big Bertha bunker. The hole design, by Harry Colt, was masterfully done. The tee set you up pointing right at Bertha. There was mounding that encroached on the left side which hid half of the fairway. The tee shot required a draw (or fade in my case) off Bertha to find the short cut. If you found Bertha, you were basically pitching out of the 20-ft. deep hazard.
Up by the green, there were three cross bunkers which your needed to navigate before you reach the putting surface.
It’s a shame this hole will not be seen by the world in a few years. The new 7th hole on Portrush has a bunker in honor of Bertha. While they have tried to replicate Bertha, there is no way the new bunker is a duplicate of the original Harry Colt designed on old #17.
This will be a very special week on the PGA Tour and in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia.
Devastating rain and floods washed away the town of White Sulphur Springs and most of the Greenbrier Resort’s golf courses last year around this time. What was usually a beautiful green valley nestled between the mountains became a muddy torrent of water from Howard Creek, as the water from the 10 inches of rain in the area rolled down the mountain sides and collected in the usually calm creek.
The historical rains forced the cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic last year. After the flood waters subsided, the Greenbrier’s TPC Old White Course a mess. Burt Baine, VP of Golf Operations, and his golf staff were shocked at what they saw. Tons of dirt, silt and debris littered the golf course. The sod was contaminated and grass would not grow back, bunkers were nothing more than exposed drainage systems, and trees were uprooted from the flood.
Today, players will arrive back at the Greenbrier for the re-birth of the Old White Course and this year’s Greenbrier Classic. They will see a golf course, while the layout is for the most part the same as the Charles Blair McDonald design it, that has come a through a year-long renovation and restoration to get it ready just for this event. In many ways, the golf course staff had to start from scratch to rebuild the Old White. Green complexes and bunkers had to be totally be built.
The Old White is truly a gem of a design. Only a few PGA Tour events get played on get played on classic old-school designs such as the Old White. It is not a course which one will overpower. Players must plod and plan their way around this 7200 yard, par 70 layout.
The first unique hole the players comes across is the 3rd…the Biarritz Hole. At 200 yards from the back tee, players will hit anything from a 9 iron to a hybrid/fairway wood on this hole. Why is that? The green measures around 70 yards in depth and features a 4 ½ foot deep gully that runs through the middle of the green. The long slender green is surrounded by bunkers. When the pin is located on the back of the green, players will have to fly their long irons all the way to the back tier to avoid having to putt through the gully.
The other par 3 on the front nine if also one of my favorites. The Redan Hole, modeled after the 15th hole at North Berwick in Scotland. Playing as long as 230 yards to the middle, this green slopes from right to left and from front to back. Players must account for release when figuring out what to hit. A large deep bunker protects the left side, making par a challenge if you find your ball there.
The 13th is a difficult par 4. Running along the base of the mountain, it measures 489 yards from the back tee. Avoiding Howard Creek on the left and finding the fairway is imperative. As you come down the fairway and the green comes into view on the right, you will now realize why they call this the ‘Alps’ hole (modeled after a hole at Prestwick in Scotland). A large mound (would be a dune if you on a links course) guards the front right of the green. Mishit your shot or misclub, you can easily find your ball ‘in the mountainside’ guarding the hole. A slick green that runs from back to front also doesn’t make getting a par here easy either.
Very rarely will a course end on a Par 3, but the Old White does. From the tee, it looks very simple and beautiful. With the clubhouse in the background, the 170-yard hole crosses Howard Creek (not coming into play) and sets built into small hillside. It is the green complex which makes this finisher a challenge. With a pronounced hogback running in a horseshoe shape through the green, you must find the right distance to put your ball on the proper tier. If you don’t, especially when the hole is in the front, you will face a difficult two putt.
Having played this course several times, I am looking forward to its rebirth this week. It is a classic gem that I always find enjoyable to play and worthy of its Top 100 ranking in the US.
** DISCLAIMER** This blog is devoted to golf. I realize given the recent Twitter comments from our President that some may have an issue with this post. Yes, the President's comments on Thursday morning were tasteless and beneath the office of the President of the US. I have chosen a narrow focus in examining his impact on golf. His conduct and impact on the issues confronting the future of our country and the world are for debate in other forums, not here.
You probably did not notice this week , but Trump Turnberry had another re-opening of a golf course. While the acclaimed Ailsa Course was renovated and re-opened last year, highlighted by a personal visit by Trump himself, the old Kintyre Course at the resort was also undergoing renovations.
Today, the newly-named Robert the Bruce Course was re-opened. And, while you may not politically agree with our current President, one must admit that his company’s overseeing of re-shaping and producing great golf courses and facilities must be applauded.
Martin Hawtree designed Trumps International Golf Links in Aberdeen Scotland in 2007. It opened and was immediately recognized as one of the top courses in the United Kingdom & Ireland. There is another 18-hole course rumored to being built there.
Architects McKenzie and Ebert worked on the recent renovations to the Ailsa Course at Turnberry last year. The building of new tees, re-routing of the spectacular coastal holes and restoration of the course to some of its pre-WWII identity has moved it to the top of the GB&I list of greatest courses in 2017. Having played Turnberry prior to the renovation, I can say that it had lost some of its luster, mostly through conditioning. Now, it is truly back to being one of the best courses in the world because of the reimagining of the Ailsa. There is no question in my mind that the Ailsa must be put back into the Open rota of golf courses! Politics may not allow this to happen now, but there is no question the infrastucture is in place and the course is better than when it hosted previous Opens.
Now, to go along with the Ailsa, Trump’s Turnberry team has turned what was a rather bland and pedestrian companion into a true gem, featuring its own coastal holes and own identity. The Robert the Bruce Course renovation was also done by McKenzie and Ebert.
In the US, I personally saw the changes in a course since he took ownership of the old Lowes Island Club and renamed it Trump International Golf Club DC. He has reinvigorated the design and layout, combined with beautiful views of the Potomac River. It was also host to the 2017 Senior PGA Championship a few weeks ago. Trump National Bedminster will host the US Women’s Open in just a few weeks.
Whether he acquired these courses because the previous owners were struggling financially or he decided to build them on his own, there is one simple fact. He has improved the clubs/courses under his ownership and gives golfers (both public and private/members at the clubs) an opportunity to play on some fantastic layouts at some wonderful facilities. I know, our latest view of President Trump was of him driving a cart on the green. I agree, he shouldn’t have done that…but he was at a place he does own. That behavior is an argument for another day. Trump the businessman has offered up some impressive courses in his massive golf portfolio.
My point is that he has an obviously love for the game and made golf part of his business empire. He has hired great architects and has shown a reverence for the game and its history with his designs/renovations (see Turnberry). If you leave politics out of this, all golfers must be thankful for the changes and improvement he has overseen at his facilities and the gems which we can choose to play. His involvement and ownership in golf has overall been positive for the game.
Set along the banks of the James River, Kingsmill Resort’s 17th hole of the River Course may just well be the signature hole of the facility. Measuring 177 yards from the back tees, you have to hit a precise iron shot to a green 51 yards in depth and narrows as you go farther back. Depending upon the hole location, your club of choice may vary by at least 4 clubs. The green is protected on the right by the James River and two deep bunkers. If you bail out left, you face a steep embankment and a downhill lie for your next shot. Also of note when you play this hole…look to the right and you will see the old docks of Burwell’s Landing. This was the site of the main port of entry into Williamsburg during the 18th century. Up to the left of the green was Burwell’s Ordinary…a social gathering place for those using the port and I’m sure a place where a good pint could have been had. Today, you will have to wait until you get to the clubhouse to enjoy that pint.