Thursday, December 6, 2012

St Andrews Old Course Renovation Photos

I took a cold and rainy walk down on the Old Course this morning in order to take photos of the renovations that are currently taking place. To read my post outlining the changes, read here. I have posted the photos in order of convenience to walk, not in order by hole. Click on the photos to enlarge.

17th Hole
2nd Hole
A good view of the old bunkers (being filled in) with their new larger, shifted versions in the background
7th Hole

Large span of gorse removed in front of tee
11th Hole

Friday, November 23, 2012

St Andrews Old Course to see changes?!

A round last week on the St Andrews Old Course marked my 95th round on the ancient links. Over the last two and a half years, I have come to love the course. It has given me an appreciation for golfing history, links golf, and golf course design. 
The R&A has announced that the Old Course will be receiving a makeover before the 2015 Open Championship. Martin Hawtree has designed the changes, which will take place over the next two winters.
The work will take place in two phases. The first phase involves work on the 2nd, 7th, 11th and 17th holes. The second phase will deal with the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 15th holes. A list of the changes to the course has been published. It includes adding bunkers to landing areas, enlarging bunkers, and increasing undulations, in addition to adding yardage in areas. None of the changes look particularly inspiring... 
I will be very interested in seeing what the changes will include. The Old course is timeless. It is deviously simple, yet endlessly complicated. Depending on the wind, it can play as nearly 10 different golf courses.

The R&A have undoubtedly decided to change the course to keep up with new technology and modern changes to the game. After all, the Old Course has had a considerably lower scoring average than other Open rota courses in the last 30 years... This idea goes back to a previous blog post, "Where does it end?" The course has been lengthened in the past, but angles were never changed. Where can they squeeze in extra yards? 
It took great number of rounds to see the hidden beauty the Old Course has to offer. It is incredibly natural in an un-reproducible way. Areas of the course make no sense... 12 massive double greens? The routing nightmare of “the loop” with holes 7 and 11 playing across one another? A modern course would never get away with it, which is one reason the Old Course is so unique.  
The changes, as mentioned before, do not look inspiring. That being said, Martin Hawtree has proven his design and course updating skills at many incredible courses. Additionally, the changes have been approved by the St Andrews Links Trustees, Links Management Committee, and The R&A Championship Committee. Due to this, we can all rest slightly easier knowing that no damage or negative changes will happen to the classic course, but one still has to wonder what they will do? What is left to be done to the most famous course in the World, the "Home of Golf?" 

I will post pictures of the changes as they happen this winter. 

Here is a link to the official R&A announcement:

UPDATE: Here are some photos taken of the work projects as of this morning (November 28, 2012) (Apologies for the iPhone mid-round quality)

Area right of the 2nd green to be re-shaped and bunkers moved
Large depression in 7th fairway flattened and filled
Back left area on 11 green flattened for more pin position options
11th green
This is the only change I saw out there that has worried me. Shifting bunkers and re-contouring areas is nothing new, but re-shaping the 11th green seems extreme.
Road hole bunker rebuilt, and surrounding area re-countoured
Road hole bunker

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taylormade Ghost Manta Putter / SAM Fitting System Review

This club review was written by my good friend Andrew Rehfeld, who has a frightening amount of knowledge about golf equipment. This post is just as much about the SAM putting lab and custom fitting process as it is about Taylormade putters. Thank you to Andrew and everyone who reads to blog! - Graylyn           

 If there is any club in my bag that is constantly changing, it is my putter. I have gone through at least two-dozen putters in the last eight years. With the most recent purchase, I was ready to hand over as much money as necessary to gain more confidence.
            Last summer I had an entire bag fitting done by The Club Fix in Irvine, California. The whole process was very expensive. The company charges for the fitting itself, charge extra for the custom building, and all this on top of the price of the clubs.
            When it came to fitting and buying a new putter, I had to come to terms with spending a large sum on a single club. The list price for the Taylormade Manta is $199. The build put the price at $299 with an additional $100 for fitting and tax. Over $400 for a Taylormade putter! Anyway, I went into the shop last week with a completely clear mind and zero preconceptions as to what I was looking for. Admittedly, a Taylormade putter, especially a belly putter, was the last thing on my mind. The fitting system they use is called the SAM putting lab. Basically, it involves lasers and computer analysis that digitally read and map the putting stroke. The process automatically selects the putter type and specs that work best with your stroke and build.
            I used my own putter on the initial evaluation and made three out of seven putts from about ten feet. My fitter recommended the belly putter and adjusted the one in the shop to 41.5". I then made all seven putts in a row and the rest is history. I had not even become adjusted to using this putter, but I did not need to: it was fitted to my natural stroke. I highly recommend spending the fortune it costs to finally get it done right.
            Upon receiving the putter, I was surprised by how high quality the construction seemed. I have had a few Taylormade putters in the past and they all looked cheap and the paint flaked off easily, etc. Though not quite the craftsmanship of a Scotty Cameron, this putter looks great. My putter was set up at 41.5" with 7* of loft and a lie angle of 73*; this is obviously something you could not get off of the shelf. The SAM lab laser measures the loft and then dials in the swingweight according to the new length.
             I have never been a huge fan of soft inserts, but the soft insert on this putter feels great. Instead of the cheap rubber feel you will get from average priced putters, the Manta feels incredibly solid and responsive. The Manta is also very easy to align. The two lines on the top help you point the putter directly on line with ease. I am not sure that the white finish is anything more than a gimmick, but I do think it looks pretty cool. Overall, the Manta is surprisingly well crafted.
            Despite my satisfaction with the belly style, I would not recommend it to anyone. I would recommend getting a proper fitting from someone who uses the SAM putt lab and getting the putter that works best for your stroke. Do not waste your time getting fit at a big box store from someone that received a little bit of training and is a 20 handicap. The Club Fix is another level of fitting, and I would recommend something similar. Do not be afraid of what is put in your hands, and if you end up with one the SAM putt lab custom fit putters, you know that you are receiving something built custom for your specific stroke.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Where Does It End?

 I hope that this blog post stirs discussion and thought. It is an issue that I have been thinking about over the last year, but finally put it on paper during my time this summer at Golf Monthly Magazine. Please contribute a comment beneath the post with thoughts for discussion.
216 yard par 3 at Royal Portrush
The designing of golf courses has changed and adapted since its inception in the late 19th century. The days of Old Tom Morris and Alan Robertson are now a thing of the past. What was once simply marking where to cut grass and place pins has become a job for bulldozers and earthmovers.  Modern course design has become a task of moving and shifting countless tons of soil to create the perfect vistas, angles, and distances.
As new courses are being built, they are becoming increasingly longer. Anything fewer than 7,000 yards is now labeled short. When it comes to the PGA tour, over the last decade, courses have quickly been approaching 8,000 yards. Developments in club technology have made this “longer is better” mentality the industry standard.
250 yard Par 3 13th at Medinah Country Club
Great designs are being deemed outdated and unfit to host professional tournaments. In the worst cases, classic courses are being redesigned and lengthened to “keep up with the times.”  Courses built during the golden era of design are being mangled.
Masterfully short par 4 1st at Prestwick Golf Club
Where does the “progress” stop? Simply put, courses cannot become exponentially longer. Great designs are being ruined, and new championship designs are unplayable for the average golfer. The answer lies in creating new rules for golfing technology. Developing clubs that hit the ball infinitely further fuels the problem. When the governing bodies reign in one aspect of the club (clubfaces, MOI, etc), another loophole or feature is explored and exploited.
Short par 4 at Champion Hills Golf Club
The answer is not easy or simple. An obvious option doesn’t lie in the club head or shaft, but instead in the ball. Distance limited balls could be instituted to ease the need for monster courses. What are your opinions? Should course continue to grow or does something need to happen with the equipment?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Scratch Golf 1018 Forged Wedges Review

All serious golfers have some sort of addiction within the game. People have garages full of old putters, while others seem to always have a new driver. My addiction is wedges. I seem to have tried or owned a wedge from nearly every major brand. 
I originally read about Scratch Golf on They are a small company based in Chattanooga, Tennessee that do custom sets of irons and wedges. They offer “8620 Milled” wedges and “1018 Forged” wedges. These are all offered in three different sole grind options (click on link to view). If none of these please your eye, there is an option to have Scratch’s head club makers personally grind you a wedge to any shape or specification that you wish.
Because of the very tight and firm turf here in St Andrews, Scotland, I chose the “Driver / Slider” sole grind for my 50* and 54* wedges. Without getting too technical, this gave me less bounce, therefore discouraging thin shots on the tight fairways.

One thing you will notice is a very straight leading edge on the wedges (seen in the photo below). This is different from the rounded leading edge that is found on Vokeys and Clevelands. While this suits my eye and give me confidence on tight lies, make sure you chose a sole grind that personally suits your eye.
I always look for an aesthetically pleasing finish, a nice head shape, and heavy weight in my wedges. Beyond those obvious factors, I mainly look for longevity in the clubs. How long do the grooves stay sharp? Does the finish completely come off after a few bunker shots? Although I was playing a lot at the time, my first set of Cleveland CG12’s looked years old after only a few months. My spin milled Vokeys always seemed to completely destroy cover of the Pro-V1x’s. This was before the three-month point at which they became dull and began to stop spinning completely.
I have played the wedges this entire summer, which led to fairly heavy use. They have held up incredibly well. The grooves are still very sharp, and at no point did they cut up soft Titleist golf balls. The gun metal finish has held up well despite quite a bit of bunker practice.
Grooves still sharp after four months of play and practice
Scratch Golf allows for a HUGE amount of customization when ordering wedges. Everything can be customized including head finish, shaft type and color, grip type and color, hosel plastic color. Customers are spoiled for choice. My personalized stamping can be seen in the picture below. Without the stamping (a small additional fee), the look is refreshingly simple compared to the flash of many modern clubs.
After four months of play
The 8620 Milled wedges cost 109 US$ with the 1018 Forgedwedges coming in at a more expensive 179 US$. The forged wedges are quite expensive, but they are an extremely good product. They are meant to compete with the likes of Miura, and they do it successfully.
Club soles after 4 months of play
If you want a great simple wedge, or to be able to dictate literally every specification on the wedge, Scratch Golf is your best option. They make wedges that look incredible and perform equally well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Harbour Town Golf Links

The decision to play Harbour Town was last minute. We were driving from Savannah, Georgia to Augusta when my girlfriend, Isla suggested a detour to Hilton Head Island. As we got closer to the Hilton Head, I figured a call to see if Harbour Town could work out a single might be worth a shot. A few minutes later, I was booked to join a threesome at 2:10.
Admittedly, my knowledge of Harbour Town didn’t extend far past its world ranking, course designer, and what I had seen on TV. I was planning on comparing the course to Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, but I found a unique course with a set of challenges not often seen on the PGA Tour. Harbour Town is considerably shorter than most modern PGA venues. Bunkering, narrow fairways, small greens, and a premium on placement create the challenge.
Harbour Town's scorecard is a beautiful painting
The fourth hole, pictured below, is a 165 yard par 3 with water wrapping around the entire green, except for a bail out area to the right of the green. The pin was tucked into a back right portion of the green. While very visually intimidating, this green is larger than others, helping players with the difficult shot.
The fifth hole was a beautiful dog leg left par 5. Having never seen the hole, the tee shot looks fairly unassuming and straightforward (as seen in the below picture). Once at the bend in the dog leg, bunkers and a lake are revealed on the left with trees and green-side bunkers on the right.
5th tee shot
View from the bend in the dogleg 
The ninth hole is a very short par 4 that requires an accurate tee shot. A group of trees narrow the fairway 50 yards short of the green. The green is drastically horse shoe shaped, and, depending on the pin position, left or right can be completely blocked out. The large clubhouse backs the ninth green.
Back left pin position on the horse shoe shaped green
 The front nine at Harbour Town were solid, but fairly lackluster. In the words of our forecaddie, Derek, “The course really comes alive after the 12th hole.”

One of the weakest and most "tricked up" holes on the course came at the 13th. The front of the green is guarded with 5 foot high railroad ties. According to our forecaddie, the hole was designed by Ellis Dye, Pete Dye's wife. She is also said to have had a hand in the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, another ridiculous hole.
Click on the picture to see more detail of the green complex 
One of my complaints about the course was a lack in variety with the par 3s. The 14th hole was a reverse of the 4th, with the water being on the right instead of the left. The 7th hole was very similar to these aforementioned par 3s, but was merely surrounded by sand instead of water.
The 17th hole, seen below, was one of the more challenging holes on the course. It is a long par 3 with an alarmingly small green. If players aren't intimidated by the water on the left, bunkers guard the left and right sides of the green. 
 The famous view up the 18th is striking in person. The fairway is extremely wide, but the green is very small (see a theme?).
Harbour Town was a very enjoyable golf course. Nearly every hole is lined with condos and houses. Some people find this attractive, but personally, I felt it detracted from the course. 
I loved to see a design that, while short, can still provide a challenge for the pros. The course is 7,100 yards from the tips. The Ocean Course at Kiawah can be stretched to nearly 8,000 yards. Harbour Town shows its difficulty with tiny greens, narrow fairways, and great bunkering - more modern tour courses should take note.

*After 2:00PM, there is a large price cut in the greens fees at the course. If money is a concern and you don't mind the afternoon heat, play after 2PM!