Monday, December 2, 2013

Golf House Club - Elie

Golf House Club - Elie, better known as Elie Golf Club, is one of my favorite courses in Fife.  Elie exemplifies the best aspects of a traditional Scottish club. The course is short and features strong inland and seaside holes (without a single par 5). The club has a great historical background, having been James Braid's home course. As with many of the great traditional Scottish links, the course is very quirky. Blind tee shots abound, the most prominent of which is on the first hole, where an old submarine periscope is used to ensure that the fairway is clear. The experience is very unique, and opinions on the course land on both ends of the spectrum. If you didn't like Elie, you either went into the round with the wrong expectations, or you don't know what Scottish links are really about. 
 Elie's membership is comprised of many powerful golfing figures. The club has a very large percentage of R&A members - some say the highest percentage of any club in the world. The course was first laid out in 1770 and the Golf House Club, which now owns the course, was established in 1875.
 I have played Elie quite a few times, and the particular morning last week was very cold and frosty. Although the course seemed to be frozen, play was not delayed, and the sun quickly melted everything by the 4th hole.

Hole #1 - 420 yards - "Stacks"
The first hole at Elie has a completely blind tee shot. If you have never played the course, you will fine it slightly unnerving. Aim slightly right of the marker post on the hill and you will be fine. The above photo shows the long downhill approach into this green. The first hole is a tough opener, come prepared.

Hole #2 - 284 yards - "High Hole"
This short par 4 works straight uphill, which makes the hole play longer than the stated length. All approach shots are blind into the green, and tough bunkers and thick rough line the fairway. Although it is a short hole, which seems like a birdie opportunity, I have not seen one during any of my rounds at Elie.

Hole #3 - 214 yards - "Wickets"
This is a great par 3. Approach shots can vary from long to mid irons on this hole, depending on the wind and firmness of the turf. During my latest round, the ground was fairly soft (frost had finally begun melting off) and I struck a hard 4-iron. Everything short and right will kick down and left onto the green. At the height of summer it is difficult to hold balls on the hard green. 

Hole # 5 - 365 yards - "Doctor"
After a straightforward tee shot, the fifth hole picks up pace from 75 yards into the green. Large slopes and some deep bunkers guard the sloping green, so distance control is paramount with this approach shot. The hole is said to have been named "Doctor" after the large number of medics who played at the club during its founding.

Hole #6 - 316 yards - "Quarries"
The sixth hole is another blind tee shot. Aim straight at the marker post and brace yourself for the amazing view once you crest the hill. The first views of the water, cliffs, and beautiful seaside area of the golf course are visible from the hilltop.

Hole #7 - 252 yards - "Peggy's"
There are plenty of short holes at Elie, and this is the shortest of the par 4s. The hole is a real birdie opportunity, but features another blind tee shot. The miss at this green is just short. A very old man in the group behind us hit his tee shot to five feet while we were putting out. His ball must have run 100 yards onto the green. Gotta love links golf!

Hole #8 - 382 yards - "Neuk"
The eighth hole is the number one handicap hole at Elie. It is a tough dogleg left par 4, where most mistakes come off the tee. This is one hole where local knowledge really pays off. If you were standing on the tee for the first time it would be very difficult to pick out a line. A single large bunker guards front of the large green, leaving many pin position options.

Hole #9 - 440 yards - "Martin's Bay"
The ninth has another blind tee shot. The view from the hilltop is stunning and similar to the view at the sixth. A large ledge sits directly in front of the green, putting a premium on distance control.

 Hole #10 - 288 yards - "Lundar Law"
The tenth hole has another blind tee shot... did you see that coming? I told you it was quirky. The view from the top of the hill is even more impressive than those earlier in the round. On a clear day you can see right across the water to East Lothian, with Berwick Law and the Bass Rock in clear view. This hole is short, and a very accurate drive can find the green.

The next three holes all hug the beautiful beach.

Hole #11 - 131 yards - "Sea Hole"
It is hard to capture the beauty of this hole in a single photograph. Water splashes up against the back of the tee box and the whole beach and sea stand to your left. The simple shot onto the green becomes much more when the entire setting is taken into account.

Hole #12 - 466 yards - "Bents"
I think this is the hardest par 4 on the course. It is a slight dogleg left, and again, the photo doesn't do the setting justice. The beautiful cliff line contains Elie's fun chain walk, which is out of frame just to the left. A long drive leaves a solid iron into the large and mainly flat green.

Hole #13 - 380 yards - "Croupie"
The beauty and setting of the thirteenth cannot be understated; it is my favorite hole at Elie. It is absolutely stunning and the hole is framed very well by the hills in the background. Drives have to avoid fairway bunkers, leaving a short shot into the raised and shallow green protected by a single bunker. Distance control is very important.

Hole #14 - 414 yards - "Suckielea"
The fourteenth begins a string of difficult finishing holes. No match is safe coming into this final stretch at Elie. The thick grass and OB on the left side of this hole make golfers naturally err to the right, which has a grouping of deep fairway bunkers. An accurate drive is followed by an uphill approach to the large green.

 Hole #17 - 439 yards - "Ferry"
The seventeenth is yet another tough hole in the final stretch. I forgot to take pictures of holes fifteen and sixteen because my match was about to end, but I did manage to snap this on the seventeenth. A dogleg left tee shot leaves a long shot into the guarded green. Just aim to the middle of this green and accept your par.

 Hole #18 - 359 yards - "Home"
The best way to play this final hole is a 3-wood to the 100 yard marker and then a wedge to the pin. I drove my final tee shot into the bunkers 50-60 yards in front of the green and was left with a difficult sand shot. A sloping fairway and large green allow for a challenging course setup.

I strongly suggest adding a traditional Scottish club such as Elie to any golf trip itinerary. Play the Kingsbarns, Castle Stuarts, and Turnberrys, but, if you really want the full Scottish links experience, visit a club like Elie. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ganton Golf Club

Our trip to North Yorkshire's Ganton Golf Club was a great day filled with history and enjoyable golf. The trip down south was paired with a round at Woodhall Spa (review here), and, as with that review, you will see me draw comparisons between the two clubs.
Ganton's beautiful clubhouse and locker room typify a traditional old golf club within the UK. The walls are packed with old photographs, framed letters, and names that act as an encyclopedia for UK golfing history. The course was first laid out in 1891, and to the visiting golfer, it feels that the best of the "old" has been preserved. 
Ganton Golf Club is rife with British golfing history. The club boasts a who's who of previous club pros, including Harry Vardon, who came as professional in 1896. It was during his tenure as pro that he won the first three of his six Open Championships. He also returned to Ganton in 1900 after winning the US Open. Ted Ray was another Ganton Professional (1903 – 1912) who won the Open Championship and the US Open. The locker room walls feature portraits of Ganton's professionals.
The course itself has been touched by some of the best golf architects to have lived. James Braid, JH Taylor, and Harry Vardon all contributed to a major redesign of the course in 1905. Harry Colt (1907, 1911 & 1931), Dr Alister McKenzie (1912 & 1920), Tom Simpson (1934) and CK Cotton (1948 & 1952) have all added their own improvements to the course. While some might argue that a few too many cooks have contributed to the recipe, it would be hard to choose a better list of chefs! 
The greens were in great condition for our round. The fairways left something to be desired, but we were playing at the tail end of a long golfing season. Very strong winds (30mph+) made the day challenging, but meant that this already "linksy" course played even more like a seaside round.

Hole #1 - 359 yards
The course opens slowly with a slight dogleg right first hole. Large bunkers guard both sides of the fairway and alert golfers that large hazards will be a factor throughout the entire round.

Hole #2 - 395 yards
The second green was tough when we played the course and would be especially so when the greens are in fast shape mid-summer. The green slopes away from players, and any pin placement towards the front of the green would pose a difficult challenge. A bunker in the fairway uses railroad ties on the rear wall of the bunker. This reminded me of both Prestwick Golf Club here in Scotland and some of the Pete Dye courses that I grew up with back in the States. 

 Hole #3 - 288 yards
The third is a short par 4 that is straightforward until you get a bit greedy. A large bunker guards the left side of the fairway and OB runs along the right side of the hole. A creek runs behind the green and once on the putting surface, no two putts are guaranteed. I decided to get greedy before pulling my tee shot left and making double bogey.

 Hole #5 - 148 yards
All of the par 3s on the course were strong. The fifth was particularly enjoyable and picturesque. Green side bunkers guard the putting surface and the sheer size of the traps is not realized through these photos. 

 Hole #6 - 438 yards (par 5)
The sixth hole is a good example of making an interesting par 5 out of a completely flat piece of land. Cross bunkers protect the fairway. The hole may seem particularly short, but the tees were set back during our round, and the hole can be stretched out to a much longer distance than that on the card.

Hole #9 - 499 yards
The fairway on this long par 5 is narrow and the tee shot sets up particularly well to the eye. The strength of this hole lies with the interesting and challenging green complex. The sloping green is guarded by deep bunkers that eat up not only green side shots, but also misplaced layups. This was one of my playing partner's favorite holes on the course. 

Hole #10 - 165 yards
This par 3 was one of my favorite holes on the course. The green is long and has a slight concave bowl shape. If you hit this green with the correct distance, you will be very close to the hole. However, similar to many of the holes at Ganton, miss this green and you will be in very deep bunkers. 

 Hole #11 - 398 yards
The tenth green is fairly flat and uninteresting, but the challenge comes during the approach shot. Particularly long hitters, or particularly bad iron players, will be challenged by the cross bunkers 90-110 yards short of the green. A massive bunker is right of the green. The size and depth of the bunker barely comes through in the photo.

Hole #15 - 427 yards
The final stretch of holes at Ganton are very strong. If I were to play the course again I would simply be biding my time until I got to these final four holes. The left hand fairway bunker is a ball magnet off of the tee. The length of the bunker becomes clearer when you see my playing partner in the very front of the trap in the photo above.

 Hole #16 - 427 yards
A straight ball is paramount on this blind tee shot. The fairway narrows down, and trees lining the fairways affect the line of any approach shot not from the center of the fairway. I really enjoyed this hole, even from the left trees. No lead would be safe coming into the final three holes. 

 Hole #17 - 235 yards
The seventeenth hole is one of the top par 3s that I have played. That is a bold statement, but I stand behind it. I am not always a fan of the very long par 3. I like this hole because the front of the green is open and hazard-free. If you don't have the length to reach the green, that is fine! Just keep your ball straight to avoid massive bunkers.

Hole #18 - 387 yards
The eighteenth is a sharp dogleg left with a blind tee shot. A driver or 3 wood off the tee leaves 120-160 yards to the green. Strangely, the long, beautiful entrance road intersects with this hole's fairway, and the road is marked OB. The road is roughly 80 yards short of the green. I thought it was a little too quirky to have OB in the center of the fairway. If you catch your approach shot heavy, you could end up out of bounds in the middle of the hole. Out of bounds marks the boundaries of the course, not roads bisecting holes. On another note, to give you a sense of the wind during our round, my playing partner hit a 3-iron from 130 yards just over the back of the green for his approach shot.

The long entrance road builds a sense of occasion.
I really enjoyed Ganton Golf Club. It was a very good balance of great golf club and great golf course. If I had to choose one or the other between Ganton and Woodhall Spa, I would choose to play my golf at Ganton. I am a sucker for tradition and history. When it comes to the quality of golf, I think that Woodhall Spa wins slightly, but not nearly by a large enough margin to make me choose it over Ganton. If visiting northern England with your golf clubs, play both!

Monday, November 4, 2013

St Andrews Old Course Changes: Phase 2

The second round of changes to the St Andrews Old Course began yesterday. The renovations are occurring over the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 15th holes. 

Martin Hawtree's design changes have been implemented in two stages. The first round of changes occurred this time last year, and photos can be seen here and here. This second stage is said to include the 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 9th holes. I have included before and after photos below. 

What do you think of the changes? Comment underneath the post and we'll get some discussion going!

Hole #3
10/11/13 - Fairway bunkering is being widened and slightly shifted away from the center of the fairway.

14/11/13 - A bunker in the fairway has been filled in and a bunker further down the fairway has been created. The bunker that has been deleted found very little use... I'm sure at the time of its creation, it was built in the driving landing area. The new bunker, in the modern landing area, is 50+ yards ahead. This is a perfect example of changes in club technology rendering various aspects of courses "outdated." 

Hole #4 
The fourth hole will have the two bunkers short and right of the green filled in and replaced with two (possibly one) larger bunkers much tighter and closer to the right edge of the green.



5/11/13 - Martin Hawtree was on scene and was directing every move.


10/11/13 - After initially completing the shaping of the 4th green side area, all of the sod has been pulled back up and the ground has been reshaped.

14/11/13 - Re-sodding the area left of 4 green is now complete.

Hole #6
10/11/13 - Shaping seems to be complete and the area is being re-sodded.

Hole #9
10/11/13 - A new bunker is being added short, left of the green.
14/11/13 - A very large bunker, approximately 50-60 yards short of the green has been created.
Hole #15
14/11/13 - Reshaping of the rear are of the green is now occurring.