Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fishers Island Club

Fishers Island is located just off the coast of Connecticut, but it is technically located in New York. The island serves as a summer getaway for the upper tier of society. It is a place of understated wealth, the “anti-Hamptons.” You do not see any overt statements of wealth on Fishers. Most of the families who spend summers on the island have been doing so for multiple generations.

Fisher Island Club Clubhouse
Fishers Island Club, or the “Big Club,” as it is colloquially known on the island, is one of the most exclusive clubs in the States. Its golf course is ranked #28 in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 in the World list. A beach club and yacht club also serve as entertainment for those fortunate enough to be members.
Unique club logo in the shape of the island
The simplest way to access the island is via ferry from New London, Connecticut. Anyone can go to Fishers Island; however, one half of the island, the side containing Fishers Island Club and Hay Harbor Club, is private.
Glimpse of the beach club from the golf course
I was fortunate enough to spend four days on the island. In addition to golfing while on the island, I participated in a sailing race with the Fishers Island Yacht Club and my host, a world champion sailor and winner of the America’s Cup. A traditional Thursday night formal dinner at the Big Club, along with parties, meals, and many introductions, created a unique insight into an exclusive enclave that many will never see.

Now for the golf: Fishers Island Club is a Seth Raynor design and was opened in 1926. Many of the holes on the course are modeled off of famous hole designs. Of all the courses I have played in the US, Fishers played most similarly to a Scottish links course. Dry conditions allowed for low running shots. I loved using the bump and run that I have spent the last three years practicing in St Andrews. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

Hole #1 - 396 yard - "Raynor's Start"
Raynor eases golfers into the course with a wide opening par 4.

Hole #2 - 172 yards - "Redan"
View from the 2nd tee
Looking back at the traditional Redan slope from behind #2 green
The second hole is Raynor's take on North Berwick's famous Redan hole. In keeping with the traditional Redan hole, the green moves left and away from the player with a large slope on the right.

Hole # 3 - 335 yards - "Plateau"

The third hole is a beautiful short par 4. The carry to the fairway is just over 200 yards, which leaves a wedge into a difficult, elevated green. It is a classic risk / reward hole. 

Hole #4 - 397 yards - "Punch Bowl" 

The 4th hole was one of my favorites on the golf course. It is a blind approach and reminded me of Prestwick Golf Club's 17th hole, the "Alps." The sheer size of the green is striking. The green truly is a bowl, and if you miss the bowl, a heavy price is to be paid. 
View from the 4th tee - the green is below the flag pole
4th green
Hole #5 - 207 yards - "Biarritz" 

 The 5th hole is an extremely strong par 3. Reaching the green can be a struggle with the hole playing over 200 yards and uphill. I had seen photos of this hole many times before visiting the course and it lived up to the photographs. The ocean and waves crash to your right as you strike the tee shot.

Looking across the 5th green
Hole #6 - 520 yards - "Olinda"

The photo above is the hilly approach to the 6th hole. The 6th hole is one of the many blind tee shots on the course. Whereas blind tee shots are a mark of weakness on modern designs, they don't detract at Fishers Island. They add to the quirk and strength of the design, harkening back to a Scottish or English links. The dry and firm condition of the course can be seen with the "burnt" look in this fairway.

Hole #7 - 363 yards - "Latimer"

This tee box is one of the most stunning on the course. The "dinging" of the lighthouse seen in the distance can be heard across the course, lulling golfers into peaceful state. An iron off the tee takes the lake on the right out of play, and an extra half club is needed to reach the raised green.

Hole #11 - 164 yards - "Eden"

This an extremely picturesque par 3. It would take an entire panorama of the scene to truly do this hole justice. The raised green is difficult to hit during the high winds typically found at the course. This is an "Eden hole," based on the famous 11th hole at the St. Andrews Old Course.

Hole #12 - 389 yards - "Winthrop"

The approach into the 12th hole is one of my favorites on the course. A severe left to right slope can be seen in the photo above and provided many options in terms of approach shot. During one of the rounds, I let my drive leak right, short siding myself to a front left pin. I was able to throw my approach into the slope, which took the ball back down towards the pin. I loved this hole and wanted to sit in the fairway all afternoon with a bucket of balls.

Hole #14 - 425 yards - "Cape"

 The 14th hole is unquestionably deserving of the number one handicap rating. Positioning in the fairway is crucial in order to have a manageable angle and length into the green. The design is a great use of the land in this area of the course. Legend has it that people have taken drives straight at this green over the water. It would take one hell of a carry. I shot my range finder across the lake. It would take a 340 yard carry to cross the water from the back tees.
Look for the green in the left side of this picture across the water
Approach into the 14th
Hole #16 - 146 yards - "Short"

This hole rounds out four very strong par 3s at Fishers Island. The large green looks easily accessible, but once the wind starts whipping, the target becomes much smaller on this short hole.

Fishers Island had some great holes, especially the stretch of 3-7 on the front nine. One aspect of the course that immediate struck me as weak however, is the par 5 18th hole, measuring 452 yards from the back tees. The hole would make a good par 4, but is instead a weak par 5. Why not drop it to par 71 and make the last hole a par 4? Apparently, during tournaments, the hole plays as a par 4 from the championship tees - thank goodness. 

The entire experience of Fishers Island was something that I will not forget. It is a special place. I am very grateful to my friends for hosting me at Fishers Island Club. I hope to go back to play more golf on the island, perhaps at Hay Harbor’s 9-hole course. My rounds at the Big Club also confirmed my interest in playing more Seth Raynor designed courses – the quest continues!

***A bit of information on the history of Fishers Island and Fishers Island Club can be found on The Itinerant Golfer's blog post on Fishers Island - Have a look here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pine Valley (July 2013)

Life has been good lately: This past weekend marked my second round of golf at Pine Valley. My first round was in September 2011, and the blog write-up can be found here. My first post focuses on the history of the course, my visit to the Short Course, and the overall experience. Have a glance at it before reading this article! You may notice it doesn’t have any pictures of the course – I didn’t bring my camera. This round I had my camera and took advantage of the beautiful day!
This is a special time to play Pine Valley. Having opened in 1913, this is Pine Valley’s centennial year. To celebrate the occasion, the club has created a centennial logo and has printed new scorecards (seen above) that are only going to be available this year. It is an historic time for the #1 course in the world.
I met my host member on the vast expanse of a range where we hit the Pro-V1 range balls in the 95-degree heat until we were adequately loose and close to heat strokes. My group then headed towards the clubhouse for a pre-round lunch. I wanted to slow down and appreciate the subtleties of the club during this visit.
Found President George W. Bush's ball from when he played last week!
I want to reiterate something mentioned to me by both my host members during rounds at Pine Valley. The club has a very relaxed ambiance. Members and club staff are friends who joke with each other and ask about family. Everything is understated, but anything a golfer could desire can be found. The exclusivity of the club would not lead one to expect a fun, relaxed, and laid back environment behind its impenetrable gate, but that is exactly what a golfer will find.
About 1/4 of the ball collection in the halfway house. Logos / autographs from the best courses and golfers in the world
Enough about the club as a whole. Onto the golf course:

 The second hole at Pine Valley (seen above) sets the tone for the round. An island fairway is surrounded by thick woods and large waste-like bunkers.
 The third hole is a downhill par 3 and has one of my favorite greens on the course. The green is massive and sloping. Depending on pin positions, the hole can be increased by nearly 35 yards with inviting pins being front left, and risk reward locations being back left. It is a genius green complex.
 The tee shot on #4 is intimidating. The line for big hitters from the member's tees is down the right hand side of the bunker.
 Standing 60 yards out from #4 green shows the large, sloping green with the edge of the clubhouse on the right.
 Hole #5 is one of the most difficult par 3s I have ever played. It is 230 yards uphill, with tough bunkers left, and steep slopes leading to deep bunkers on the right. The best miss is short in the collection area, but not too short, which ends up in an even tougher set of deep bunkers.

 The drive on #6 is across a large waste area. The fairway moves right and away from the players. Golfers can cut off as much as they dare. Word of warning: Don't go through the fairway.
 The view seen above is the carry over "Hell's Half Acre" on the number 1 handicap hole, the par 5 7th.
Uniquely, both the 8th and 9th holes at Pine Valley have two greens. Depending on how the greenskeepers choose to set up the course that day, you may be hitting into either green. There is a typical tournament choice with both sets of greens. Fortunately, during this round, it was a different set of greens from my first round, so I have now seen the whole course. Make sure to notice the minuscule size of the greens on #8 (seen above). 
Two green options on #9 with the upper left hand green being the typical tournament choice.
 The unique halfway house at Pine Valley, built in the base of an old water tower.
 To quote my host member, "The 10th is one of the two pushover holes we have on the course. The other is #12." The hole above is the 150 yard par 3 10th. The famous "Devil's Asshole" bunker is front right. It is frighteningly deep. The hole is certainly the easiest par 3 on the course, but it is only a pushover by Pine Valley standards.
 The picturesque 11th hole requires a fade for perfect placement off the tee, and a draw for an approach to the green. The hole's design demands perfection from golfers -something found on many holes at Pine Valley and a characteristic of the course that justifies its #1 in the World ranking.
 The 13th is my favorite hole on the course and one of the best par 4s that I have ever played. The tee shot requires perfect placement for the approach to the green (seen below).
 A well struck tee shot on 13 will end up at the point from where this photo was taken. An approach shot measuring around 175 yards is needed to reach the green. Do not go left. The front left pin seen in this photo is a sucker placement.
The downhill par 3 14th demands an accurate strike. Missing the green on any side will lead to a big number.
 The view from the tee box on 15 is stunning. It is a serene and peaceful area of the course. If given the opportunity, I would walk out to that tee with a book and my camera to wait for the sunset every night of the week. The 15th fairway is seen on the left and the 16th green is seen on the right.
This is the approach to the 15th green. The bunkers on the right were not there last time I played. They are new to the course and were added by Pine Valley member Tom Fazio.
 The approach to the 16th green is another view that nearly takes away your breath. Anyone, golfer or non golfer, can appreciate the beauty in this nook of the course.
This is one of the saddest views in all of golf. It is the 18th hole, and it signals that your time at Pine Valley is coming to an end. The 18th is by no means easy, but it can present a good birdie opportunity if the pin in on the right side of the green, which slopes severely from left to right.

I concluded my first blog post on Pine Valley by saying, “I don’t know how many more times I will be able to play Pine Valley. If I never play it again, my only round there will have been incredible and nearly perfect. The entire experience was something I’ll never forget and, if I ever go back, I doubt the greatness will have changed one bit.” Well, I’ve been back, and the greatness hasn’t changed one bit indeed.