Thursday, April 24, 2014

St Andrews New Course

The St Andrews New Course holds a special place in my golfing heart. It was where I played my first round in St Andrews, and I cut my links golf teeth over its slopes and bunkers. A typically fast pace of play, first-come, first-served tee time system, and very enjoyable course design have made the New a favorite of many local golfers. If the New Course was located elsewhere along the Scottish coast, it would undoubtedly be ranked highly in its own right. Instead, the course lives beneath the Old Course shadow, and many golfers don't give the New the credit it deserves. 

The New Course was commissioned by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to be built by Old Tom Morris in 1895. Through the payment for the New Course, the R&A secured allocated Old Course tee times, which are still in effect to this day. The New acted as a second golf offering in the small town, alleviating crowding on the Old Course. Old Tom laid out the course in a traditional "out and back" links routing, which takes advantage of the natural terrain of the land. 

The New Course lacks a certain "wow" factor that is found on other seaside links, but it offers a very solid links design that tests all aspects of the game. The New Course has smaller and more defined fairways than the Old Course. The bunkers are fewer and shallower than those found on its older brother, but they still offer a great challenge. Many of the University of St Andrews Golf Team matches are played over the New Course. It would be a real disappointment to visit St Andrews and not play the New. 
Click on any photos to enlarge
I find myself drawing comparisons to the Old Course, but I encourage visiting golfers to play the New Course, and try to view the course outside of the setting provided by the other six St Andrews courses. If you have played the New Course on a golf trip to St Andrews before, leave a comment with your thoughts below this post!

Hole #1 - 336 yards
The opening two holes of the New Course are very similar. After straightforward tee shots, large flat greens are guarded by single bunkers on the front right. A smaller bunker also guards the back left of the first green.

Hole #3 - 511 yards
The par 5 3rd hole is a dogleg left, with a number of large bunkers down the left hand side. During the summer months, the right hand rough is very thick, and an accurate drive is crucial.
The green is slightly raised, and the back falls off into thick grass before running into gorse. No bunkers guard this green, although it is by no means easy when the rough is in summer thickness.

Hole #4 - 369 yards
The 4th hole is another dogleg left, requiring a 3-wood or long iron off the tee for accuracy. The photo above, taken at the bend of the dogleg, shows the approach from 150 yards.
The green complex on the 4th is particularly interesting, with three bunkers guarding the front left. The putting surface itself slopes from front to back, and balls landing well onto the green commonly run over into the gorse behind. The best play is to land short and run the ball down the slope.

Hole #5 - 180 yards
The par 3 5th is a particularly challenging hole with a slightly raised green that slopes from front to back. Two deep bunkers guard either side of the green and a unique bowl is carved out of the center, creating a horseshoe shape. The hole was once framed nicely by gorse behind the green, but in the last two years, the gorse has been removed and sand has been moved in to create an artificial dune. The mounding looks very unnatural, and is clearly man-made to separate the New and Old courses.

Hole #6 - 445 yards
The 6th hole is considered by many to be one of the hardest in all of St Andrews. The tee shot is particularly tough, with gorse down the left side of the hole, and a mixture of thick grass, heather, and gorse roots down the right.
The long approach shot is no easier than the tee shot, with a large swale in front of the heavily sloping raised green. Accuracy is a must, as up and downs are rare around this green.

Hole #8 - 481 yards
The 8th is another dogleg left par 5. A set of cross bunkers, seen in the photo above, guard drives over 280 yards. The approach to the green must be threaded in between a set of spectacle bunkers, which sit on dunes either side of the green entrance. This is one of the approach shots that you will remember long after your round.

Hole #9 - 225 yards
The 9th is one of the most picturesque holes on the course. The long par 3 is bordered by OB and the Eden estuary on one side, and thick grass on the other. The green is sunk and shaped like a bowl. A running shot that merely trickles onto the green is the best play on this tough one shotter.

Hole #10 - 464 yards
The 10th hole is one of the best on the course. The blind tee shot is challenging, and a long approach to a great bunker-less green creates a memorable hole. The 10th has been listed for years among the 500 best holes in the UK, and Bernard Darwin gave it a special mention in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles.

Hole #13 - 157 yards
The 13th is another great one shot hole on the New Course. The raised green is guarded by three bunkers and it slopes heavily back to front. Club choice is vital, as anything short will roll back twenty yards short of the green.

Hole #15 - 394 yards
The green on the par 4 15th is offset to the right of the fairway. After a straightforward tee shot, approach shots are more challenging. Large slopes, odd angles, and bunkers all guard the green. Aim right of the pin, and focus on distance control on the 15th.

Hole #16 - 431
The 16th fairway has some of the most undulation that you will find in St Andrews. The slopes aren't massive, but they affect stance on nearly every shot. During summer, thick rough borders both sides of this fairway.

Hole #17 - 229 yards
The 17th is the final of four great par 3 holes on the New Course. A bunker in line with the center of the green, but well short, provides visual intimidation, and appears to be blocking any running shots from the tee. A bunker on the right is not very deep, and is a decent place to miss a tee shot. The photo above was taken 180 yards from the green.

Hole #18 - 408 yards
The 18th hole requires a straight drive and solid approach shot. The Links Clubhouse frames the left side of the green, and a deep bunker guards front right. Beware of OB directly over the back of the green, which comes into play during firm playing conditions in the summer months.

The St Andrews New Course does not get the credit it deserves. I hope that this post has encouraged you to play the New on any future visits to St Andrews. The round will test every facet of your game, and if you score well on the New, you'll be able to take on any of the other six links.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tour Edge Exotics CB4 Tour Driver Review

This equipment review was written by my friend Andrew Rehfeld, who continues to share his large amount of equipment knowledge for the site. 

Some may call me an equipment purist, a player's club enthusiast, or even a snob. For whatever reason, I am always drawn to low handicap player's clubs, possibly even to a fault. I have played forged irons ever since I was able. The difficulty in recent years has been finding woods to complement my player's irons (check out my Miura review here). I think I have found the "Holy Grail" for the woods purist – the Tour Edge Exotics CB4 Tour.

I have played the CB4 15º fairway wood for a little over two years now. Now that I have been playing its driver counterpart for a few weeks, I only wish I would have bought it sooner.

I ordered the driver at 10º with no intention of keeping the stock shaft. I removed the Oban Revenge 55g 04 flex shaft from my old driver, and installed it in the CB4 Tour. The "04" flex ranges somewhere between a stiff and x-stiff shaft. The length is 44.5” and the swing weight is D-2. Due to the shaft being cut down and its light weight, I had to add lead tape to bring it up to D-2 (which can be seen covered in electrical tape). 

First Impression
"Clean" is the best way to describe how this driver looks. From address, there are no alignment aid markings and the crown is a beautiful deep black. The face is very deep, and has a squared off shape. The toe and heel are close to the ground instead of sweeping up in a “V” shape, which I like. The scorelines across the entire face are fairly rare to see on a modern driver, but I think they are aesthetically pleasing. The sole also looks good, but I think it could be even simpler.

Be warned – this driver is not for those who need help getting the ball in the air. This driver launches the ball low, and the spin is nearly nonexistent. With this shaft and head combination, it must be one of the lowest launching and spinning drivers available. I definitely couldn’t play a lower loft. That being said, I find the ball flight to be perfect. With my shaft combination, the ball pops up a little at impact, before flattening and typically running out in the fairway. For a higher swing speed player, this club is great. I was skeptical of the scorelines on the face adding spin, but with the low spin rate of the club, they are probably for the best. The club is not forgiving, and the sweet spot is small. Yet, however bad the body-jarring mishits feel, they often turn out well. Confused? Me, too.

In terms of distance, this thing is long. Tour Edge fairway woods are notoriously long and popular on tour, so it puzzles me that their drivers aren't as popular. I picked up ten yards from my previous driver, which is likely the result of much less spin. If you can launch it high enough, the ball will go for a mile.

Part of the reason I wanted this club was for the 2º open face angle. Yes, there are countless modern drivers that allow players to adjust the face angle, but none that looked as promising as the CB4 Tour. With this setup, the club eliminates the left side of the course. Even as a drawer of the golf ball, I find it hard to turn the ball over at times. For me, this is perfect. I feel as if I swing as hard as I want, without fear of a snap hook. For others, this might not be as attractive.

One thing that stands out about this driver is the sound. I find that many modern drivers make an obnoxious noise at impact; this driver does not. The sound is quieter and duller than most. It definitely doesn’t sound like an iron, but it does complement the sound of a forged iron. This is especially true with the addition of lead tape, which has made it even quieter. To me, it sounds like an older, steel fairway wood. It makes contact really satisfying. For many players, sound off the face equates to feel. Because the sound is so subtle and solid, the feel of the club is great. 

Pros – Look, Feel, Distance, Workability
Cons – Forgiveness

This is a great “player’s” club. However, there is a definite lack of forgiveness. Don’t buy the CB4 Tour if you are looking for a club that is easy to hit. If you have the swing speed and ability to play the club as it is intended, the reward is awesome.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Renaissance Club (Part 2)

This short post on Renaissance Club is a follow up post to accompany my full review of the course, which can be found here.

When I first visited Renaissance Club in April of 2012, the clubhouse was still under construction and three new seaside holes were being shaped out of the rolling East Lothian dunes. As you can tell from my full review, I greatly enjoyed the course, but it was not complete. My host for the day prefaced most sentences with, "When everything is finished up..."

My opportunity to revisit the exclusive private club came nearly two years later to the day, and every promise of "just wait till _____ is completed" during my first visit has certainly come true. The attention to detail and the service at the club are excellent. Everything was first-class, from having guests' names printed on labels in the beautiful locker room to a member of staff bringing us delicious hot snacks at the turn.
The clubhouse in April, 2012
Outside of the great Tom Doak designed golf course, the clubhouse at Renaissance Club is the most impressive feature of the club. The building is massive, with a full gym, five-star rooms to spend the night, and one of the better furnished locker rooms that I have visited (see hot tub below). The food was excellent during my visit and the service was impeccable.
The clubhouse in April, 2014
Renaissance Club does not feel like other clubs in Scotland. It is built off the American model of golf club, with a high initiation fee, highly private membership, and incredible facilities. The club is closer to Loch Lomond Golf Club than to any of its East Lothian neighbors. An American, Jerry Sarvadi, headed up the development of Renaissance Club, leasing the land from the Duke of Hamilton on property from the Archerfield Estate. The land for the course lies in a "green belt" conservation area of the coast, and special permission had to be granted for the golf course. The result is a great Doak design set within naturally beautiful Scottish dunes.
Full hot tub in the men's locker room
My camera lens broke a number of days prior to my round at Renaissance Club, so the limited photos that you see below were taken in a misty rain with my phone. I will do my best to describe the three new holes, numbers 9, 10, and 11 in the round. Brilliant photos can be found on the club website, found here.
The 9th hole at Renaissance Club
During my first visit to the club, there were no true seaside holes on the golf course. It was a feature that the owners felt was holding the course back from a higher ranking and the possibility to host the Scottish Open. Tom Doak was brought back in to design three new holes after additional land was acquired for the expansion.
Click on photo to enlarge
Two of the three new holes are par 3s. The 9th hole measures 190+ yards into a beautiful infinity green, while the 11th hole is a downhill 135+ yard par 3 with a great view. Depending on the wind, one of the holes plays into wind, while the other plays downwind. Depending on your luck that day, the one shot holes can be particularly challenging.
Locker labels mark all guest lockers
The 10th hole is the most impressive of the new three. The hole curls along cliffs bordering the Firth of Forth. Massive waves crashing on the beach to the left of the hole provide a nice backdrop for play. The dogleg left design has a great risk/reward aspect. Golfers can cut off as much cliff as they dare to shorten their approach to the green. The fairway runs along a hillside, and those golfers trying to play the tee shot too safe will find their ball stuck on the hill in thick grass.

I hope to be able to play Renaissance Club again on a bright, sunny day with my camera. The round was very enjoyable, and my 73 won me a few pounds from my playing partners. If given the chance to play golf in Scotland, make sure to play the great traditional links courses. However, tacking on a round at a modern course like Renaissance Club isn't half bad!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Miura Giken MB-5003 Irons Review

This equipment review was written by my friend Andrew Rehfeld, who continues to share his large amount of equipment knowledge for the site. 

Update: A Miura Giken 2-iron has now been added to the set - photos at the bottom of the post!

Part of the mystique that accompanies the brand is that every set must be custom ordered. There are no stores that sell Miura irons "off the rack." Typically, purchases must be made through an elite custom fitter, where the set and custom fitting typically run well over $2,000. Fortunately, I was able to circumvent this process by ordering a custom set directly from Japan. For those who don’t know, Miura is branded as “Miura Giken” in Japan. Apart from aesthetic branding, the clubs, and company, are exactly the same. 

Iron Specs
I ordered my set as 4-PW with the addition of a gap wedge, labeled “P/S” by Miura, which apparently stands for pitching/sand. I was looking for a lighter shaft than the KBS C-Tapers I had been playing the past two and a half years, so I went with the Nippon NS Pro 950GH in “X” flex. I completed the clubs with ribbed Golf Pride Tour Wrap 2G grips in .600 size, which is not available in the US.  Based on a previous club fitting, I ordered the clubs to be ¼ inch short and two degrees flat.

First Impressions – Looks           
I was immediately impressed with the look of this set. From the time I discovered that irons could have a finish other than chrome, I have had my eyes fixed on a satin finish, and these look beautiful. The quality of the irons was immediately clear without a single blemish or manufacturer's mistake to be found. I compare the experience to the first time I tried a Scotty Cameron putter. The product isn’t revolutionary, but the craftsmanship and superiority are evident.

The shape of the Mirua irons is what initially drew me to the clubs. Having played nearly every set of Mizuno blades in the last decade, I have become disappointed with the progressively rounder head shape in the MP series. It is hard to find pictures of the Miura Giken MB-5003 irons online, and I had never seen them in person, so the blind purchase was a bit of a gamble. It was worth the risk and these irons look great.

Any offset is almost nonexistent. It is certainly less than any set of Mizuno, Titleist, Bridgestone, or Taylormade blade irons that I’ve played in the past. The Miuras also have a less rounded overall appearance. The beautiful aspect of the shape is the topline. It is an extremely thin topline and is perfectly round. These clubs look great at address. The sole is also exactly how I would design a club - narrow and relatively flat.

One of the only downsides to these irons is the square leading edge in the wedges. This is ironic after my complaints about round Mizunos, but I would prefer the Miura P/S to look more like true a wedge and less like an iron. Another minor complaint is the stamping on the back of the clubs. It is a purely aesthetic issue, but the crowded and plentiful markings are undoubtedly a turn off for some consumers. They are perfect otherwise.

Now for the important stuff: Due to never having played Nippon shafts before, it’s difficult to objectively describe the feel of the heads. In the past I’ve had Dynamic Gold shafts in all of my Mizunos, Project X shafts in my Titleists and Bridgestones, and C-Taper shafts in my TaylorMades. The Nippons are certainly different from any of these, and I will update this section as I play the clubs more throughout the season. What I like about the feel with these shafts is the “spring” I get at impact. I’ve heard about Nippons having a “kick,” but I find it to be more like a “spring,” quick and short. If the C-Tapers are like Jell-O, then the NS PRO is like a rubber bouncy ball. They have a very responsive feel.

I’ve heard many people describe Miuras as having a “soft, yet solid” feel. Reviewers have said that they aren’t quite as soft as Mizuno’s forged irons. Many say that Miura irons have a feel completely of their own. To be honest, I was very skeptical of this “soft, yet solid” jargon. I figured it was a bunch of mid-handicappers with deep pockets just repeating what they had heard from their fitting rep. Well, unfortunately for my ego, they were right.

The truth is that these clubs are not as soft as Mizunos. I haven’t come across anything that truly “melts” the ball like a Mizuno blade. These Miuras are different. They are nothing like any other set I’ve played. I would completely agree with the “soft, yet solid” assessment. In order to know if the “different” feel is for you, it is something you must try. With feel being so subjective, I cannot say that Miura irons are definitively the best, but I will say that they are my favorite.  Is it worth the price tag? That one is up to you.

Some critics have commented about the flat, narrow soles negatively affecting those with “digger” swings. I personally sweep the ball, so I prefer the thin soles. However, even with my “sweeper” swing, I know that soft conditions will be difficult with these irons. Factor this into your decision carefully if you are a bit steep with your irons.

In terms of ball flight, I have to mention the shafts. The launch is very similar to the low trajectory I had with my Taylormade TP MB irons and C-Taper shafts. These certainly should be higher, but they honestly didn’t seem to be. The ball is also definitely been spinning more. I think the lack of difference in launch, and the higher spin rate, probably have to do with these irons shafts being quite stiff.

*A new Miura Giken 2-iron has been added to the set:
The "CB" series of Miura Giken irons offers a small cavity

Concluding Remarks
I love the feel and performance of this set. I am glad I went with the lighter shafts, and the shape of the heads is perfect for my preference. As you may be able to tell, I have an issue going through sets of clubs too quickly, but I think these will stay around for quite a while.

Pros: Shape (topline & sole), Feel (soft, yet solid), Look (that satin is beautiful!), Demand (can’t get these in the US), Performance (right on the money).
Cons: Price $$$, Stampings (too crowded), Shape of wedges is too square, Some people might have a digging problem with the sole.

Note: These Japanese Miuras are identical in size to the US Tournament Blade. However, they clearly have a different muscle shape that is more similar to the new MB-001. From what I have read, the performance is most similar to the Tournament