The Epic Golf Blog

A Few Thoughts on Florida Golf

“Golf” in Florida is not golf. It’s Swamp Hockey.

Setting aside the unconscionably boring Dove Mountain last week, the last couple of weeks on the PGA Tour have been amazing to watch. There are few things more enjoyable for the spectator than to see great courses like Pebble Beach and Riviera played so skillfully by the best players in the world.  And apparently there are few things more enjoyable for the pros than playing these courses, as evidenced by the recent Golf Digest survey of the favorite courses on Tour (Riv and Pebble came in at #3 and #4, respectively).

But watching the Honda Classic this weekend, despite a packed leaderboard filled with big names like Rory and Keegan, the tournament is devoid of any entertainment value.  Why?  The track — PGA National — is just garbage.  Complete garbage.

I don’t mean to single out PGA National, though.  Having played a fair bit of golf down there in my college years, I’d put all but about six courses in the entire state of Florida in the exact same “class.”  Every course is basically a series of overwatered bermuda alleys connected by a ribbon of concrete winding through a mosquito-infested real estate development.  Granted, the topography of the state does not lend itself to too many interesting designs.  But that’s no excuse for the lack of imagination–not to mention the profit-driven development mindset–put into most of the state’s most noteworthy layouts.

The Florida Hole Templates

There are really only four basic hole types in the entire state of Florida.  With a little help from Photoshop, I’ve sketched them out below:

   
#1 The Water-on-the-right-OB-on-the-left Hole #2 The Water-on-the-left-OB-on-the-right Hole
   
#3 The OB-on-the-left-OB-on-the-right Hole #4 The Water-on-the-right-Water-on-the-left Hole

Clearly there are exceptions to these rules, like Seminole or World Woods.  But they are extremely few and very far between.  Probably the most interesting design features on most courses are drainage and cart path positioning.

Time to give some real estate back to the gators and flamingos, I say.

To their credit, at least Finchem and the boys dropped TPC Heron Bay, which ranks as the absolute most boring–not to mention easiest–golf course I’ve ever played.  But even the supposedly “world class” courses in the PGA Tour’s “choice” rotation — PGA National, Bay Hill, Doral, and Sawgrass — all basically follow the script above.*

But the PGA of America is even more culpable than the Tour for setting such a low standard for architecture in this country, with its fine examples in Palm Beach Gardens and Port St. Lucie.  The professionals’ association in this country is helping sow the seeds of demise for the game which it was founded to promote.  How can golf be expected to grow when its most famous venues are these nadirs of creativity and natural beauty? Would the Red Sox or Cubs still draw nearly as many fans as they do now if they’d been playing in the Alameda County Coliseum or Tropicana Field since the mid-70’s instead of Fenway or Wrigley?

Would a Scot or Englishman from the late 1800’s even recognize the “sport” on NBC this afternoon as “golf”?

The bottom line is that no matter the sport, surroundings matter.  The PGA would do well to study its counterpart overseas–the English Golf Union, headquartered at Woodhall Spa–for a little inspiration.

And back to the Tour, for all I care, it may as well stage every event in the Florida swing at The Villages. I won’t be watching until Augusta anyway.

 

(*At least Sawgrass pushes the design envelope a little.)

Columbia Edgewater CC Reviewed by The Walking Golfer

Rob Rigg, aka “The Walking Golfer” and a good friend of Epic Golf, just posted a very thoughtful review of Columbia Edgewater Country Club here in Portland, with some excellent photos.

Having walked CECC at the Safeway Classic last year, I can attest to its superb conditioning.  However, I’d say that Rob doesn’t go far enough in his review in talking about how penal the course is.  I love tree-lined courses, but not when the trees border the lines of play so closely, and discourage a full-blooded whack off the tee.

The extreme tree-lined nature of CECC actually makes the course feel contemporary (appropriate, since most trees were planted in the ’60s according to Rob) and detracts from what could be an amazing vintage experience. This is presumptuous as hell, but I wonder if CECC members have considered a several-thousand-tree removal program along the lines of that implemented by Oakmont several years ago to restore the course to its full glory?

Rob is absolutely right about the 15th and 16th holes, however–trees and all, they are among the cream of the crop in terms of par fours in Portland.

Golf.com Needs to Actually Play the Courses It Recommends

As a one-time four-year resident of Oakland, I feel that I can assess the state of public golf in the Bay Area with some degree of certainty.

  • The pace of play is invariably atrocious. You’re ten times more likely to play a six-hour round than a four-hour round.
  • The conditioning of the courses is utter crap even this time of year when the weather is perfect.  Massive organizations like American Golf and CourseCo suck all the money they make from greens fees into corporate profits.
  • Harding Park is absurdly overpriced for non-San Francisco residents and nearly impossible to get out on.

Which is why I was so surprised to see Golf.com’s latest article recommending Bay Area courses.  Granted, there aren’t a lot of choices within a 30-minute drive of Berkeley.

Purists will LOVE the Mickey Mouse astroturf range at Tilden Park and the plug-and-slog condition of the course.

If Metropolitan Golf Links is “fast and firm” (while extremely bland, from a pace-of-play standpoint it’s your best public option in the immediate vicinity), conditions at East Lake last week would have to be called “rock hard and lightning fast.”

If you’re flying up from LA for the Cal game this weekend and can’t have your pro call a private club for you in advance (of which there are numerous fine options in the Bay Area), please do yourself a favor and leave your sticks at home. Save the baggage fee and the inevitable long wait at the OAK or SFO carousel.

If you insist on playing, you’ll have to drive at least 45 minutes (Roddy Ranch) or even an hour-and-a-half (San Juan Oaks) to find a decent course that won’t take an entire day to play.

(At least Golf.com got their bar recommendations right.  Jupiter, Bear’s Lair, and Henry’s are all terrific places to grab a pizza and a pint.)

Perry Dye Course Planned for Oregon Coast

Just read about a planned new resort in Curry County, Oregon–heard about it on Twitter from @westerngolf – Via Golf Vacation Insider (full story here):

Crooks Point (sic) Resort aims to be more family oriented, where golf will be but one of the main activities along with fishing, hiking, biking, boating, horseback riding, and spa-going. Another cool twist: guests will be issued golf carts upon arrival; cars won’t be permitted on the grounds.

The golf course itself will have Perry Dye’s name on it, not Pete’s, which should help keep the green fee “down” around $115, including a cart. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort guests pay $220 in high season to walk.

–Golf Vacation Insider

I wouldn’t exactly call the fact that guests are issued golf carts on entering a “cool” twist but any economic development is good for the state of Oregon right now.

While I agree that Bandon can be pricey for most Oregonians, if you’re going 36 holes the rate is actually pretty reasonable for the caliber of golf you get.  Perhaps Crook Point will encourage Kemper Sports to reinstitute the Oregonian rate year-round if they find that they’re starting to lose business to Crook.

I have to say, though, with Sandpines (a Rees Jones track) already offering deep discounts to golfers who really don’t give a hoot about their architecture just an hour away, and a solid track in Bandon Crossings that allows carts, I’m not sure this project will be economically sustainable.  Bandon is just too good and there just aren’t enough people in Southern Oregon for the number of courses.

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Epic Golf Launches

It’s been close to a Herculean effort this summer, coordinating domain name issues with Network Solutions (if any of you are considering starting a blog, please–use GoDaddy instead–you’ll thank me later), pulling together content, fixing a broken camera so I’d have some photos to launch with, and assorted other obstacles.

But the big day is finally here.  In the months and years to come, I hope to build Epic Golf into a premier destination for fans to engage in debate around golf course architecture, from theory to implementation to sheer enjoyment of the game.

I’m truly looking forward to sharing my thoughts about golf course design and hearing and responding to yours.

Thanks for reading.