Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lake Merced Golf Club

If you overlook Lake Merced Golf Club, located in San Francisco, you will do so at your own peril. I had always found the course visually compelling when I watched in host LPGA events on TV but playing it, I thought the routing was great causing intriguing shots and would definitely be my home course if I lived in San Francisco.

What I found particularly intriguing was how enjoyable it was to tee off with some blind tee shots framed by beautiful trees

and then when you get up to your ball, seeing these great approaches to the greens.

I mean, I probably just described your favorite parkland course with that general description above but believe me that when I say that Lake Merced's routing and framing of holes creates a rather magical atmosphere and makes this a truly special course.

Also, like every San Francisco course I played during my trip there, this course featured a downhill par 3, dramatically framed. This one was a doozy but so fun to play!

One of my favorite holes is the par 5 ninth that starts off with a blind-ish drive and I happened to drive it right where Lydia Ko did in the recent LPGA tournament.

I also hit three wood from that spot but unlike Lydia, I didn't quite make it to two feet from the cup. It doesn't matter because the green is so awesome and framed by the clubhouse that it is a great way to wrap up the front 9.

The back nine features several of the same types of holes that you find on the front side (a blind tee shot playing downhill on a dogleg right, a tee shot that has the ability to catch the speed slot and wind up 30 yards from the green, etc.) and while on most courses this would lead to some grousing, here it works.

That is the thing about Lake Merced, what you think might not work on scorecard, works in person. The routing is great over hill and dale. The tee shots give you something to chew on as do the approach shots. The greens are in great shape. Sure the bunkering is a little ragged and they could do with some tree trimming but the bones of the course are great and I would gladly be a member there if I could, especially if they have a late afternoon membership:

The 18th hole is emblematic of the course as a hole as it is a fun, let it all hang out par 5 hole. You just wail away on shots until you can't wait anymore. If you can get on this gem, do it!

For more info on Lake Merced check out this link:

Also do yourself a favor and check out Andrew's golf blog. This guy is a talented writer, golfer and all around good guy and well worth a bookmark:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

San Francisco Golf Club

San Francisco is a city that has an embarrassment of golf riches. Olympic has hosted several majors. TPC Harding Park has hosted multiple tour events as has Lake Merced. The eponymous golf club of San Fran is by contrast intensely private and eschews the spotlight of its neighbors but it is a world class track and I was lucky enough to play it recently.

What makes a golf course world class? I would argue it is the routing first and foremost. Does the course take advantage of what the land has to offer and create challenging and interesting holes for the golfer? Next are the conditions of the course in top shape (grass, sand, greens)? Further down the list but no less important is the history of the course and its place in the game.

SFGC has all of this in spades.

The routing of the first 9 holes of SFGC is perhaps the finest routing I have ever played. The first hole is a gentle handshake of a par 5 which gently drifts over some mounds but setting up a difficult return on the second hole which is set in an audacious valley right that sits parallel to the first hole.

From then on SFGC socks you in the mouth by going over hill and dale with fantastically framed tee shots, elevated greens, great bunkers and stellar greens. The front side culminates with perhaps the best 2 hole stretch on the planet, holes 7 and 8.

Both of these holes sit in the same valley with 7 being the famous downhill par 3 and then looking out over the expanse you can see what waits for you at hole 8. It is a tee box you want to stay on for a long time. 7 is a short but devilish hole with a crazy undulating green and significant bunker complexes. 8 is a fantastic driving hole with the banks of the hills sloping all around you leading to an elevate green.

The backside's routing doesn't hold up to the front as the course takes you over more flattish terrain although what it lacks in features, it more than makes up for with bunkers. I have never seen more and interesting bunkers then playing the back 9 of SFGC. The stars on the back are the par 3s, short but tenacious, these greens require all of your attention.

You find yourself back at the clubhouse after all too brief a round but what a way to end up! The clubhouse is a living, breathing history book showing you the connection of the course to golf history. There are amazing exhibits all over the place showing who has played the course, how the course has changed over the years, etc. Plus as  you are dining there, you can't help but feel part of golfing history.

SFGC holds onto its traditions which means no yardages, mandatory caddies eyeballing everything and no pictures of the course. The members want to preserve their place in history and in the shadows of San Francisco golf. While I feel that this course should be a little looser on how they run things and more open to the world so golfers can see its awesomeness, I respect what the members are doing there and am jealous at what a great golf course they have!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Florence Golf Links- Sandpines

In 1993 Sandpines was ranked as the best new public course constructed in the US but soon in 1999 Bandon Dunes opened and all the golf courses on Oregon's coast got lost in Bandon's shadow. However, don't you dare sleep on Sandpines when visiting Oregon, this course can still hold its own and is a must play for me when in the area.

The front 9 stays true to the "pines" part of Sandpines' name and runs it way through multiple tree-lined holes.

Well its not as bad as the above picture, most holes actually look like this:

This area of Oregon can be "breezy" to say the least and the benefit of starting your round in the trees is that you have protection from the wind while you get your game in gear.

My favorite hole on the front side reminded me of the East Coast and it was so quiet and peaceful back in the pines.

The real superstar holes of the course is when you come out of the pines and onto the windswept rolling hills of the back 9.

Rees Jones designed this course and I could feel the effects of the bulldozers but unlike other courses shaped in this way, it just works, simply put. It is fun, you get crazy bounces off the hills, the wind kicks your butt but you laugh and enjoy it. I had an absolute blast playing this course although there were some peaks of what could have been had Jones let the course more sit in nature with some dunes sitting just beyond the fairways.

All of this cumulates to the last 3 holes which circling around a lake and when coupled with wind and just the natural toughness of the course provide a heck of a finish.

I'll admit that I was in Oregon to play Bandon and went to Sandpines as a warmup for the festivities to come but I came away super impressed by the conditions, the routing and just the all out fun that I had playing this course. Next time I am in Oregon I am definitely playing here again and suggest you do as well!

For more info on Sandpines, check out this link:

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Ranking The Bandon Courses

If you have a multiples of anything (children, dogs, putters) how can you choose which ones are your favorites? There is a game constantly played by golfers of how do you rank the golf courses at Bandon? After playing all the courses at Bandon here is my shot at it.

5. Old MacDonald

The course had a few killer holes but most of the choices off the tee were too bland, the greens too unnecessarily penal and in rough, sandy shape. A nice time in Southern Oregon but many better courses await.

4. The Preserve

The short course is really that good with killer views and killer greens. This is the ultimate chill and play golf course at the Resort and bring your putter for 13!

3. Pacific Dunes

The highest ranked course at the resort but it is middle of the pack here. Its beauty is clear. The test of your skills is present on every hole. I just felt like the routing maximizes the difficulty rather than the enjoyment.

2. Bandon Trails

This is perhaps the best routed course on the property and the collection of par 3s is stunning. The course may suffer from not being wholly routed through the dunes like its sister courses but don't let that get you down, it is a notch above almost all the courses at the Resort.

1. Bandon Dunes

The course simply has it all. Ocean holes, fun inland holes, challenging holes and perhaps my favorite hole in golfdom, the par 4 4th hole. It was the first course built at Bandon but to me it is still the best course built as it gives you both challenges and fun. What more could you ask for from a course?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Bandon Dunes Resort

Everyone talks about the golf courses at Bandon Dunes. Is this one better than that one? Did you play all of them? How about that Punchbowl? Bandon Dunes is more than just the golf however and they fully live up to the "resort" part in their title.

The resort is operated for one purpose, in order to take you away from your everyday life and instill a sense of calm and serenity to your stay. You could spend hours watching the fire roar on the patio.

Heck they even have shampoo that adds to this overall sentiment.

Every building that makes up the resort incorporates natural elements in the interiors and exteriors to try and blend seamlessly into the landscape making this an all encompassing stay amongst the dunes rather than having the buildings and your rooms be divorced from the surroundings.

Speaking of the rooms, I stayed in the Lily Pond cottages, which consist of several two bedroom lodgings per complex which surround a pond (with very vocal frogs). The rooms were well appointed but the big selling point is each comes with a back deck that looks out over the pond which provides a nice way to wind down or start the day.

Each golf course has a restaurant attached to it ranging from just a stop-n-go place at Old MacDonald to much more high end fare at the Bandon Lodge. My favorite place was the restaurant at Pacific Dunes. The views are the best on the property, the food is good, the waiters are great and you can amble down the Punchbowl after all the festivities.

Let's talk about the food for a second. The food was solid (and yes I tried Grandma's Meatloaf)

but the real standouts are the fried cheese curds (utilizing cheese from a local Bandon cheesemaker) and the beef brisket sandwich both found at McKees. These are the must haves at the resort.

However smartly designed the resort is, or how good the food is, what you remember at the end of the day is the service and in this category, Bandon shines above any other place I have stayed thus far. The people working at the Resort are very friendly and very interested in helping you have the best stay possible. Everything is set up to help you enjoy and relax from shuttle services that seem to appear within an instant to calling them to everyone at the Resort seemingly tuned into what will make your stay the best and providing it.

Interactions with various staff members in golf shops, restaurants or elsewhere were great and aside from the golf, the resort itself is more than worth it to stay there. I highly recommend the Resort in Bandon Dunes Golf Resort!

For more info on Bandon, check out this link:

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Bandon Dunes

Bandon Dunes was the first course built at the resort and quite simply, it has it all. It has amazing holes along the ocean. It has great inland holes going up and down swales. Most importantly, it is fun to play and may end up being your favorite course at the resort.

The course starts off with perhaps the friendliest hole at the resort, a par 4 that is a dogleg right to accommodate the slicing golfer but also puts you on notice early that you will have to work for your par with an uphill green surrounded by gorse.

The course then gives you a par 3 and par 5 in quick succession as you start to get glimpses of the Pacific.

This stretch should have you sufficiently warmed up for my favorite hole in the entire resort, the par 4 4th hole. I am not alone in singing the praises of this hole as this plaque can attest.

You then get to the 4th tee box which presents you with a tee shot where you can't see the hole but you know it is out there somewhere in a slight dogleg right. You hit the shots come around the dunes and then see this beauty.

An infinity green complex which socks you in a mouth and then the course just keeps going with the 5th hole having the ocean on your left leading to a green surrounding by dunes.

The course then heads inland as you play toward the spires on the roofs of the Bandon lodges in what has to be a similar feel to Scotland.

The 10th hole and I get along famously. 2 rounds and 2 putts for birdie of under 5 feet.

Perhaps it was due to making a sacrifice to the golf gods in the secret stash box on this hole (where golfers have been taking and leaving golf knicknacks for some time).

The course makes it way out to the ocean again in the great par 3 12th hole

but then ducks inland again for a couple of "valley holes" (at least that is what I call them) which offer a lot of rolling hills and choices on how to attack the greens.

That is one of the biggest compliments I can give to BD is that it gives you plenty of different ways to play each hole and I could play this course over and over again to find new ways to score.

The hole most emblematic of this is the 16th, the hole most people talk about when they talk about BD.

The hole runs along the cliffside and as a short 4 entices you to try and drive the green. Or to layup left. Or to hit it up the gut short. There are plenty of options but surely your eyes will be glued on the Pacific instead of where you ball is flying.

The 17th offers its own fascinating challenge by playing downhill with a significant gulley looming and cutting in on the right.

Apparently Mike Keiser will sometimes play this hole as a par 3 as there are secret tee boxes sprinkled throughout the resort but it was more than sufficient for me as a par 4.

The 18th hole does what every good 18th hole should, take you home and the spires of the Bandon Resort village start to pop back into frame.

Our group had a rule that every time we played this hole, we had to take driver off the deck for our second shots. I went 1 for 2 in how well that worked out for me but it still a fun hole to come in on and you can walk right off the 18th green and have a beer or some food which is a great way to end the day.

Overall, this course has it all. If I had a choice to play one course only at the resort over and over again it would be this one. It is in my personal top 5 of courses ever played and hopefully you will get to play it too one day.

For more information on Bandon Dunes check out this link:

Old MacDonald

Old MacDonald at Bandon is an outlier in many ways. Out of the four and a half courses at the resort, the course mostly resides in a meadow tucked between the dunes and forest rather than going over or through them. Additionally, it is the only course that is more of a tribute to the former designer CB MacDonald than the expression of the unique imagination of a current golf architect. So what are we to make of Old Mac?

Old Mac lays out everything in front of you. You can see the fairway bunkers and the lines needed to get to the green. There are some undulations and very few blind shots like Bandon or Pacific Dunes. There aren't advantageous options to attack the holes like Trails provides. It is just you and the golf course. Can you hit a shot straight and long?

The course has one main defense, the greens. The greens have tons of false fronts and undulations.

The greens are paradoxically huge but the target areas are small because you need to hit the green with a precise shot or you are rolling off the other side. The greens also had a weird sand to grass mixture and were tough to read and putt. Most of the other greens at Bandon had a Chambers Bay-type grass mix which rolled true until getting to the hole and then the ball would do a Bandon-jack and start drifting with the grain. The greens at Old Mac were mostly slick sand that admittedly didn't fit my eye.

That being said, don't go into those fairway bunkers because those things are deadly if you find yourself in one of em.

Old Mac does have 2 holes that break the mold of the other 16 and are among the tops of the resort. The first is the famous 3rd. A blind drive over a hill with the aim point, the huge Ghost Tree that has become an icon of the resort.

The other fantastic hole winds up the hills and topping out on the aptly named Ocean hole. There are plenty of ways to attack this green and you will spend minute after minute trying all different ways to stay up on the green with these views.

One of my playing companions said that Old Mac would be the best course at any other resort but at this resort it is the bottom of the bunch. It is a backhanded compliment but a compliment nonetheless. The course doesn't impress visually but will challenge all of your skills. It is a classic Scottish course but yet it is plopped on the west coast of America, quite the feat.

For more info about Old Mac check out this link: