Wednesday, August 31, 2016

99 Holes In The Heartland- Ballyneal Golf Club

I recently went on a trip deep into the ranch-land of America playing courses in Nebraska and Colorado. This is the third in a series of blog posts about the 99 holes I played at these amazing courses. 

When I say Ballyneal resides in a remote location of Colorado. I mean REMOTE. How remote you might ask? Well this is the surrounding countryside with just a little bit of course sticking up:

This remoteness means that if you find yourself at Ballyneal, you are only there for one thing, golf. 18 holes are on offer although reports and construction at the course suggest that Tom Doak's 13 hole short course are well underway.

Once you actually get to the course, what is it like? The first impression that springs to mind is the amount of blind shots there are on the course. Tee boxes have blind shots, second shots have blind shots, blind, blind, blind!

(where's the fairway?)

That's why on this course its critical to put your drive in the right position. Many other courses allow for some wayward shots off the tee but Ballyneal puts a premium on having your first shot set up the rest of your shots.

The fairways are no bargain either. I haven't seen so much slope on fairways in a long time.

(they are going to have to start selling lift tickets to play these fairways)

Doak also uses the fescue to strategically weave in and out of the fairways which can create narrow choke points and causing more than a few balls to be lost!

Assuming you have navigated your way to the green, the really fun aspect of Ballyneal takes hold, the greens. Not so much the putting surfaces themselves but the whole green "complexes" that offer you a variety of shots. If I was lucky enough to become a member of a private club that only has a limited number of holes, I would want those holes to offer as much variety and challenge as possible. If you are only going to eat one sandwich, you would want that sandwich to be as tasty as possible.

Case and point, let's take a look at this green:

You could hit your shot short and have it roll up the flat part of the green to the hole. You could hit your shot to the right of the pin and long and then have it roll up and back to the pin due to the backstop. If you were aiming left, you could have it roll down the hill. There are a variety of ways to get the ball on the green and many holes at Ballyneal are like this.

A few random observations about Ballyneal:

1) Its a walking course, which I loved. I played 36 and for the last 18 went out by myself. Walking around, I felt I had the whole course to myself as I hiked up and down the hills. As it is a walking course, the walking pathways are fantastic and while I got confused a couple of times on where to go between holes (the members would know where to go, the guests have a bit of guesswork to do) the walk sure was purty:

2) The bunkers were outrageous. They are bunkers in name only as they really just seem to to be sand volcanoes springing up out of the landscape rather than being placed there and lord help you if you find yourself in one of them.

3) The staff is all super friendly including head pro Dave Hensley. If you make it down the many dirt roads and score an invite to the club, you will be well taken care of. They have a great group of caddies and everyone at the club make you feel very welcomed.

The only negative about my experience at Ballyneal was sadly the condition of the greens. I played the course in mid-August and the greens were very baked out. Apparently that part of Colorado experienced a full week of 100+ degree weather recently which did a lot of damage. Greenskeepers are often invisible but crucial to a course and at the top courses they have their hands full in keeping the course in premo shape but not having it die on them. Its often a thankless job and I thank Lance Lauer and the rest of the crew for keeping the course as well maintained as it was despite the conditions.

The baking PLUS the greens being punched when I was there put a damper on things. I can't blame them, the course needed to be tended to and with their busy season being the Fall, I hit it at the wrong time. Still, I can see the greatness in this course and am saddened that I couldn't play it at its full potential. It reminded me of playing TPC Stadium, amazing undulations and fun to get to the hole but once there, well, you walk away wondering what could have been.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Ballyneal. It is a real thinking golfer's course, you need to be constantly thinking about your tee shot, you approach shots, how to play the greens. I can't remember the last course that kept me as engaged as BN did. It truly is a Scottish links course with blind shots, fescue and many opportunities to bump and run your shots and if you ever find yourself invited to play you should go!

More information on Ballyneal can be found here:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

99 Holes In The Heartland- Wild Horse Golf Club

I recently went on a trip deep into the ranch-land of America playing courses in Nebraska and Colorado. This is the second in a series of blog posts about the 99 holes I played at these amazing courses. 

Wild Horse is a very young course with a very old soul. The course sits on the leading edge of the famous sand hills region of Nebraska which has recently become a golf mecca between the creation of the lauded Sand Hills Golf Club, Dismal River and The Prairie Club. In fact, Wild Horse is often called the public version of Sand Hills Golf Club and while it sorta is, it also stands on its own as a fine golf course.

The course is set amongst the swales of the prairie land, often with blind shots or obscured second shots (making the first time playing the course somewhat difficult but setting up fun replays in the future). While not super hilly, the course architects did an impressive job separating each hole so you feel removed from the other golfers playing and mostly alone on the prairie (save for the occasional snake!).

The only design flaw in the routing occurs between holes two and three which have a siamese twin joining of fairways linked by a pot bunker and if the groups are going out in 10 minute spacing, you are going to be seeing people play in differing fairways and hitting shots over each other.

Other than this kink, the course mostly comes at you in a high golf gear making for an enjoyable round.

The clubhouse is usually in sight and can offer good aiming targets for the golfer. Also, I thought the positioning of the bunkers were excellent. Just look at that little guy in the picture above, just waiting to gobble up a mishit ball. Also look at this one below:

with an incredibly severe lip.

The backside has a lot more elevation gains and losses

(its uphill, trust me)

and incorporates a design element I noticed over and over again in the sand hills, elevated par 3's. I'm not quite sure who designed these par 3's but it is a common theme running throughout the sand hills.

The course is also charmingly rustic and I loved the tee markers and fairway yardages!

The greens were some of the best I played during my trip to the heartland which is saying something given the other courses in the area I checked out. Hard and fast with true rolls, a golfers delight (or torment!). The conditioning is fantastic and while the swale grass creeps a little too close to the fairway, there is enough margin for error that you can get around the course without losing too many golf balls.

I was expecting to be impressed by Wild Horse and I was! It is well worth the money for greens fees and if you can't get on the private tracks in Nebraska you can play this one along and come away impressed with Nebraska golf.

For more information about Wild Horse, check them out here:

EXTRA Bonus: Wild Horse has recently built cabins that offer stay and play deals. The interior of the cabins were great and I was stoked to be staying in the Hogan cabin. If you make it all the way to Gothenburg, do yourself a favor and stay here!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

99 Holes In The Heartland- Chappell Golf Club

I recently went on a trip deep into the ranch-land of America playing courses in Nebraska and Colorado. This is the first in a series of blog posts about the 99 holes I played at these amazing courses. 

Its tempting when you are driving on Interstate 80 in Nebraska to zone out while looking at the rolling hills and cattle ranches. You pass many small towns along the way and it would be a mistake to pass them all by, especially when they have a charming little 9 hole parkland course like the Chappell GC.

The course starts out with an easy breezy dogleg right and then you are off! The conditioning of this course was surprisingly good. The fairways were lush 

and greens receptive to shots. The course is all laid out in front of you, there aren't a tremendous amount of surprises just a nice solid Nebraska course. There is one unusual thing though, a greenside water bunker.

Yes you are seeing that right, it was a bunker at some point now has morphed into a pond right by the green with red AND yellow stakes. If you hit your ball in there, lord help you is all that I can. 

Chappell also gets multiple bonus points for having a crazy amount of sprinkler heads with yardages on them.

It seems that a lot of courses have gotten away from yardages on sprinkler heads for whatever reason. Maybe its due to the rise of laser scopes. Maybe some courses ascribe to the theory that you have to work out the yardages on your own without sprinklers. Whatever the reason, I have been noticing them less and less but Chappell corrects the trends almost all by itself!

I don't want to oversell the course, it isn't the longest, the toughest or the most picturesque but it offers a mellow round of golf that will put you back in touch with why you love golf in the first place. If you are traveling on Interstate 80, definitely stop in!

(Big Sky Country!)

For more information on CGC, check it out here:

EXTRA Bonus: If you are in the area, check out Lucy's Place. Try the locally sourced Buffalo Burgers at a true local institution and even say hi to Lucy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Maderas Golf Club Review

There are plenty of nationally ranked golf courses in Southern California but the problem is that almost all of them are private. Thankfully publications like Golf Digest have compiled rankings of top courses you CAN play and one course consistently in the US top 100 (which is saying something because there are over 15,000 courses in the US) is Maderas Golf Club located in San Diego.

The terrain surrounding the golf course is hilly and Johnny Miller, who designed the course, utilized every aspect of those hills. Often times balls would bounce off hillsides into the fairways or hills would filter balls onto cart paths or other low lying areas. Basically you have play Maderas like you are playing pool, you have to play the angles.

While Johnny clearly used what Mother Nature was giving him, he also bulldozed the heck out of the fairways, many of which have the ribboning that you see above. While I am not usually a fan of bulldozer courses, the hand of man goes with the hand of nature here and the swales fit pretty well into the course. The downside is that there aren't many level lies to behold

The thing that is different about this course is that while it has typical yardages (the blues play from 6,660, the Maderas tees 6,800 and the course can be stretched out even further), the tee shots are often constricted by trees, the hills or water so often me and my playing companions were using 3 woods and hybrids off the tees rather than drivers. The course isn't tight per se but expect to use driver a lot less here.

Maderas also gets triple bonus points for having no par 3's with water. See that hole above? No Water! This is such a rarity for SoCal golf and I was overjoyed that Johnny didn't follow the crowd. Water only comes into play on 8 and 9 and a few other holes and it was great to play a course that has its own unique character.

There aren't many downsides to Maderas. The fairways are a bit spongy rather than the expected hardpan for this time of year and the greens were unexpectedly slow (cut long probably so they don't die in the heat) but these are minor quibbles. Its an expensive track to pay but there are deals to be had and if you get one, you really should check it out.  Troon, which manages the course, runs a first rate course, the golf shop is stocked with great gear and friendly staff and the pace of play does come to less than 4 hours a round, which is much appreciated.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day at Maderas. The design of the course was interesting and engaging, the conditioning was great and there was a relaxed vibe at the club which should put you in a good mood, a rarity for golf courses.

For more info on Maderas check it out here:

Friday, August 5, 2016

New GolfChat Article

Every once in awhile I post an article as part of #GolfChat and this time around I have some ramblings about the Olympics. Come check out the snark here!