Category: Donald Ross

August 06, 2013

Oak Hill Country Club's twisted design legacy

Posted at 11:21 AM by

By JOE PASSOV, Golf Magazine Senior Editor

Jim Nantz closed last week's broadcast by gushing about returning to Oak Hill, the Donald Ross masterpiece, but I'm not sure Ross would recognize the place.

Undeniably, Oak Hill's East course, site of this week's PGA Championship, oozes classic design features, a stern challenge and an admirable tournament history. Cary Middlecoff never broke the par of 70 in winning the 1956 U.S. Open. When Jack Nicklaus won the PGA Championship here in 1980, he was the only player to finish at par or better. Even when Lee Trevino beat 70 in all four rounds in winning the 1968 U.S. Open, only he and Nicklaus finished at par or better for the event. We know Oak Hill East is great. Golf Magazine panelists just ranked it 32nd in the United States and 60th in the World. Yet, in many respects, this isn't quite the course Ross built. The question is, Does that matter?

Ross crafted Oak Hill in 1924 over mostly treeless terrain. A "beautification" project was begat by Dr. John Williams, an amateur tree specialist, who collected acorns from all over the world, then planted them at Oak Hill. Within 25 years, 75,000 trees had grown and were on full display at the club's first national event, the 1949 U.S. Amateur. The results were handsome, yes, but dense tree framing also equals less strategy.

In 1955, ahead of the U.S. Open the following year, "Open Doctor" Robert Trent Jones Sr. operated on Oak Hill, establishing new back tees and adding and subtracting bunkers. Ross' "masterpiece" was tampered with in the name of tournament toughness, a theme that would recur with annoying regularity over the years.

Still, it was the major surgery undertaken by George and Tom Fazio in 1976 that alienated pros and critics alike. They eliminated the well-regarded 5th and 6th holes to help with gallery flow. Bunker styles changed, as did green contours. The Fazios also created a new green at the par-3 15th, with an attractive pond positioned front-right. Later, a stone wall was built to edge the lake. The good news? The 15th is now a more beautiful hole. The bad news? It doesn't resemble a Donald Ross original.

Were the changes a good thing? Raymond Floyd wasn't a fan. At the 1980 PGA, he said, "If I owned a Rembrandt, I don't think I'd go slapping on some reds and yellows just because it was kind of dull."

Can modifications that make a course more challenging and more beautiful be considered "improvements" if they mess with a masterpiece? Not in my book. If you start with a strong design by an acknowledged Hall-of-Fame architect on naturally varied terrain, I would restore, restore, restore.

What bugs me most, however, is the use of gnarly, ligament-snapping rough to narrow fairways at the great courses in order to protect par. We saw it at Merion and saw it at Oak Hill for the 2003 PGA. Not even Shaun Micheel's astounding 7-iron at the 72nd in '03 could make me forget how boring the final round was. By narrowing fairways to 25 yards with dense rough, you eliminate the designer's intended strategies. A proper side of the fairway and a better angle into the green? Fuggettaboutit. Just hit it straight and then find the green. If you miss the fairway, you chop it out 100 yards and hope for a one-putt par. To some, this is the essence of major championship golf. For me, all I can say is wake me when the leaders get to the 72nd tee.

Don't worry about old Donald Ross, however. To experience a relevant, strategic, brilliantly restored Ross test, we only have to wait 10 months. The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 awaits. I'll be awake early for that one.

Photo: 18th green at Oak Hill East (Montana Pritchard/Getty Images)

June 20, 2013

The 19 Best 19th Holes in Golf

Posted at 2:49 PM by

1. Arcadia Bluffs (Sunset Grill), Arcadia, Mich.:

A world-class links course deserves a world-class 19th hole, the aptly named Sunset Grill, high above Lake Michigan, where good things come to those who wait. In the summer the sun doesn’t go down until almost 10, and the view is heaven on earth.

2. The Country Club at Castle Pines (Panorama Bar), Castle Rock, Colo.:

Scenic views of Pikes Peak and a cozy mountain atmosphere serve as a reminder that the PGA Tour committed a flagrant party foul by dropping the quirky but beloved International tournament in 2007.

3. Doonbeg (Darby’s Bar), County Clare, Ireland:


Great fireside atmosphere and views of the seaside par-5 1st hole join a backdrop of enormous, shaggy sand hills. With the warmth of Ireland and a touch of New England charm, Darby’s has all the modern conveniences, including a huge flatscreen TV behind the bar.

4. Dunvegan Hotel and Lounge Bar, St. Andrews, Scotland:


It’s not affiliated with the Old Course, but it’s only 112 yards from the 18th green, and this quaint retreat offers just the post-round vibe you crave after dueling with the ancient links. Open lore abounds at what Sam Torrance has called “the perfect 19th hole.”

5. Edgewood Tahoe (Brooks’ Bar and Deck), Stateline, Nev.:


Indulge in the signature mojito and take in the sumptuous mountain and lake views. Sweeping, vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows, plus flatscreen TVs, make this a mash-up of a Frank Gehry building and sports bar.

6. Fallen Oak Golf Club (Fallen Oak Bar), Biloxi, Miss.:

Exclusive to guests of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Fallen Oak is a low-key, Old South treat. A sunken bar peers out at the 18th hole, a lake and the eponymous Fallen Oak. Beer from the state’s only microbrewery is on the menu.

7. Granite Links Golf Club (Tavern at Quarry Hills), Quincy, Mass.:

Floor-to-ceiling windows give the bar its expansive views of the Boston skyline, and the busy kitchen serves award-winning food. Look for golf-loving local sports heroes such as retired Boston Bruin Ray Bourque.

8. Grayhawk Golf Club (Phil’s Grill), Scottsdale, Ariz.:


A roaring fire, leather couches and a cool hardwood bar are among the touches that give the place character. Phil Mickelson is the club’s Tour ambassador, and among the Phil artifacts on display is the persimmon driver he swung in his junior days.

9. Half Moon Bay Golf Links (Ocean Terrace), Half Moon Bay, Calif.:

Whether you play the Ocean course or the Old, cap your experience next door at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, a cliff-top retreat 25 miles south of San Francisco. Cocktails around the fire pit as the sun sets over the Pacific will cure whatever’s ailing you.

10. The Inn at Spanish Bay (Sticks), Pebble Beach, Calif.:


Picture windows and an outdoor area overlook the 1st fairway and the Pacific Ocean at Sticks, where you can get a cold one and then stick around for dinner.

11. Pasatiempo (The Tap Room), Santa Cruz, Calif.:

Located inside the historic Hollins House restaurant, the Tap Room is lined with classic, 1930s- and ’40s-era photos of PGA Tour and Hollywood stars. Gaze out at the sailboats in Monterey Bay as you ponder the genius of course designers Alister MacKenzie and Marion Hollins.

12. Pebble Beach Golf Links (The Tap Room), Pebble Beach, Calif.:


Peruse memorabilia from past Bing Crosby Pro-Ams and U.S. Opens, keep your eyes peeled for Clint Eastwood and other celebs sipping from the bar’s deep reserves of spirits, and close your eyes and imagine the late, great Jack Lemmon making the Crosby cut.

13. Pelican Hill Golf Club (Pelican Grill), Newport Beach, Calif.:

The place is bound to impress with its extensive, by-the-glass wine menu, two nine-foot plasma TVs and a heated outdoor terrace that overlooks the Pacific.

14. Pine Crest Inn, Pinehurst, N.C.:


The 19th hole of choice for nearly 40 area courses, the Pine Crest Inn is a shrine to former owner Donald Ross, whose image is everywhere in paintings and photos. The famed “chipping hole” in front of the fireplace gets busy at cocktail hour.

15. Pinehurst Resort (Ryder Cup Lounge), Pinehurst, N.C.:

Behold the signature cocktails, crab cake sliders and cool golf memorabilia at this 19th hole, which will be hoppin’ when Pinehurst No. 2 hosts the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open on back-to-back weeks in 2014.

16. Princeville Resort (The Tavern at Princeville), North Shore, Kauai, Hawaii:

The bar and restaurant by Roy Yamaguchi offers local food and drink in a casual setting that overlooks the 18th hole, the Sea Cliffs and Hanalei Bay.

17. St. Andrews (The Road Hole Bar), St. Andrews, Scotland:

Enjoy a Scotch and have your picture taken at the Home of Golf, all while looking out at the tourists and dog-walkers traipsing along some of the game’s most iconic architecture. You’ll be drinking in the footsteps of many an Open champion.

18. Trump National Golf Club (Golfer’s Lounge), Los Angeles:


With big, leather chairs, flatscreen TVs and great views of this stunning, oceanside course, what’s not to like?

19. Whisper Rock Golf Club (The Hang), Scottsdale, Ariz.:

With PGA Tour players congregating at almost every table and a sublime chocolate-banana milkshake, it’s clear why so many want to hang at the Hang. Be sure to check out the Masters flag signed by Lower course designer Phil Mickelson.

--By Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine

Photos: Darby's courtesy of Doonbeg; Dunvegan by Erick W. Rasco/SI; Brooks Bar courtesy of Edgewood Tahoe; Phil's Grill courtesy of Grayhawk Golf Club; Sticks courtesy of Pebble Beach; The Tap Room by Alex Vertikoff/Pebble Beach Company; Golfer's Lounge courtesy of Trump National

September 16, 2009

Sagamore Resort in New York keeps getting better with age

Posted at 1:47 PM by Ryan Reiterman

Since 1883, the Sagamore Resort has drawn families from all over the New York area and beyond for its beautiful views of the Adirondack Mountains and Lake George, an abundance of outdoor activities and a Donald Ross golf course.

Now there are even more reasons to come back. The historic hotel has undergone several renovations that bring it up to date, while keeping that old-time charm.

Thirty six new rooms are open in the executive wing of the hotel, with several modern touches like flat-screen televisions and glass-enclosed showers.

The dining room has been renamed La Bella Vita Ristorante and is not to be missed, especially around sunset, since the elegant atmosphere and unobstructed views of the lake make for a memorable dinner.

Continue reading "Sagamore Resort in New York keeps getting better with age" »

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