Best of the Best: Golf Courses
A modern classic at England’s finest new resort.
Kyle Phillips’ work at Kingsbarns, neighbor to hallowed St. Andrews, has been universally hailed as an almost perfect modern example of the Scottish links course. Now the American architect has created his version of an English parkland course at the Grove, a quirky yet fabulous new resort in Hertfordshire, England, just 25 miles outside of London.
Though influenced by the designs of Harry Colt, J.H. Taylor, and James Braid—all of whom built parkland courses near London—Phillips adhered to the resort’s overall theme of commingling new and old. He utilized both natural and artificial land forms in his 18 beguiling holes, and he kept cart paths out of sight to preserve the ambience of a traditional English club. Regardless, the Grove is meant to be walked.
The opening handful of holes plays through a meadow in front of the imposing facade of the resort’s converted 18th-century country house. Through the duration of the front nine, natural wetlands, a man-made lake, the Grand Union Canal, and some modern-era fairway bunkers demand forethought from the tee.
After the turn, the course begins its wooded phase: The drive on 10 must be split between two towering sweet chestnut trees. Farther along, cedars, oaks, and other mature specimens come into play. On 15, a twisting par 4 through the trees, a deceptive sunken area captures slightly undercooked approach shots in front of the green. The 17th is a short but uphill par 5 that, with its prevailing westerly breezes, challenges golfers to go for it in two. Naturally, the penalties for not quite making the green are severe.
Throughout the Grove, Phillips combined the usual assortment of penalties and perils—sand, water, rough—with hazards such as tightly mowed areas around the green collars and contours on the greens. Overall, his modern take on a traditional layout has once again resulted in a fine course, one that genuflects graciously toward the others in its class—all of which are at least 100 years its senior.
The Perfect Crime
Tom Doak is another young American architect who subscribes to the new-wave naturalism school. At Cape Kidnappers, he was given a magnificent stretch of limestone cliffs high above Hawke’s Bay on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s North Island. He responded by building one of the world’s most scenic golf courses.
But Cape Kidnappers’ vistas threaten to detract from what Doak has carved from the rugged terrain: an exceptional golf course. The designer laid his fairways across the rumpled ground and perched his greens atop sites that fall away dramatically into grassy abysses—or worse. Some of the deepest bunkers this side of Scotland add to the challenge.
The amen corner of four, five, and six at Cape Kidnappers offers fairways that sweep up to cliff’s-edge greens and a par 3 that traverses a gaping crevasse. On the back nine, the 15th, New Zealand’s longest hole at 653 yards, ends with a green that sits on the edge of a 500-foot drop to the beach. The elevated tee of the next hole, another par 5, provides one of golf’s most gorgeous views.
Monkey on the Back
El Mono, the 305-yard 16th hole at the Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica, is the last of three par-fours bisecting a forested chute alongside Virador Bay. Ocean holes on the course’s front nine, with their elevated tee boxes and steep drop-offs toward the Pacific, will undoubtedly generate more acclaim, but this narrow back-nine stretch is the essential sequence of this only-in-Costa Rica course.
Designed by Arnold Palmer, and opened in February 2004 as part of the new Four Seasons, the Golf Club Costa Rica is the country’s first great course. The layout hugs the coastal hills, cliffs, and valleys on the tip of the Papagayo Peninsula, offering views of the Pacific from 14 of its 18 holes.
The ocean views from El Mono and its immediate predecessors are partial at best. But the holes, sheltered by trees from the thundering Papagayo winds, present constant confirmation of your Central American whereabouts: The footprints you see in the sand trap belong to the howler monkeys living above the 16th green; the warning cries from the trees are the parrots announcing your intrusion on their space. It is the presage of the iguana, however, that you must heed: Stretched across the cart path in a sunning position, he is your subtle reminder not to chase that errant tee shot—other, less innocuous, reptiles may be lurking in the brush.
Four Seasons Golf Club Costa Rica
Biwabik, Minn., is not a dateline that springs to the forefront of most golfers’ minds. Yet the Quarry at Giants Ridge, a Jeff Brauer creation tucked away in the wilds of northeastern Minnesota, is destined to raise this remote outpost to the top ranks of American golfing destinations.
Built from the leavings of a 90-year-old rock and sand quarry, Brauer’s new track takes full advantage of the terrain: He has holes crossing deep fissures, tees built on former mountains of sand, greens set atop hills guarded by giant boulders, and huge sandy waste areas fronting plateaus of green.
The course is rife with spectacular layouts: The par-3 fourth drops 269 yards to a tricky, tilted green; 14, a par 5, seems reachable in two, but the hidden punch-bowl green surrounded by a birch forest proves an elusive target. The hole is followed by the 454-yard 15th, where the fairway ends 250 yards off the tee, leaving a long-iron approach to a tiny green surrounded by wetlands, sand, and thick grass.
With shaved collars à la Pinehurst and undulating topography, the Quarry’s greens are twisted journeys unto themselves. But any golfer willing to make the trek to Biwabik should welcome such adventures.
The Quarry at Giants Ridge
Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog, the reigning king of Caribbean golf courses since its 1971 debut, has a friendly challenger to the throne: Dye Fore, the legendary designer’s new cliff-top course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.
For many golfers, Teeth of the Dog, with its flat, palm-fringed fairways and forced carries over the sea, represents the archetypal Caribbean course. But Dye Fore, a daunting 7,700-yard track carved from an inland bluff, is at its best the farther it travels from the ocean. The back nine begins with four holes perched 500 feet above the Chavón River. The rugged terrain presents a picturesque setting—and ample punishment for those who stray from the fairway. The highlight on the front nine is the 500-yard fourth hole, a dogleg par 4 with the river on the left, the Caribbean Sea straight ahead, and Casa de Campo’s new marina in the distance to the right.
The marina was part of Casa de Campo’s $100 million makeover after Hurricane Georges. But golf—more specifically, Pete Dye golf—is still the resort’s cornerstone. Dye Fore is its fourth course (joining Teeth, the Links, and the private La Romana Country Club, all designed by Dye), and the high-bluff thriller ensures that Casa de Campo will have no equal in the Caribbean—and few elsewhere in the world—for many years to come.
The Full Monty
Ireland’s thousand-acre Carton House estate—once the home of the Earls of Kildare—already boasted a heavily wooded course by Mark O’Meara before Colin Montgomerie broke ground on the Carton House Golf Club, the Montgomerie. The Scottish golfer and designer started with a site that was more open than O’Meara’s, so he carved out a more typical links-style layout. The resulting course, which debuted in June 2003, features wide-open fairways, but knee-high grasses and the occasional pot bunker await errant shots.
Indeed, the bunkers are likely to be the focal point for those playing the Montgomerie. Multiple pits of sand protect almost every green, and while run-up shots are possible, the tricky contours of the green settings demand accurate shots to get close.
Sand is not a major concern on the final two holes, but water is. From the 17th green, you can look across Rye Water Lake to Lady Emily Lennox’s Shell Cottage; the 18th finishes near the estate’s boathouse.
Carton House Golf Club, the Montgomerie
Golfers check in for tee times at San Francisco’s Harding Park in a trailer that serves as a makeshift clubhouse. Portable outhouses and a restroom trailer, parked in a patch of wood chips near the 18th green, substitute for a locker room. But for enthusiasts willing to bypass country-club comforts, this redesigned municipal golf course presents a highly refined route.
After closing for more than a year for renovations, Harding Park reemerged in August 2003 as one of the most demanding public courses in the United States. The designers added distance to almost every tee, and the course now plays 6,845 yards over freshly carved bunkers; through undulating, Monterey cypress–lined fairways; and along the foggy shores of Lake Merced.
The cypress trees are a factor throughout the front nine, but nowhere more than the sixth hole, a 440-yard par 4 with a distressingly narrow window off the tee. The challenges multiply on the back nine, culminating with a 440-yard, lake-view finisher capped by a sloping, multilevel green.
In October 2005, Harding will host its first PGA Tour event since the redesign. The pros, however, will not be changing in a trailer: A new clubhouse, scheduled for completion that summer, will welcome golfing’s greatest to this classic city course.
Great White Exuma
Comparisons between the Four Seasons Golf Club Great Exuma at Emerald Bay—with six holes situated on the bay’s narrow peninsula—and Pebble Beach are as unavoidable as the water hazards on this Bahamian island course designed by Greg Norman. The landing areas on the signature holes can be described as fair, but any drive wide of a fairway could fall into the turquoise waters that were once, legend has it, among the favorite haunts of Captain Kidd. Silver buttonwoods, sea grapes, cabbage palms, and myriad bunkers—some of which seem to stretch along the entire fairway—await those who devote too much attention to the sea. However, with five different tee boxes at each hole, the course plays to any level.
A deepwater marina, scheduled to be completed by the fall, will sit only a pitch away from the 17th green, and you can return to your suite at the Caribbean Colonial-style Four Seasons Resort with a short stroll down palm-shaded walkways. For those enduring a particularly rough day on the course, the spa lies just behind the clubhouse, where it offers treatments that will soothe your body as well as your ego.
Four Seasons Golf Club Great Exuma at Emerald Bay
Back on Tracks
When Kyle Phillips set out to create a modern-day links course on the bones of old Dundonald in Ayrshire, Scotland, the pedigree was already in place. The setting on the country’s western coast recalls the classic links-scapes of Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes, and Barassie; the railroad line that runs past the 15th hole is the same one bordering the courses at Old Prestwick and Royal Troon.
Phillips found remnants of the old course—part of which had been sold to Barassie and the rest of which had been requisitioned by Royal Air Force troops during World War II—and salvaged some of the bunkers, green sites, and even the gorse and heather in his new design. Fairways are now as rumpled and corrugated as any of the neighbors’, and the ground is covered with tiny pot bunkers and gouged-out Saharas.
While the ocean is across the tracks, it is in view throughout the course, as is the weather-telling Arran Rock in the distance. (If you can see it, the weather is about to change; if you can’t, it’s already raining.) In any case, the fresh, if not gale-force, winds are always a factor.
Dundonald, Loch Lomond Golf Club
Costa del Stroll
The golf course boom continues unabated along Spain’s Costa del Sol, and nowhere is busier than the mountain village of Mijas, about 20 miles up the road from Málaga. While most of the area courses have been shoehorned into steep hillsides, the new Santana Golf & Country Club rests instead in a tranquil valley, a site architect Cabell Robinson describes as the last “easy, walkable” piece of land left on the entire coast.
Santana is set in a former avocado farm along the Rio Fuengirola. As a result, the course, which opened in January 2004, has that already-mature, lived-in look. The avocado trees remain, along with some eucalyptus, orange, and 500-year-old cork trees. The layout is a healthy 7,000 yards, including the 650-yard, par-5 eighth, where the tee shot must carry the rio.
Santana is not the Costa del Sol’s most difficult course—Valderrama still holds that distinction—but it will rank high on the enjoyable scale for years to come.
Santana Golf & Country Club