Course Architect to Watch John Sanford

By Brian HewittDecember 24, 2007, 5:00 pm
John Sanford is a quietly-rising star in a golf course design field already crowded with architects like Jim Engh, Gil Hanse, Randy Heckenkemper and, most notably, Tom Doak.
 
Their names dont resonate yet like Nicklaus, Fazio, Dye or the Jones brothers, Rees and Robert Trent Jr. But their work is increasingly fighting its way onto golfs radar screen in increasingly high profile places.
 
For his part, Sanford comes by his self-effacing style honestly. His father, Jack Sanford, won more than 100 games in a distinguished major league career highlighted by a 24-7 record with the 1962 San Francisco Giants.
 
Juliette Falls
Juliette Falls is located in Ocala, Fla.
When Jack Sanford passed away in 2000, Bob Stevens of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote these words: He was a bulky guy who would be a small-size right tackle on the football team. He wasnt delicate. He was out there to throw the baseball and he did it well. He wasnt afraid to brush back a hitter. He was an old school pitcher. He wasnt a Cadillac but he was a damn good Buick.
 
John Sanfords latest design is called Juliette Falls. It wasnt meant to be a fully-loaded Cadillac. But it is upscale. And it is a terrific ride.
 
Juliette Falls meanders through the horse country of north central Florida near Ocala. And it is a wonderful blend of tumbling land (rare in Florida, the flattest state in the Union) and water hazards that command attention but dont punish a well-struck shot.
 
Sanford, based in Jupiter on the east coast of Florida, has partnered with Champions Tour player Bruce Fleisher and Nicklaus Design on more than 60 courses around the world.
 
In Juliette Falls, which opened in October and is slated to become part of a private golf and spa living community, Sanford has produced just the kind of home run his father made a living preventing.
 
It stretches to 7,300 yards (Par 72) from the tips and the developers let Sanford to what Sanford felt he needed to do. They didnt squeeze me on the land, Sanford said after a recent round there. They didnt pigeonhole me.
 
Golf Magazine recently thought enough of Juliette Falls to name it one its Top 10 Best New Courses in America for 2007.
 
Wrote the magazines editors: Architect John Sanford has coaxed a classic parkland layout from gently rolling terrain, and while there are a few bells and whistles'four waterfall features and eye-catching waste bunkers dotted with shrubbery and wire grass'the courses strength lies in the variety of its par 4s and the standout quartet of par 3s, two which feature Daliesque greens that seemingly melt into the water. Gallop over here before it goes private sometime down the road.
 
That, of course, is part of the problem with writing a course review about a course that is private or soon to become private. I could recommend Augusta National, too. But its a tough invite to coax.
 
Juliette Falls, to me, is a smart design. Its long par 3 third (239 from the back) allows for a low hard cut that offers a naturally friendly kick off a left sidewall to the player who makes the proper decision and plays the right strike.
 
It has more than one par 4 that slopes downhill to the green. Elevated greens are fine. But too many designers build too many of them with no better justification than easy drainage.
 
To be sure, Juliette Falls will not be pigeonholed. The whole experience reminded me of the first time I ever played a Tom Doak course (High Pointe in Michigan) or a Jim Engh course (Tullymore, also in Michigan).
 
I immediately knew I wanted to follow their subsequent works closely. Doak delivered with Pacific Dunes. Sanford, who openly talks about his admiration for the designs of the late Seth Raynor (one of my two or three favorite architects of all time), now goes on that list of designers I will watch closely in the future.
 
Jack Sanfords arm spoke for him. John Sanford lets his eye do the talking.
 
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Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.