When it comes to golf course architecture, opinions run rampant and absolutes are few. That said, there is no debating the single Most Important Decision in the annals of American course design. It happened in 1917, when Samuel F.B. Morse tore up a subdivision plan for the waterfront acreage where Pebble Beach Golf Links now sits.
Morse's spiritual descendant, Mike Keiser, took a similarly enlightened path at Bandon Dunes Resort on the Oregon coast. Ignore the short-term business plan; try to build a little something for the ages.
In lieu of publicity, Keiser let himself reach higher-toward the lofty realm of myth. His original Bandon Dunes 18 attained that starry status, and now there's another course alongside it: Pacific Dunes.
'I've been to a lot of great golf courses and I'm amazed at how few really sing,' says Keiser, a soft-spoken visionary who amassed a fortune in the recycled greeting card business before turning to golf. 'Most of the truly wonderful courses-outside of Scotland and Ireland-are expensive or inaccessible. But the spirit of golf abides with the public golfer. I wanted to build a great golf course for the avid public golfer that would truly sing.'
Keiser entrusted the first layout to an architect David MacLay Kidd, who had never even designed a golf course on his own before. For Pacific Dunes, Keiser chose Tom Doak, author of two books on course design, architect of a dozen carefully crafted layouts, and widely unpopular in the business for his outspoken criticisms of other course designers.
Although the new course resides adjacent to Bandon Dunes, it's entirely different, not only in architectural style but in topography, as well. While seven holes play along the ocean, a number of inland holes journey in and around humongous dunes clad in gorse and beach grasses.
Dunes define this course the way they distinguish Pete Dye's work at Whistling Straits. (Doak, along with his extraordinarily talented shaper Jim Urbina, trained under Dye.) But Bandon's dunes weren't trucked in from Idaho; they've lain here for centuries, bearing the brunt of countless winds and storms.
If Bandon Dunes keens the woof and whorl of a true Scottish links, Pacificis its Irish cousin: deep and rich as the perfect pint of Guinness, sweet as Irish cream, lively as a fiddle jig played in the back room of a warm tavern.
The course opens amid pines and inland dunes. The sinuous 1st fairway rises in cresting green humps, then folds down toward a flattish green tucked into a dune that flows like a lava dome. Movements throughout the course are liquid-alternately as sweeping and forceful as whitewater and as slow as Yorkshire pudding.
On the first two holes, drives toward the left side of the fairway allow clear views of the greens, an early reminder that accurate positioning will remain important throughout the round. By the 3rd hole, the topography spills wide to reveal a sylvan valley marked by bunkers anchored in the emerald rivers of fairway that flow to and from the sea.
The 4th, the first oceanside hole, frolics for 460 yards along cliffs 100 feet above crashing surf to a green that totters on the precipice, as if one more golf ball might send the whole thing tumbling to the beach below. At the 316-yard 6th, the fairway licks between high mounds to a narrow, elevated green that drops steeply on both sides.
The back nine begins with two oceanside par 3s-205 yards threaded downhill toward the Pacific, then 145 yards along seaside bluffs to a green camouflaged in dune-colored grasses. Number 13 may be Pac Dunes' best hole. Here you tee off across cliffs toward a green that lies 440 treacherous yards away. At the 345-yard, risk-reward 16th, green moguls roll like some fantastically skewed ski run. The finishing hole, which can play as long as 660 yards, is a puzzlement of angles and prodigious bunkers defending both fairway and green.
by Jeff Wallach, LINKS Magazine
All Courses & Travel
Modern classics Pacific Dunes
McIlroy gets back on track
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.
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.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
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.
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.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
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.
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.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.