While the action takes place on a TPC layout, you won’t hear anyone saying that the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic should be considered the fifth major. For 35 years, this low-key event in Vanilla-ville, U.S.A. has enjoyed second banana status. But hey, from 1975 to 1979, Mr. Second Banana himself, Ed McMahon, was the celebrity title endorser.
Yet, the Deere has persevered and even prospered. And it doesn’t hurt to have Michelle Wie is trying again to make a PGA Tour cut this week. Nevertheless, in recent years, some of its better fields and heightened acclaim are surely due to the event’s host course, the TPC at Deere Run (GOLFCOURSE.com Review), in Silvis, Illinois.
As with many Tour tracks, the co-designer is a Tour pro, in this case, a second-tier journeyman who now competes successfully on the Champions Tour, D.A. Weibring. Bute folks in the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa look at Weibring as strictly an A-Lister because he grew up just south of the Quad Cities, in Quincy, Ill., a few bends down the Mississippi River. He managed to win the Quad Cities event three times. Who else could have designed the tournament’s new home?
Opening in 2000, the TPC at Deere Run has been warmly received, including a ringing endorsement by 2003 champ Vijay Singh. Without forcing a thing, Weibring and Tour architect Chris Gray injected an astonishing amount of variety into the layout, with holes that tumble up and down the slopes of the Rock River foothills, doglegging this way and that and that culminate in a splendid mix of green complexes. Toss in massive oaks, sycamores and rock outcroppings and you have a handsome package. Best of all, it’s affordable and open for public play.
Weibring is experiencing another solid year on the Champions Tour, with three top 10s, two of which came in majors. He’s just one of a number of active seniors who are competing week in and week out, but who also are busy on the course design front. Here’s a sampling of courses you can play that bear the design imprint of a top Champions Tour player.
Kapalua Resort (Plantation Course), Maui, Hawaii (Ben Crenshaw with Bill Coore)
Gentle Ben has enjoyed a wonderful 2006 campaign, including making the cut at The Masters, but it appears as if his legacy as a course designer might even outlast his prowess as a putter. One of his earliest collaborations with partner Bill Coore is this 1991 design that hosts the PGA Tour’s season-opening Mercedes Championship. Kapalua’s Plantation is a rare par-73 that plays to 7,411 yards. It is golf on its grandest scale, with massive, wide, rolling fairways that soar, sweep and plunge into huge greens. Yet, ultimately, it’s still a shotmakers course, because ever-present winds demand controlled ball-striking of the highest order. Steep canyons, dense native roughs and jaw-dropping views of the Pacific frame this memorable picture.
The Jewel Golf Club, Lake City, Minnesota (Hale Irwin)
Course Web Site
Injuries have kept Hale Irwin from dominating in his usual fashion in ’06-or even from reaching the winner’s circle so far, but he’s still 12th on the money list at age 61, which tells you all you need to know about his toughness. There’s nothing hurting about his course design skills, however. Proof is in this gem set along the bluffs of the Mississippi River south of Minneapolis that serves up almost one-of-a-kind variety, with each nine starting off playing like a links before turning into the woods. The reachable par-4 sixth, at 285 yards from the tips, is a seductive temptress.
Reunion Resort (Independence Course), Reunion, Florida (Tom Watson)
In only nine tournaments on the Champions Tour this year, Watson has posted five Top 10s, including a second place finish at Prairie Dunes in the U.S. Senior Open. His forays into course design don’t come often, either, but when they do, they come up big. One of GOLF Magazine’s Top 10 New Courses You Can Play in 2005 was this Orlando-area layout that sports Old World shot values and a variety of bunkers across the rumpled fairways. Watson could get it up and down from the ball washer, so it’s no surprise that his green complexes offer rigorous challenge for anyone contemplating a recovery shot to save par. Except for the tell-tale palm trees, you’d think you were on the Kentish coast or somewhere north of Edinburgh.
Moorpark Country Club, Moorpark, California (Peter Jacobsen with Jim Hardy)
With six Top 10s in nine events and a pair of Senior Majors to his credit, Peter Jacobsen can no longer simply be thought of as the class clown of golf, but rather one of its class acts, both on and off the course. The Members Course at Houston’s Redstone, thrice a PGA Tour stop, is among the well-received layouts crafted by Jacobsen-Hardy. Among their public-access designs, Moorpark, just north of Los Angeles, is one of their best. Each of the three nines, Ridgeline, Creekside and Canyon Crest checks in at about 3,500 yards from the tips, but there’s excellent variety throughout. Just compare the fifth hole on Ridgeline-a muscular 676-yard par-5 to the fifth hole on Creekside-a petite 296-yard par-4. There’s something for everybody at Moorpark.
Kiva Dunes Golf Club, Gulf Shores, Alabama (Jerry Pate)
That skinny, cocky 22-year-old who thrilled us all at the 1976 U.S. Open is now nearly 53, but he’s still providing excitement at major tournament time. After a heartbreaking defeat at the 2005 Senior PGA Championship, Pate bounced back in ’06 to win the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in February and currently stands 14th on the money list. What sizzles each week, however, are his course designs, notably those in Alabama. The best of his public-access courses is one of his earliest, Kiva Dunes. Set on a peninsula between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Kiva Dunes is a strategy-laden, breeze-fueled test that incorporates multiple lakes and acres of sand.
|Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]|