Cary Middlecoff, the champion of the 1951 Colonial National Invitational, once called the host golf course, “the toughest par-70 in the world.” Jackie Burke Jr., who finished second that year, said “If you’re told to just go out and shoot par on a golf course, Colonial is the last one you’d try it on.” Echoed Arnold Palmer, the 1962 champion, “It’s not my type of course. It confines me off the tees and there are only two par 5s. I get mad at it and try to cram the ball in the hole. You can’t do that at Colonial. You have to romance it, and be content with pars.”
Of course, that was then. These days, a woman can tee it up in competition at Colonial and nearly match par — as Annika Sorenstam did in 2003, when she became the first woman since Babe Zaharias in 1945 to tee it up in a PGA Tour event. Annika shot a 1-over-par 71, completely overshadowing the exploits of Kenny Perry, who obliterated the tournament record with a 261 total, 19-under-par.
Situated in Fort Worth, Texas, and playing host to its 60th PGA Tour event (59 Colonials and believe it or not, the 1975 Players Championship — along with U.S. Opens for both men and women), Colonial surely possesses classic design virtues, sufficient to place it at No. 54 in GOLF MAGAZINE’s rankings of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and No. 97 in the World.
Clearly, however, Colonial isn’t the fearsome test it was when Middlecoff and Palmer won with over-par scores. Ben Hogan, who won here five times, prompting Colonial to be nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley,” never scored better than one-under-par for the duration. In 1959, he made Colonial his final Tour victory, winning a playoff from Fred Hawkins after both had posted five-over-par 285 totals. So often do you have to work the ball around trees at Colonial that Hogan once remarked, “A straight ball will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know.”
No hole is more closely identified with Colonial than the 466-yard par-4 fifth, which concludes a brutal stretch of three holes called, “The Horrible Horseshoe.” The fifth curves diabolically to the right, turning at a particularly awkward point, which basically takes driver out of the pros’ hands, unless they can carve a Trevino-like Hall of Fame fade between the trees. Come over the top, and a tree-lined ditch awaits to the left. Overcook the fade, and more trees and the Trinity River will claim your ball. Said Middlecoff famously about how he plays the fifth: “First I pull out two brand-new Wilson balls and throw them into the Trinity River. Then I throw up. Then I go ahead and hit my tee shot into the river.”
In its heyday, Colonial may have shared “hardest par-70” honors with Firestone Country Club’s South Course, but there were none tougher. There’s something inherently stern about the number 70 as a measure of par, which is why the USGA converts the majority of their U.S. Open courses to this figure. It’s a bit silly, really, because low score is what wins, regardless of what par is. That doesn’t stop the boys in the blue blazers with the white armbands from transforming what are often well-designed par-5s into meaty par-4s, all for the sake of helping to preserve par. Two holes at Winged Foot this year, the ninth and 16th earn that distinction; other notable examples are the 17th at the Olympic Club, the 18th at Oakland Hills’ South Course and the ninth at Oakmont.
Many top courses, however, come ready made with a par of 70, either because there’s an extra par-3 or two around or because they’re short a par-5. I don’t mind the par 70 setup at all. I figure if I bogey them all, I still shoot 88, which sounds a lot better than shooting 90. Colonial, Merion, Pine Valley and Shinnecock Hills are but a few of the top private venues that sport a natural par of 70. Here are some public-access classic tracks where you can bogey them all and still break 90.
The Homestead Resort (Cascades Course), Hot Springs, Va.
Recently restored to its original 1923 William Flynn specs, this adventure in the Allegheny Mountains was a favorite of the late Sam Snead, who grew up here. Sloping terrain, fast-rushing streams and dense tree cover lead to maximum variety. As Snead once said, “There isn’t any kind of hill you don’t have to play from, or any kind of shot you won’t hit here.” Ranked No. 56 in our Top 100 Courses in the U.S., Cascades is the ultimate mountain golf experience.
Pasatiempo Golf Club, Santa Cruz, Calif.
If you can’t get onto Augusta National or Cypress Point, this Alister MacKenzie design is the next best thing. Located 45 minutes north of Pebble Beach, the good doctor liked the place so much, he retired here, to a home on the sixth hole. Pasatiempo brims with outstanding par-4s, most lined with oaks and several crisscrossed by barrancas, including MacKenzie’s personal favorite, the 16th, with its triple-tiered green. Tom Doak’s recent restoration converted the first hole, which overlooks Monterey Bay, into a par-4 reducing par to 70.
Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside Course), St. Simons Island, Ga.
For 28 years, Bobby Jones held the course record here of 67, until Sam Snead broke it with a 63. Not a bad pedigree. The new version of this old Colt/Alison-Joe Lee combo is a Tom Fazio product that embraces a breeze-fueled, linksy feel, complete with sculpted sand dunes and wispy marsh grasses. Three memorable par-4s, the 13th, 14th and 16th, all feature marshes, tidal creeks and gigantic bunkers. Area resident Davis Love III’s best score here is 65.
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Pawleys Island, S.C.
The late Mike Strantz was an artist with a bulldozer and at Caledonia, he created a Lowcountry layout worthy of a museum exhibit. Gnarled live oaks drenched with Spanish moss line the fairways and the course winds along the Waccamaw River for much of its journey. Caledonia’s 6,526 yards are crammed into 125 acres, which may explain the par of 70, but waste bunkers, wetlands and undulating greens keep big hitters honest.
The Greenbrier (Old White Course), White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Pioneering American architects Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor get credit for this 1913 classic mountain design that flows seamlessly among mountain brooks and oak forested hillsides. Greens slope back-to-front, putting a premium on precise approaches. Unforgettable is the first tee, perched high above the fairway and so close to the clubhouse, you could scatter pretzels with your backswing. Many a topped shot has found the creek below.
Marquette Golf Club (Greywalls Course), Marquette, Mich.
Architect Mike DeVries grabbed a rugged site on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and shook loose a rough-and-tumble layout highlighted by exposed granite chunks that serve as jagged hazards. Views of Lake Superior greet you on the first tee and most everything that follows lives up to the lake’s name.
Wynn Las Vegas Resort, Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas hotel wizard Steve Wynn waited 12 years to unveil his follow-up to Shadow Creek and in true Vegas fashion, he outdid himself. His Shadow Creek collaborator Tom Fazio remade the old flat Desert Inn course into a rolling, tree-lined desert oasis, complete with hillsides of pines and shrubs and a 37-foot waterfall behind the 18th green. Best of all, they rendered the illusion of spaciousness despite its cramped, right-on-the-Strip location.
|Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]|