Tag Archives: Cypress Point

Z Boaz Was One of “America’s Worst”

In my last post I promised that “tomorrow” I’d reprint a report on 11,237th-ranked Z Boaz Golf Course from my almost-best-seller of 1994, America’s Worst Golf Courses. By “tomorrow,” of course, I meant “next week.” I’ve spent much of that week searching Catch Basin for my file of Z Boaz photographs. When I find them — and after they’ve been digitally enhanced from the drab colors of the last century to glorious black-and-white — I’ll present them in gallery format. Meanwhile, here’s what America’s Worst Golf Courses had to say about Z Boaz:

“Riding on its reputation.”

 

That’s what you hear whenever Z Boaz shows up on the latest list of America’s worst courses. And it’s true — this vintage layout has suffered numerous improvements since its debut as a WPA project in 1937. The spindly trees have grown into impressive oaks; ponds and creeks have filled with water; once-faceless sand bunkers now yawn impressively. It’s a far cry from the hardpan heaven that earned Z Boaz the nickname “Goat Hills New.”

 

Richard Teague, the muni’s current assistant pro, looks out the clubhouse window and shakes his head over the changes. “When I played here, there wasn’t no trees,” he says. “Wasn’t no grass, either, for that matter.”

What Z Boaz has going for it is its legacy. In a memorable article in Sports Illustrated called “The Glory Game at Goat Hills,” writer Dan Jenkins recalled his student days at nearby Texas Christian University, where he and his band of rowdy, bet-happy ne’er-do-wells wasted their afternoons on the parched fairways of the old Worth Hills Golf Course.

 

Overtaken by development — not to mention good taste — Worth Hills went under the bulldozers some years ago, causing SI  to remark that “it was nice to learn that something could take a divot out of those hard fairways.” Z Boaz carries on the tradition as best it can. Every summer, Jenkins invites a touring pro and a bunch of lesser lights to Z Boaz for a one-day tournament, the Dan Jenkins Partnership & Goat Hills Glory Game Reprise. Although not as bleak as Worth Hills in its prime, Z Boaz still offers a pungent contrast to Fort Worth’s elegant Colonial Country Club, some miles away. No clipped hedges and high-dollar homes here — just a stark rectangle of Texas Hill country bounded by a railroad line and three busy streets.

 

The din of traffic, in fact, is an inescapable feature of golf at Z Boaz. The neighborhood is rich with furniture showcases and warehouses, most of which provide a pleasing backdrop to the golfer about to play a shot. Batting cages, miniature golf, and a life-size statue of a giraffe enhance the northern boundary, while empty storefronts and a karate school line the seventh fairway on the east side. And where, save for the finishing holes at Cypress Point, will the golfer find two more natural greensites than Z Boaz’s sixteenth (at the foot of the neon “Checks Cashed” sign) and seventeenth (hard against Long John Silver’s Seafood Shop)?

 

Surely, this is what Robert Louis Stevenson meant when he described Z Boaz as “the most beautiful meeting of land and transmission shops that nature has produced.”

Can such a course really be at death’s door? Will golfers no longer gather on the banks of the Firth of Camp Bowie to ponder its murky depths and weigh the risks of reaching for a muddy ball. Will dog owners and skate boarders defoliate the sacred sward?

Stay tuned for further updates.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but THE PLAYERS Championship has begun on Pete and Alice Dye’s 51st-ranked TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra, Fla.   Described on a PGA Tour web site as “perhaps the world’s most famous golf course,” it is not. 

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Wentworth Redesign Inflames Poulter

It went unnoticed last year, the precipitous Top 50 dive of the Wentworth Club’s West Course from No. 58 to No. 712. I had meant to comment on it, since Wentworth, just outside London, is the most storied non-links venue in European golf — headquarters of the PGA European Tour, site of the 1953 Ryder Cup, host to the World Match Play from 1964 to 2007, and longtime venue for the British PGA Championship. But one of my aides pointed out that criticism of Wentworth by an American, coming at a delicate stage in Anglo-American peace talks, might not be in the national interest. So I simply tweeted, “els redesign of wntwrth sucks, shld blowit up n strt ovr.”*

*I dictate my tweets in standard English.  My granddaughter converts them to Twitterese.

Yesterday, however, an Englishman known for his Union Jack trousers tore into Wentworth West with such abandon that I no longer see the need for reticence. “Bloody hell,” Ian Poulter almost said yesterday, after he double-bogeyed the tarted-up 18th hole for a second-round 74 at the aforementioned BMW PGA Championship. My GOLF Magazine colleague, Paul Mahoney, reports that Poulter “ranted” when asked what he found most challenging about the redesign by golf legend Ernie Els:

“The tees, the fairways, the rough, the greens, and those 20-foot-deep bunkers,” he ranted. “I don’t like this golf course, period. End of story.”

The new green at the par-5 18th hole, fronted by a mail-order brook, received the brunt of Poulter’s opprobrium. “We are trying to land it on a dining room table from 230 yards out,” he sputtered. “I’ve hit what I thought was a perfect third shot, maybe caught out a tiny bit by the wind, and it pitches by the green and finishes in the hazard. Marvelous!”

Asked if he was begging permission to play from the forward tees, the world’s 14th-ranked golfer reddened. He said, “I don’t have a problem with tough courses, but I’ve walked off the golf course and I’m headless, absolutely fuming.”

Tokyo Neon Image

Harry Colt considered, but rejected, a neon-distraction feature for Wentworth's 18th hole. (John Garrity)

Poulter is known to get emotional, so I checked the British papers to see what calmer heads had to say. The Telegraph, under the headline, “Ernie Els’ New 18th Hole at Wentworth Is a Ghastly Sell-out,” seems to take Poulter’s side. “Wentworth’s new 18th hole is a nasty piece of Americana,” barks the subhead. “It is a strip of blazing neon** jagging across the natural green and russets of the Surrey countryside.”

** I’m not speaking for the Top 50 here, but I LOVE neon and have long wondered why it hasn’t been put to better use by golf architects. The anti-climactic 18th at Cypress Point, for example, could use a little Times Square wattage to heighten its appeal.

Harry Colt’s double-par-5 finish, of course, was a Wentworth trademark, the encroaching woods creating enough risk to frighten contenders while allowing for go-for-broke approach shots and crowd-pleasing eagles. Running a faux burn through it was so outrageous that Ryder Cupper Paul Casey begged for a plan to protect classic British courses from predation. “Maybe we should introduce a scheme like we have with historic buildings in this country,” he said a year ago. “Ernie has a beautiful house by the 16th with the thatched roof and old plaster work. Now, he owns it, but that doesn’t give him the right to paint it pink and put a tin roof on it.”

The Telegraph’s Mark Reason, while conceding that much of Els’s work at Wentworth was needed and well-executed, struggled to explain the Trumpian excesses.

The simple answer appears to be that the owner [Richard Caring] saw a bit of eau un-naturel on telly and decided that he wanted some too …. The result is something that looks flash, but is golfing nonsense. A perfectly good par five has been turned into a bash, a lay-up and a pitch across water. It might as well be a par three. They spent half a million quid on an aquatic folly – there goes the winner, not waving, but drowning.

Els, understandably defensive, faulted the tournament staff for some “crazy” second-round pin positions. That aside, he dismissed his critics as a bunch of hacks who couldn’t break par while he was shooting 68. “This is a real golf course now,” Els proclaimed. “Forget about going 24-under-par any more. It ain’t happening.”

Sorry to hear that, Ernie, because Wentworth just dropped another twenty rungs to No. 732.

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Courses I Need to Play, Part One

Inspired by “Travelin’ Joe” Passov, I’ve been trying to come up with my own wish list of “Courses I Need to Play.” The fact that I’m having trouble finding ten testifies to how lucky I’ve been over the years. I’ve played Mollymook. I’ve played Formby Ladies. I teed it up in the inaugural event at Medicine Hole. If my current bout with tendonitis were to end my golfing days, I’d have no cause for complaint.

But Joe is right, there are courses — Cypress Point and Pine Valley come to mind — so enticing that you would pay to play them. One of those courses, for me, is the Indian Army 9-Hole Golf Course outside Leh, Ladakh, on the Tibetan plateau. I stumbled upon Indian Army 25 years ago while covering a polo match in Leh. The course was a bit outside town on a dusty road that crossed a moonscape of boulders and rubble punctuated with Buddhist burial markers. A barbed wire fence and gun placements emphasized that it was a private course, but I couldn’t help but stare longingly at the crooked bamboo flagsticks impaled on gravel greens next to coffee-can holes. Not a blade of grass on the property, but, as Gary Player often said, “It’s the finest course of its kind I’ve ever seen.”

Ft. Meade Golf Clubhouse

Golf at Fort Meade: an unrealized dream? (John Garrity)

Even higher on my list, maybe at No. 1, is the Fort Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course in Fort Meade, Fla. Fort Meade has finished dead last among the world’s courses in every Top 50 survey, a record not likely to be broken. On the other hand, it is the best 9-hole, par-3, clay-greens course in the South. I’ve walked Ft. Meade on a couple of occasions, taking in the surrounding banyan trees and fire-ant sand hills, but I’ve never gotten the opportunity to play. Just once I’d like to stride up that final fairway with a club in my hand, crossing in front of the tee boxes for the previous eight holes, and stepping onto the profoundly round and flat ninth green, at the foot of the municipal water treatment plant.

Another not-to-miss track that I have toured without playing is the new Machrihanish Dunes course in Machrihanish, Scotland. While not exactly the black sheep of the Kintyre Peninsula, the Dunes course does have black sheep on the property, their job being to keep the marram grass on the dunes to a playable length. At 79 pounds per round in peak season, Machrihanish Dunes is the priciest layout on my must-play list, but I’ll claw back some of that by neglecting to leave any money in the honesty boxes of my other choices.

I’m also pining for the Papa Westray Golf Course in the Orkney Isles of Scotland. Although panned by one critic as “worse than Ronaldsay,” Papa Westray provides tourists with the opportunity to experience the world’s shortest scheduled flight, a less than two minute hop from Kirkwall. But first I have to experience the Lost City Golf Course of Sun City, South Africa — if only to play the famous 13th hole, which is fronted by a stone pit full of hissing crocodiles.

But that’s only five courses, isn’t it? (Seven, if I poach Cape Kidnappers and Hirono from Joe’s list.)

Well, I’ve got time to work on my list after dark — of which I’ve seen plenty this week, my four golf clubs having found their way to top-ranked Askernish Old in the Outer Hebrides. I’ll post my reflections on the world’s best golf course in a day or two, weather permitting.

Top 50 on TV: I’m on an island in the North Atlantic. Ask a friend or check your local listings.

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Whose Mystique Was Greater: Hogan’s or Merion’s?

Miracle at Merion Cover Art

Barrett's new book gets to the roots of Merion bluegrass. (John Garrity)

“Are your rankings influenced by reputation?” asks a reader from Berkeley, Calif. “Do courses get points because they’ve been written about in magazines or photographed for book jackets?”

The answer, as usual, is yes and no. The Cal Sci algorithm is rigorously scientific, so it can’t be “influenced” — if by influence you mean subtle bias in favor of a region, a certain architect or an old college friend who has snapshots of you in a compromising position with donuts. On the other hand, the algorithm recognizes “media exposure over time” as a critical variable in measuring course quality. The par-3 sixteenth hole at Cypress Point has appeared on hundreds of book and magazine covers, while the par-3 ninth at Ft. Meade (Fla.) City Mobile Home Park Golf Course has appeared on none. Maybe that reflects an unavoidable social-class bias, but I still infer from the lopsided coverage that the California course is by far the better track. That’s one reason, but not the only reason, why exclusive Cypress Point is currently our 13th-ranked course.

Similarly, our placement of the equally-private Merion East at No. 36 is supported by David Barrett’s new book, Miracle at Merion: The Inspiring Story of Ben Hogan’s Amazing Comeback and Victory at the 1950 U.S. Open. Most of Barrett’s compelling prose is dedicated to Hogan and his dogged opponents, but the book is nevertheless a must for golf-design nuts or, for that matter, anyone who owns both a wing chair and a persimmon driver.

“Merion has to be in my top three in the world, although I’m not sure I’m good at articulating why” David told me over the phone last week. “I’ve played it only once, and that was in 1981. But Merion West was our home course when I played for Haverford College, so every day during golf season we drove right past the East to get to the West. It was kind of frustrating, to be honest, although the West is a wonderful course in its own right.”

David praised the East course for its “great charm” and heaped the usual encomia on the since-modified Hugh Wilson design, calling the layout “challenging,” “varied,” and “fun. And then you’ve got the quarry holes. Those three great and tough finishing holes really elevate the course.”*

*Merion’s altitude, according to The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses, is a mere 351 feet. But David may have been speaking figuratively.

“Among the great courses of the world,” he added, “the East is unusual in that there is a road, Ardmore Avenue, that goes right through it. You may not be able to play Merion, but anybody can drive through it and take a look.”

Ben Hogan, who in the summer of ’50 was still recovering from his near-fatal crash into a Greyhound bus, would have been happy to view the East Course from the road, like a tourist. “The trouble with Merion is that it always has you on the defensive,” he told reporters at his hotel on the morning of the U.S. Open playoff.* “There’s no way you can take the offensive against it.”

*Hogan’s Sunday playoff with George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum didn’t start until 2 p.m. because of Pennsylvania’s blue laws.

“After the playoff,” David told me, “Hogan said that he only went at the flag one time in 90 holes — and he hit that one into a bunker. As with many Hogan quotes, you have to take that with a grain of salt — he did have some short birdie putts along the way — but the U.S. Open set-up definitely had everybody playing defensively. Seven-over 287 made the playoff.”

Miracle at Merion, from Skyhorse Publishing, is $24.95 at bookstores. Ticket prices for the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion East have not been announced by the USGA, there being no way to predict if there will be another miracle.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but a tip of the ball cap to Jonathan Byrd for his winning ace on the fourth extra hole of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, Nev. (It was right across town, come to think of it, that Chip Beck shot the second-ever Tour 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. Maybe they should change their advertising from “loosest slots” to “loosest greens.”)

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