Tag Archives: Hillcrest Country Club

Donald Ross Green Taking Shape Again

It has been quiet on the ratings front. Catch Basin’s new concrete parking lot was sealed last week, and the Bomar Brain is down for maintenance. It being election season, we’ve rented out the big ratings board to the local TV station that sold it to us. (I fully expect to see an election-night victory call of incumbent Rep. Emanuel Cleaver over tenth-ranked Royal Portrush GC.) On the competitive front, our South-Atlantic ratings chief, David Henson, won the MGA Individual Match Play Championship at 51st-ranked Palmetto Hall Plantation for the second straight year, and last week I teamed up with my Tour Tempo co-author, John Novosel, to run away with the St. Francis Xavier Celebrity Two-Man Scramble at 45th-ranked Hillcrest at Heartland GC.

Ninth green at Hillcrest/Heartland

In September, Hillcrest’s old ninth green was re-graded and drain tiles were installed. (John Garrity).

Speaking of Hillcrest, the venerable Kansas City track is making great progress on the restoration of Donald Ross’s original ninth green. Located for most of the club’s history at the end of the ninth hole, the Ross green was abandoned a few years back at the urging of a since-departed club executive. A miniature green suitable for a putt-putt course was subsequently installed at a random point in the fairway, fronted by a stone wall that has caused Ross to spin so vigorously in his grave that he has drilled down through bedrock and struck oil.

When I first brought up the Hillcrest project in a recent post, I unintentionally gave the impression that the bogus green was the work of GCSAA Hall of Famer Bill Amick, who oversaw a 1984 renovation of Hillcrest. “That was certainly not the case,” Amick informed me in a recent phone call, “and I don’t know why anyone would impose stone walls on a Donald Ross green. That’s anything but subtle.”

I heard from Amick again in response to my column celebrating Hillcrest’s par-4 fifth as my favorite hole of the summer. “You hit me in my professional pride, right where it hurts most,” he wrote.

For I don’t much recall Hillcrest’s fifth hole — and I spent a good bit of quality time on that course. The picture you included didn’t help, even though, as my wife says, I pay attention to golf holes, if little else. So I viewed Hillcrest using Google Maps, and that wasn’t a whole lotta help, either. I must confess that I recall more about Green Lawn Cemetery [across the road from and paralleling Hillcrest’s first hole] than the fairway of number five sloping to the left. Could I really be wrong in thinking that the “Carolina pasture-plower” concentrated more on getting players from the green of #4 to the tee of #6 than he did in making that a special hole? But there it all is in your September 7 blog, and you’ve likely messed up that hole enough times to know.

Perhaps Herbert Warren Wind was wrong when he wrote something like “One mark of a great course is that after a single round you can distinctly remember each of its holes.” I can still clearly visualize Hillcrest’s opening hole and several others, but not the fifth.

My purpose in this message, if I really have any, is this. I believe you might be misleading “a neighbor,” who just happens to be your grandson Jack, about your current favorite golf hole. I do agree with many of your other conclusions on courses and holes around the world, but on this particular selection, maybe you’d better stick to playing catch with Jack after dinner.

Yours, Bill (known to some of his friends as The Overbunkerer)

Hillcrest's new/old ninth green

October saw the first green shoots sprouting on Donald Ross’s original green site. (John Garrity)

I chuckled knowingly when I read Amick’s e-mail. Twenty-eight years have passed since he performed his miracles at Hillcrest; his memory will understandably be cloudy concerning a hole that was unremarkable back when Ronald Reagan was seeking a second term. But Hillcrest’s fifth, like a fine wine, has improved with age. It is one of those rare holes that, having long been bad, ripens into something sublime.

It’s possible, of course, that Amick doctored the hole in a way that led to its ultimate improvement, and he’s forgotten that. How about it, Bill? Do you still have the blueprints?

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but a tennis injury has forced Ernie Els to pull out of next week’s PGA Grand Slam of Golf at 51st-ranked Port Royal Golf Club in Bermuda. I only mention it so I can remind everyone of my own first-place finish in the 2006 PGA Grand Slam Pro-Am at 15th-ranked Poipu Bay Golf Course on the island of Kauai. That’s the year, if you’ve forgotten, that three scramble partners and I carried Tiger Woods to victory. My trophy, a slightly smaller version of the crystal-spire-upon-a-walnut-base prize that Tiger has won seven times, greets visitors as they enter Catch Basin from our new and very expensive parking lot.

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Summer’s Best Hole Used to be a Dud

“What’s your favorite golf hole?” asks a reader from my immediate neighborhood. A child, actually. My grandson, if you’re going to get all fact-checky on me.

Well, Jack, I have many favorites. Readers of my golf memoir, Ancestral Links, know about my obsession with the par-4 seventeenth at second-ranked Carne. But they may not know that my favorite hole at Carne is either the par-4 third, with its rumpled fairway and two-tiered green, or the par-4 ninth, where you drive into a box canyon before playing blind up to a pinnacle green. Wait no, my favorite is probably the quirky twelfth, which requires an approach shot from a switchback fairway to a dunetop green best reached with ropes and crampons. Or if not the twelfth, how about the imposing fifteenth, a par-4 so rugged and natural that I tend to credit meteor impacts, and not Eddie Hackett, for its strong features.

Get my drift? It’s hard to pick my favorite hole on any one course, never mind the thousands of courses that we visit every year to compile the Top 50 ranking. Like most sentient golfers, I love the Road Hole at the Old Course, the lighthouse hole at Turnberry, the eighth and eighteenth holes at Pebble Beach, the par-3 sixteenth at Cypress Point, the majestic tenth at Augusta National, the drive-over-the-beach first at Machrihanish, and the baffling ninth at Ft. Meade’s City Mobile Home Park Golf Course. I’ve currently got a crush on the closing hole at 51st-ranked Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, which calls for two precise shots over scenic marshland to the accompaniment of turtles splashing in an adjoining canal.

Hillcrest No. 5

Hillcrest’s fifth hole, like good chili, has improved with age. (John Garrity)

That said, my favorite hole of the Summer of ’12 is the par-4 fifth at 45th-ranked Hillcrest in Kansas City, Mo. It’s a surprising favorite, because the No. 5 was maybe my least favorite hole when I caddied and played at Hillcrest as a boy in the late fifties.    Tree-lined and level from tee to green, it rides a ridge that drops off on either side, most sharply on the left, with the slope starting in the center of the fairway.

This was a serious defect, a half century ago, because Hillcrest had not yet installed fairway sprinklers. The summer fairways were bone-hard and brown. That made the tee shot on No. 5 impossibly difficult. Drives hit straight down the middle kicked left off the ridge and bounded through the trees and down the hill toward the tenth green, forcing a blind recovery shot from a steep lie. A slicing drive, on the other hand, would either wind up in the tree line or fly over the trees into the sixth fairway.

Hillcrest’s fifth hole was so bad, in fact, that I remember members cursing the nincompoop who had designed it: a Carolina pasture-plower by the name of Donald Ross.

Well, that was then. Hillcrest has been irrigated for decades now, and the fairways no longer bake in the summer sun. The fifth hole is now what Ross hoped it would be — a challenging par 4 of classic simplicity. The drive still causes your heart to flutter, but the fairway is much more receptive. If you miss left, bluegrass rough keeps most balls from plunging down the hill. “Tough, but fair” is the consensus of local golfers. That and, “Maybe that Ross guy wasn’t such a slug, after all.”

Having played Hillcrest often this summer, I’ve come to love the fifth. There’s nothing fancy about the hole — no gaudy bunker complexes or faux mounding — but the view from the tee (or from the green back to the tee) is classic. It’s an archetypal hole, a Ross variation that echoes holes from Pine Needles (T51), Mid-Pines (T51), Oak Hill (T51) and Aronimink (T51).

So yeah, Jack, I’d say my current favorite is the fifth at Hillcrest. Now if you limit it to the approach shot, I’d maybe choose the eighth hole at Askernish or the par-5 seventeenth at Royal Birkdale, where Paddy Harrington made his eagle ….

But that’s enough for now. Thanks for asking. And yes, we can play catch after dinner.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the pros have taken their season-ending cash grab to 145th-ranked Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., site of the BMW Championship. That brings back memories of John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship, which I covered for Sports Illustrated. I recommend Cameron Morfit’s oral history here on Golf.com, or you can check out my contemporaneous coverage from the SI Vault. Either way, you can ignore Henry Ford’s dictum that “history is bunk.”

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Heartland and Harding Making Moves

A reader from Muskegon, Mich., asks if we change a course’s ranking based upon minor alterations to the design. “Like, say, if they were to chop down the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National, would that give them a higher or a lower score? Or what if at a certain course in Grand Rapids they fixed a certain tee so that it didn’t point way right when you need to hit it left to stay out of the trees? Would that make a difference?”

Heartland Rebuilding Ross Green

Heartland GC, the only Donald Ross design in Missouri, is restoring the Ross green on its ninth hole. (John Garrity)

I see two points that need correcting in Muskie’s e-mail. The first is the perennial misunderstanding of “higher or lower score” as it pertains to the Top 50 rankings. The Cal Sci algorithm is concentrically weighted around “a perfect 10,” which means that high and low scores are to be avoided, not pursued. Put another way, if Smash star Katharine McPhee scores a 10 on the Carnegie Mellon Feminine Pulchritude Scale (FPS), she’s got no way to go but down. Or up. She can’t do better.

Secondly, it would make no difference if they re-oriented that tee so it pointed straight down the fairway. Muskie would still slice his drive into the trees.

But to the larger point, yes, we take minor alterations of a design into account when we issue our adjusted ratings.* For instance, the 45th-ranked Heartland Golf Club of Kansas City, Mo. (aka Hillcrest Country Club) is restoring Donald Ross’s original ninth green, correcting a 21st-century design blunder. When the green is completed in the fall, Heartland could leap into the Top 40.

* A new Top 50 is posted daily at 2:15 a.m. CDT. We publish hard-copy Mandarin and Portuguese versions on a weekly basis, but only in Africa and the Middle East.

“That’s all well and good,” writes a junior golfer from Sun City, Ariz., “but you can’t possibly know what’s happening at courses around the world. I’ve heard that Pete Dye, just to name one architect, keeps ‘tweaking’ his designs ad infinitum, jumping on a sand pro at the drop of a hat. So your ratings must necessarily be flawed.”

Practice facility, Harding Park

TPC Harding Park’s new short-game practice area will be the perfect place to test the theories in Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game and Beyond. (John Garrity)

Wrong! The Top 50’s vast network of course raters keeps an eye on all the work being done at ranked courses. Last week, for example, workers in San Francisco applied the finishing touches to a new short-game practice area at TPC Harding Park, site of the 2009 Presidents Cup. Positioned between the parking lot and the practice range, the new practice area overlooks beautiful Lake Merced. But it wasn’t overlooked by us! Harding Park jumps three positions to No. 78.*

* If the new grass survives the typically-brutal San Francisco summer, HP will climb even higher.

As for Pete Dye and his constant course-doctoring, give us some credit. We shadow his every movement with unpaid interns.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but The Memorial Tournament is being played on the immaculate fairways and greens of the 51st-ranked Muirfield Village Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus and the late, great land-form artist, Desmond Muirhead. (Nicklaus is famous for winning 18 major championships. Muirhead is famous for designing golf holes in the shapes of states, stringed instruments and farm animals.)

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Parascenzo Weighs in on Duke

Fans of the Top 50’s current focus on tour coverage have singled out the contributions of our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa. “This Duke guy must be psychic,” gushes a reader from Glendive, Mont. “He singles out a rookie I never heard of, Sang-Moon Bae, and Bae reaches the quarter-finals at the Accenture Match Play. He then focuses his all-knowing gaze on another rookie, John Huh, and Huh wins the Mayakoba Golf Classic. So here’s my question. Is ‘Duke’ his real name?”

Before I answer Glendive’s question, I have to correct him. Duke tipped us off to Bae, but credit for the Huh coverage goes to me and my print-media partner, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus, for which I pounded the Huh beat. And we weren’t psychic. We just couldn’t resist the opportunity to put “HUH?” in a headline.

But getting back to Duke Ishikawa, I was going to query him about his nickname when it struck me that he might demand a million yen for his answer. So I forwarded Glendive’s question to our chief Allegheny correspondent and former Golf Writers Association of America president, Marino Parascenzo, who volunteered an answer in less time than it takes to set a Bear Trap.

“The story of Duke Ishikawa goes back to the 1970s,” Marino replied in one of his elegant e-mails.

Duke was getting to be a pretty regular visitor to U.S. tournaments back then, and one day he was chatting with Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe. (Did you know the late Joe?) Duke told Joe he wished he had an American name because people had so much trouble with his given name, Hiroshi. He said ‘Ishikawa’ was tough enough. An American first name would make things easier.

So Joe asked him, “Well, can you think of an American name you would like?”

And Hiroshi said, “Harold.”

And Joe said, “Hell no. That really sucks.”

Hiroshi couldn’t think of another American name he wanted, so Concannon said, “Okay, who’s your favorite American?”

And Hiroshi said, “John Wayne.”

And Joe said, “Okay, John’s no good. So now you’re ‘Duke.’”

And Duke it was.

Concannon told me the story, and Duke confirmed it. He liked Joe a lot.

“I don’t think either of them considered ‘Joe” for a name,” Marino added in his freely volunteered, no-payment-expected e-mail. “It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘Duke.’”

Hillcrest CC 2nd hole

The second hole at the former Hillcrest Country Club is a welcome sight for victims of the notoriously difficult par-3 first. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but a press release informs us that 45th-ranked Hillcrest Country Club of Kansas City, Mo., a classic Donald Ross design, is being re-branded as The Heartland Golf Club. Operating under new management, the former PGA Tour venue will re-open on March 30 with new membership options. “We’re excited to start the process of re-creating the former Hillcrest site into a multi-purpose facility,” says Heartland general manager Kurt Everett. “Our first step is to get the golf course back into play, and we’re busy now with turf and green improvements and an updated pro shop.”

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