While watching women’s Olympic golf last Friday morning, I clicked over from Twitter to a piece on Aronimink, a club in suburban Philadelphia. The point to the bit was Aronimink’s move back to its roots, in an effort to strengthen the course and attract a PGA championship. This notion led me to ponder which Buffalo-area courses would be best suited for a major championship. We’ve seen the Web.Com tour come to Peek’n Peak and Brierwood in the past, and both are excellent venues for tour events. A major, though, is a different animal. For fun, I’ll take a look at courses in Buffalo-Niagara and which ones would be best suited for a US Amateur or a PGA Championship.
PGA Championship Candidates: River Oaks, Seneca Hickory Stick, Harvest Hill
It might seem odd to find two public-access courses aligned with private River Oaks as our nominees for a PGA Championship, but each has that special something (length) that today’s major events need. Each course is quite intricate, and never offers a similar direction, a similar hole, either back to back or later in the round. The two public courses could be shut down for play one month prior to the event, and have limited play in the month prior. Having over 7200 yards to play with means that flexibility in daily tee location is an option. All three courses have room where special event tee decks could be constructed to lengthen or change an angle. In addition, the par of a hole can be altered, to lower the course’s overall measurement from 72 to 70. Par is evasive and ethereal, but it is a referent that 100% of golfers know and understand.
Let’s begin with River Oaks. In my head, I would flip the nines for the event. I’ve never been a big fan of the current 18th hole, and I believe that there is more room for stands and spectators around the 9th green. I would move the driving range temporarily to the broken, undeveloped land across Whitehaven Road and use the current driving range for the corporate villages and souvenirs. The only change I would make to the new 18th would be to grass over the right-side bunkers and add a center-line hazard (perhaps a diagonal bunker reef.) The hole is benign and an easy drive for the world’s best, without such an addition. River Oaks has massive greens, so copious hole locations are a bonus that most courses don’t offer. I could go on, but we have so much to discuss.
Moving on to Seneca Hickory Stick, the Lewiston course is the most recent addition to the amalgam of course in Buffalo-Niagara. Its pedigree is stout, as it was designed by Chambers Bay’s (2015 US Open) Robert Trent Jones, jr. What SHS is missing is on-site space for hospitality, crowds, etcetera, but the town of Lewiston would certainly make space to ensure that the tournament would be a success. Like River, I would flip the nines. The 18th hole is a par three and, let’s be honest, you cannot finish a major championship on a short hole. The 9th hole, a par five that shares the double green with 18, fills that bill to the max. It is a fairly long hole that could be lengthened to over 600 yards. Like River, SHS offers flexibility in tee locations and playing angles, massive greens with varied hole locations, and the requisite mix of directional change that make a major a major. The one hole that I would immediately lower from a five to a four par is the current third/proposed twelfth. The hole maxes at 500 yards, which is often a par 4 in today’s professional world. On the other nine, I would do the same with current 17/proposed 8. Both would become longish 4s with daring approach shots over wetlands.
We close with Harvest Hill, another course with plenty of room for operations. Harvest Hill has the most unique mix of golf holes, with five par 3s, five par 5s and 8 par 4 holes. The 2nd hole, despite being a par five on the card, would be a driver-wedge for every top golfer, so it drops to a par four. The 10th, with its downhill drive, would play similarly. A three-metal tee shot would reach the creek at the bottom and leave a 7 iron to the green. Unlike the previous two courses, no alteration of hole order would be necessary. The 18th at Harvest is a delight, and could be extended another 40 yards if needed. The greatest amount of attention, from my perspective, would be paid to the par 3 holes. They are quite similar in distance, with the exception of the long 17th. I would play the 5th at 150, the 7th at 200, the 12th at 130 (with diabolical pin positions), the 15th at 190, and the 17th at 230 or longer (I might build a new deck behind the 16th green to extend it to 250…fun!)
US Amateur or Walker Cup Candidates: Crag Burn and Country Club of Buffalo
There is a small patch of grass beyond the rear entrance to the golf shop at Crag Burn. It lines up with the first fairway, but there is no way that it can serve as a tee deck, can it? Well, for club championship it does, it adds 75 yards to the hole, and tells you all you need to know about golf at Crag Burn. They like their golf long and difficult, and they have the course for it. Crag Burn wouldn’t want the headaches that come with a US Open, nor could the nearby roads manage the traffic. A US Amateur or a Walker Cup would be perfect for the Burn, just as it would for the Country Club of Buffalo.
Both the Amateur and Walker Cup are seen by the general public as proving grounds for future professionals. Both are truly something else. They are the epitome of the individual and team championships of US amateur golf, and select distinguished, challenging courses on which to hold their competitions. Crag Burn is nearly 50 years old, while the Country Club of Buffalo’s Williamsville course is 90 years young. I have attended Walker Cup matches at Merion and National Golf Links of America, and can confirm that a healthy number of spectators do attend, but nowhere near the numbers of an Open championship. This release from infrastructure would allow the clubs to avoid compromising their courses, eliminate excessive traffic and damage to the grounds, and highlight the tremendous features of each layout.
Both Crag Burn and the Country Club of Buffalo have tremendously intricate putting surfaces. Regardless of the path taken to reach the green, if the rolling of the rock is easy, the ultimate challenge is lost. Crag Burn is a Robert Trent Jones, sr., course that combines elements of a woodland layout with a heathlands course. The Country Club of Buffalo is hewn from a limestone quarry, but thanks to the October storm of 2008, its vistas are once again open and thrilling. The latter course sits on the Niagara escarpment and moves up and down with frequency. Crag Burn is flat, farm country, formerly the site of a horse farm. Two courses that would shine a positive light on golf in Buffalo-Niagara, without the massive set-up and break-down of an Open championship.
Wild Card: Diamond Hawk
Simply put, Diamond Hawk is beguiling. No one would suspect that the same team that built Harvest Hill (Hurdzan-Fry) also designed Diamond Hawk. With very little wiggle room, the DH course was routed quite well, There isn’t much room for grandstands, but I would love to set the pins and the tees, and let the pros have at it.