Now that the New-Build bubble has burst, golf course architecture is focused on restoration and renovation. In the case of Holiday Valley, the work done by Paul Albanese can be classified as the later. In its initial iteration, HV was a nice resort course with some quirky golf holes. Albanese came in and replaced the sour taste of the quirk with sound fundamental architecture. The result is a memorable and fair layout that takes complete advantage of the opportunities provided by its ski resort topography.
Holes 1-3: 394, 351 & 400
The starting hole at Holiday Valley is a serpentine, two-shotter with a creek down the entire left side of the hole. There is a bit of fairway right for a miss, but don’t get too wild up the safe side. The second shot seeks a moderately-sized green with mounding for protection. One feels that the first is doable in 4 blows; anything more seems less than fulfilling. The second hole demands strategic execution in a big way. Driver is out of the question for most, as a blast with the big stick will typically find water. The play of the day is long iron or hybrid up the right side, leaving a short iron over water to the green. The hole plays as a dogleg. The third hole, a long and straight par four, runs parallel to Route 219. A bunker awaits on the left side of the fairway, steering drives to the right…and toward the lake that guards that edge of the hole. Another bunker protects the front left part of the green. Of the first three putting surfaces, number three is the most difficult for a recovery. Find a way to get your approach onto this green.
Holes 4-6: 423, 202 & 491
The 4th at Holiday Valley is the fourth consecutive two-shot hole. This one plays much better from the lower, left tee than it does from the lengthy one behind the pond. The later completely eliminates the dogleg while the former embraces it. After your uphill tee shot, the approach is played to a narrow, angled, bunkered green that runs away from the golfer…piece of cake. This green always seems faster than the rest, and Holiday Valley is known for its quick green speeds. Number five is the first par three hole, a flat and longish hole to a large, round green. A few bunkers are in play, but you have no business missing this green. Putts of over 60 feet are not uncommon on this hole, so judge your distance well. The sixth hole is the first par five on the course and is a risk-reward type of hole. The tee shot is the most demanding aspect of the hole, as trees up the left side eliminate that avenue. A drive hit straight out with no draw will easily run through the fairway and find the rough. After a hybrid or three-metal into the fairway, a run may be made at the green. Missing left is more appealing than right, as the green falls off into a large vale, with sand on the same side. The green has some undulation and a five is always a good score
Holes 7-9: 374, 404 & 161
Number seven is the glamour hole on the front nine at Holiday Valley. The tee was elevated by Mr. Albanese to a spot up on the ridge, making the drop shot to the fairway even more dramatic. The problem with the drive is, it’s downright scary! You have water left, water right, and a sliver of fairway to reach. Is this Florida? The near end of the fairway is 175 yards from the green, only a hybrid off the tee and short of both bodies of water. The second shot is equally demanding, with a riveted, drop bunker to the right and more sand left. Only 374 yards, your two best shots on the front should come here. The eight hole has the appearance of a northeast hole. Pines line the fairway, with a bit of room on the right of this dogleg left. Absolutely no reason exists to cut the left corner. The hole opens up from the right side, with two bunkers near the green to avoid. The putting surface is flat, so two well-planned and executed shots should result in a run at birdie. The ninth hole is the most dramatically changed on the course. To make room for the new condo building, the hole was shortened from a short par four to a mid-length par three. While old nine was the Scrambler’s favorite hole, it certainly had its foibles. The new one is technically perfect, but certainly lacking in the homespun quality that old nine had in spades. A nice, deep green, set at a right to left angle to the tee, with ample bunkering on the right and the creek protecting the left edge.
Holes 10-12: 171, 365 & 187
It occurred to me as I entered the yardages that Holiday Valley now has three par three holes in a four-hole stretch, and four in seven. Fortunately, none is like the others. Nine is a flat hole, while ten benefits from elevation-of-tee, similar to the 7th hole. The 10th tee now sits high above the 16th green and 10th greens, staring across a pond and sand at a tilted, tiny green. This was a favorite hole before and is now more so. The beginning of a mountainous stretch where putting is a beast! The green bears all the weight of the hilly topography, so stay below the hole when possible, but don’t leave those uphill putts short! Eleven holds the title of most improved hole. Its former iteration was bowling alley between the trees, a 380-yard par five whose green could not be reached in two. Albanese cleared out a bunch of trees up the left side and widened the fairway rightward (I’m told they’re going even farther right, to make driver a play). The approach is a killer photo opp, across a gulch to a green shelved below fairway height, hard against the gorge. Once again, the putting surface slants mightily, making sidehill putts a yeoman’s task. Twelve is another shortie, a bit uphill to a new green. About 10 yards were added to the hole during renovation. The proper play comes in slightly from the right, kicks down to the green and voila…putt for two. Miss it left and anything might happen.
Holes 13-15: 446, 548 & 220
Number thirteen earned the moniker of most thrilling hole at HV. The tee, previously elevated, now sits among the clouds. On a clear day, most folks spend an extra moment or ten inhaling the view with their eyes. The task of hitting the fairway has been made easier with the clearing of a stand of trees low left, with the end result being a split fairway. The old/higher fairway is still the better option for the approach, allowing for a high or low shot in. The new/lower fairway sits below green level and requires a lofted pitch in. A sidehill of rough rests between the two fairways, but you might also catch the cart path there and gather an extra bounce or two toward the putting surface. The green is sloped front to back, so play a club less and allow for a kick forward. Stay right on your approach, rather than left, as sand and (farther on) an abyss await. The fourteenth is a ridge runner, a decent-size par five that rides a crest above the beginner’s ski slope. The fairway is nondescript, a roadway to get you from here to there. To the right is deep native grass, replaced later by a brook and trees that overhang the green a bit. To the left are trees, rough and a hillside, where sidehill/uphill lies are the menu. Once on the green, which sits in a bit of a dell, your putt will move as the mountain does. Take an extra read from the opposite side before putting. Fifteen is the last of the par three holes, one that plays heroically down the Sunrise ski slope, to a large green guarded by an enormous reverse-E shaped bunker on the right. Another bunker sits front left, narrowing your options. The green is a large, round pie tin with some slope from back to front.
Holes 16-18: 458, 480 & 429
I’m biased in that I don’t think the sixteenth green is build to hold the hybrid or long iron shot that the new designation of par four calls for. What that does, is make it a half-shot-plus hole, a par 4.5. If you make four, consider it a birdie; if you need to lay up short of the creek and pitch on, that’s the way the hole was designed. The fairway runs parallel to and below number fourteen, so reverse the options and hit your best drive. You’ll need all the run you can gather. The green sits on the far side of a brief but thirsty brook, so you have to be all-in, completely committed, to your lay-up or your go-for-it. Once aboard the small putting surface, take a run at a one-putt. It’s late in the round and time for memories. Seventeen reverses the old eighteenth hole, running uphill to a brand new, enormous green. While the hole measures 480 yards, it plays 60 yards longer. Your tee ball lands into the rising hill, killing most forward momentum. Avoid the fairway bunker on the right and stay high left. Your second shot needs to stay right of the tree line, yet left of the greenside bunker. Figure out your yardage in to the front third of the green, as long is not an enviable resting place. For a few years, this green will putt differently from the rest (and differently from year to year) as the soil settles completely. Eighteen is the final hero hole on the course, a downhill blast where the old, uphill seventeenth fairway used to lie. The final green is the same, the one that sits below the base lodge, just over the rocky brook. Go for it all on your drive and your approach. Remember, though, that you’re still downhill and take one club less on your approach. Make your birdie or par in front of your adoring fan base on the verandas and retire to a sandwich and a drink at the cafe.