As golf season winds down in Buffalo-Niagara, our attention turns to domes, trips and television. You have domes and your remote control device within reach, so leave the rest to me. I’m going to offer up a nine-part series (this is part ten-BONUS!!) on eclectic eighteens across the USA. The only thread tying them together is my having played them. That, and the fact that all of the courses are worthwhile. You’ll never play them all in one sweep, as I once did, but when you find yourself in these regions, know that these courses are worth your money and your best game.
At some point in the 1990s, when golf was in its simultaneous Baby Boomer-Tiger growth cycle, the thought of recreating the world’s finest holes on replica courses was born. In Houston (more aptly, in Humble-pronounced “umble”) a Tour 18 course was built on a fairly flat piece of land. David Edsall, buoyed by his Tour 18 Dallas and Renditions Golf Club, became the go-to guy for this type of course. Since there is no originality in the designs, the question becomes: how faithful are the copies to the originals?
The topography is the key, as one might imagine. It’s difficult to build a hilly hole on flat land, right? Water holes aren’t so hard; just dig out a pond and there you have it. What does become a problem, though, is when a hole is no longer used on the PGA Tour or, in the case of the Desert Inn course in Las Vegas, no longer exists! In a way, it becomes a nice ode to a former time.
The Tour 18 course in Houston offers up the Amen Corner holes from Augusta National, the island 17th at TPC Sawgrass, and a host of other holes from tour events and major championship golf. My playing partner and I debated whether folks would want to play a course like this again and again. I thought that I would. We played on a soggy day, on which we had zero roll out, and the course was quite enjoyable. I envisioned it under drier, warmer and windier conditions and concluded, Yes, I would play here with frequency.
The Great Bear course is the newest addition to golf in the Pocono Mountains. It was designed by the Golden Bear’s team, but fell on hard times and actually closed down for a season. Unexpectedly, the Shawnee Resort, home to 27 holes along the Delaware River, purchased Great Bear a few years back and now boasts 45 outstanding holes. Tee off in the morning on a contemporary course, then turn back the hands of time on some great 1920s-era golf along the river.
Leading up to our round at Great Bear, I had my misgivings. A Nicklaus course, routed through a housing development, gave me concern over the narrowness, the overt bunkering, the unplayability of the layout. Tour pros have a tendency to route courses as they fit their eye; in Nicklaus’ case, that used to mean high-fade, long-carry on full shots. Fortunately for those who play here, Great Bear departs from that pattern.
The holes at Great Bear are as memorable as the land. The course is sighted on a diverse property, including up- and downhills, manageable carries over marshes, and the occasional run of flat acreage. Team Nicklaus, certainly handcuffed by housing constraints, did a fine job establishing fairway width in the drive zones and in the green surrounds. I suspect that a few plays of the course are required to truly understand lines of play, but for a first time, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.