A short introduction into our vision for OneStrappers:
Hello from the three of us.
Since early June we have decided to jump into the golf culture game. It took some getting used to, and I think we still are a bit oblivious to where this thing will go, but what the heck.
As our golf porfolios have each expanded, it became evident that between the three of us, we had the content to put together a pretty good little page that would represent something of a lifestyle brand. It would resonate with the golf course architecture geeks, the ones sitting at their office wishing they were out at the golf course, and the top 100 chasers alike. So we did it.
We have had quite a year of travels. Between the three of us, with Henry on the west coast, and myself and Gray on the east coast during the school year, we have covered quite a bit of ground. Since we started in June, I feel we have done a pretty good job capturing our experiences well.
We are striving to better capture the nature, the lifestyle, and the vibe of the game into something thats both attractive, accurate, progressive, and unique. As architecture junkies, we plan to dive a bit deeper into some design related takes on the courses we play, and seek to grow our knowledge even further.
This is a game we love. We’re just trying to soak it all in, sharing it with you guys along the way.
I don’t recommend oversleeping and missing the first of four consecutive flights across the world.
I arrived at the airport minutes after the paperwork deadline had closed, and was quickly informed that on that particular airline, my next chance at a flight to Sydney was at 3:30 the next afternoon. Well that dog ain’t gonna hunt, because my flight to LAX left at noon that very day. I found a flight with some help from the not-so-thrilled parents, and found myself on the ground in Sydney around midnight, realizing quickly that my wish to stay in the airport overnight just wasn’t going to be an option.
An airpot attendant informed me that she was locking up and asked me politely what the heck I was doing grinding on the laptop at 12:30 on a Monday night in the airport with all my luggage accounted for. As honestly as a could, I told her that my flight was at noon the next afternoon and I had no intention of spending more cash to stay in a hotel room that night. She directed me to a train, which after close observation, gave me the impression that went in continuous loops. So I jumped on.
I had the whole place to myself, placed my 100 lbs of luggage on an empty seat and crashed. I woke up as the train stopped, later being met by the driver (Chris) who was doing final walk-throughs before shutting down for the night. Chris informed me that I was miles from the airport, but had to take the train back to the storage yard which was back that way, and offered to get me two stops short of the airport, against protocol. Next thing I know I’m sitting on platform 3, with walking directions to the airport in my phone (which doesn’t have cell service in Australia).
I decide early that I’m not leaving the station in effort not to get mugged and robbed, the strong possibility that I would get lost, and the pure unwillingness to carry a backpack, and two heavy pieces of luggage for 30 minutes. So I camped out. I found a bench at the station, took out t-shirts from my bag, and used the only two jackets that I had as a pillow, using my handy dandy yoga mat cover as a thin blanket. It is now two in the morning, the airport opens at three, and the first train comes at 4:20.
Larger cargo trains pass periodically through the night, and the sound of the third train was my alarm clock at 4:20. I Jumped on the train like nothing had happened, en route to the airport. I arrive at 4:30, and find my way into a coffee shop with comfortable looking couches. They were nowhere near opening, and there was hardly anyone in the airport at this time, so I slept on those for another few hours.
At 9:00 I check in, getting access to the sky club (thanks to my uncle Rob, who works at Delta), and quickly see the exact opposite way of life than the way I had lived it in the last 24 hours. After a shower, some grub, a much needed coffee, and a few la croix, I was off for my flight back to the U.S. Im sitting in a chair about 40k feet above the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii (hey Henry), and can’t help but realize what a crazy story that is. This experience was perhaps my most fruitful of the entire trip.
I went to Haiti with my mother during my late high school years for a few weeks to serve a village on the southwestern tip of the country. One of my largest take aways, past my actual time with the people of this community, was a sense of global poverty. Talking to Chris after clearly intending to sleep on that train, and having someone on the train that morning see me wake up on that bench and walk in those doors is quite an experience. You feel like scum. It certainly put into perspective where I was in the world. I had spent time in one of the poorest communities in the world, experienced a homeless night- and the stink that comes with it, then was treated like complete royalty hours later. As I walk in this sky club, it is clear that these people have probably never lived a night like I had just experienced in their lives. It is a day I’ll never forget.
This experience also makes me realize where golf can take you. Without this great game we play, I would have sat in Spartanburg, South Carolina, gone to class, played golf, and spent time with friends. But why would I trade that for a chance to learn from some of the best architects on the planet, on some of the greatest golf courses on the planet, in one of the greatest cities on the planet? And what would that have been without some road bumps?
I wouldn’t have traded anything to have my phone function on that trip. There’s something quite special about asking for help, whether it be for directions or what to order on a menu. It empowers the person whom you ask, because you surrender your false sense of superiority, relying on their knowledge that you don’t possess. Unless they’re an asshole (and there are none in Australia), you’ll be quite pleased asking for help (this rule does not apply in NYC or Boston). I don’t do it often enough.
I’ve told people that simply coming to Melbourne to walk the streets and speak to people would be an experience in its own- in fact I would have been content with this trip if it had been limited to such. But it was the game that got me there. It was Mike Cocking who got me there. It was Rob Swift who embraced me that first week and for the rest of the month. It was Shane and Cruze and Gossy that treated me like one of their own. It was Mike Clayton who challenged me in the way I think about design, and hosted me all across the sand belt. It was Ashley Mead who kept everything fun, buying us afternoon beers at the office. It was Nick and Jason and Trev who taught me how to use all sorts of equipment that I probably wasn’t even allowed to drive, letting me make mistakes and teaching me how to get better. It was Glenn Stuart and Hayden Mead who opened the doors to learning about two great golf courses, breaking some irrigation pipes along the way (sorry Hayden). It was my host, Emma. It was Rob Kight who got me here. It was my parents. These are the people that made it happen.
What a ride it was. What an experience. What a game we play. Thank you to all who made it possible, and to all who have followed the journey.
Until next time (and there will be a next time), Australia.
It really has felt like I’ve been here for only two weeks or so. I arrived a clueless traveler, and taking more notice into the little things that I had become numb to this week, it made me realize how far I had come since arriving on that first day.
My first night in the apartment in South Yarra I went to an Italian joint right down the street. It was so easy, and since I live on the other side of Chapel Street, one of Melbourne’s busiest, most eclectic food scenes, I don’t blame myself for starting right next to home. Over time I became more adventurous, tried to eat at a different place for each meal, and ended up meeting some amazing people along the way. But looking back, walking down every surrounding street, now being able to recite half of the menu at dozens of locations, it makes you feel like you’ve really gotten yourself out there.
Some food pictures:
I am here in January because of a program that Wofford College (the school I attend) offers called interim, which is an exploratory learning period of a month. While my time with OCCM learning golf course architecture and design has been invaluable, it has become evident that simply traveling to Melbourne, walking the streets, going in restaurants, and meeting people alone has provided me with knowledge, insights, stories, and connections that would have passed me by if I was at home- completely unaware that these interactions were happening as I was asleep.
This week I’ve talked to and given money to a homeless man in the streets of Melbourne, met dozens of people in line at the Australian Open (some even with connections to home), been given a smoothie ‘on the house’ at a restaurant I frequent, gotten drunk on a rooftop asian fusion bar off of sake, leading to a night of conversation with this dude- the bartender- who ended up having dumplings with me after his shift ended, making friends with a postman who happens to love golf course architecture, and helping a German couple lost in the middle of the city get to St. Kilda Beach. You just can’t make this stuff up.
I caught up with Mike Cocking and Rob Swift on our last work day. Mike had been at the office grinding away on some new (and exciting) projects, Rob at Peninsula Kingswood, and myself at Kingston Heath finishing up the range. Being our last time together I couldn’t help but reminisce on the first few days to when Mike picked me up from the airport, and when I was introduced to Rob- who I didn’t even know existed at the time. So much had happened since those days. I had fallen into something of a routine, taking a train about an hour south of the city around 6:45 every morning, being picked up by Mike or Rob, and heading to Peninsula Kingswood or Kingston Heath. It was a great way to cap off one more incredible week, with one last round with Mike Clayton to look forward to the Sunday before I left at Victoria.
The week started on our ride home from St. Andrews beach, when Mike Clayton asked me if I was going to the Australian Open- which I was planning to. Like one does, he called the past tournament director, and organized me a ticket in all of five minutes. And that is Mike Clayton in a nutshell. Unfortunately Barnbougle fell through due to full booking, but it leaves me a reason to come back. It would make for an epic guys trip.
Friday was spent at Peninsula Kingswood before a rowdy Saturday at the Aussie Open. There are few things in the sporting world that make me roll my eyes harder than the early April golf fans. Suddenly in the spring time about 30 days before the Masters Tournament everyone I know suddenly becomes a passionate golf fanatic. I’m that guy with tennis. Every year during the 4th of July I watch Wimbledon and have a blast doing it. But past seeing highlights or knowing the results of the other Majors, I couldn’t care less. But now that it was in town, it was a major, combined with my infatuation with Melbourne, it was the perfect storm for some tennis. I walk about halfway from my apartment, and hop on a tram to take me straight in. I ended up meeting these two ladies from the other side of the bay- Lonsdale- and they took me under their wing since they actually knew what they were doing. It wasn’t long before we were inside and waiting in line (again) with an overpriced beer in hand. I spent virtually the entire day watching matches, other than a break for lunch and some pong with the locals.
Here are some photos from my time at the Aussie Open:
The next three days were spent in the dirt over at Peninsula Kingswood with Mike, Rob, Trev, Shane, Cruze, and Gossy. The days were spent prepping the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 18th greens on the North Course for hydroseeding, which required the fringe areas and bunker lips to be finalized.
Here are some photos from the work week:
It was a long hot three days, but to cap it all off with my last time with the guys we all decided to walk 9 on Wednesday at dusk. When work got out we all headed to the bottle-o and grabbed a 6 pack before heading out to play the South. It’s quite interesting playing with the guys who literally crafted every bunker, every lull, every hill, every waste area. Cruze is the current competitive course-record-holder at Kingston Heath Golf Club (63), and promptly birdied the first after not playing for over two months with a seventy footer right in the heart. That’ll do. We did a loop, eventually playing 10-15 on the North, the holes I had put quite a bit of sweat in this month. There are few things more satisfying than playing something you have carved- even though my part was microscopic relative to the group.
Here are some photos from our round:
Thursday was a special one, because it quite literally showed the exact progress that had been made since I arrived. The very first place I went after the airport was Kingston, during which the range was being torn apart. Over the course of the month I helped the shapers move dirt and more or less made Jason, Nick, and Trev a bit more efficient. In 28 days, we had changed a range that was elevated and tiny, to a flat bit of land that was some 120 yards from side to side, and some 60 back to front in its deepest corner- one of the largest ranges I have ever seen. It looked quite natural for being nearly the only laser leveled surface on the property. It is something that players will enjoy for years to come.
Before the project:
Completed project (pre-turf):
I took some time on Thursday morning and afternoon to photograph the golf course. It would be a crime to come here and work and not have photos to both study and share for years to come. This is a truly special piece of land. The only reason it is where it is today is because of their boldness in the past to make significant changes- good changes, that improved the golf course. I feel that a tree removal plan is not too far in its future, and if they stick to their boldness, it will continue to be the staple club in the sandbelt. They have so much knowledge and experience at their hands with OCCM, and other world class designers who frequent the sandbelt.
Here are some photos of my time at Kingston Heath golf Club on Thursday:
On Friday, Australia Day, Mike Clayton and I went out to Commonwealth and met up with Chris, a buddy of his who hosted us out there. Chris is a really cool, intelligent dude, and an absolute golf nut. He gets architecture and really understands what he’s talking about. The three of us had an absolute blast walking around the place and playing. I think the three of us would be quite keen to seeing some trees pulled out around the clubhouse area, which would make for an incredible feel around the clubhouse, revealing views all across the property from places where you sometimes don’t even know where you are. I would venture to say it would be the greatest vibe around the clubhouse of any in the sand belt- that I played at least.
Here are some photos from Commonwealth:
On Saturday I took the night to head uptown. I packed my bag and took off along the Yarra River, walking along its bank until I reached the heart of the city. The Yarra River was advertised to be quite dirty, but I found quite the opposite. On a Saturday night it was quite majestic. As I walked down the river, there are dozens and dozens of barbecues laying there for the public to use. Families and friend groups of all races and ages were grilling out on the river with blankets and beers. Sunset cruises took off along the banks, tons of them, just cruising up and down the river overlooking the city. Rowing is quite popular on the Yarra as well, and there were a few teams flying up and down the banks before the sun fell.
I had planed it so that I would reach the Eureka Skydeck 30 minutes before sunset. The Euerka Skydeck is an 88 story building with 360 degree views overlooking the Melbourne skyline, and by far the most touristy thing I had attempted all trip. I took the elevator up (88 floors in 30 seconds) and started a time-lapse on my phone. The views were unreal as we saw the sky fully lit, then semi lit, then dark, watching the lights come on. Traffic looked like red and white blood cells flowing throughout the veins of the city, following the Yarra into the city from the bay. It was something I’ll never forget.
Here are some photos from the 88th floor at Euerka:
I quickly found myself on back on the ground, in the heart of Melbourne, which is bisected by the Yarra. I head over the bridge to a restaurant I had checked out before named Arbory Afloat. It was a play on Arbory’s actual restaurant, just on an exposed dock on the water overlooking the city on both sides. Theyre doing really good, simple food and drinks. The view is incredible, and if you’re not into that, you can watch the Australian Open on a 15 foot screen in a beach chair. The kitchen is open too, so you can watch them make wood fired Neapolitan pizzas and roasted half chickens with broccolini, good simple salads, etc.
Here are some photos from Arbory Afloat and the surrounding area:
On my last day Mike picked me up to get a morning round at Victoria. We were supposed to play with smooth-swinging Ryan Ruffels, but he caught the bug, so we played just the two of us. I had underestimated what kind of land it was on, simply because driving by its borders on 2 and 3 are quite flat, but boy was I wrong. I had forgotten that its neighbor was the most undulating in the sandbelt- Royal Melbourne. I thought the back nine was incredible– all of it. They are already great holes with even more potential. The 14th was my favorite, a driveable par 4 into the prevailing wind, which becomes really tricky when playing against the wind like we did. If you choose to hug the bunkers on the left starting 100 yards short of the green, running all the way up to it, you still have a chance of running it on. If you leave it short of the bunkers, your view of the green is obscured, and if you play out to the right you can see the green just fine, you just have to play over the right green-side bunkers. The green sloped front to back and falls off the back 20 yards or so. The front nine is much flatter, and a bit more bland, but has some great holes approaching the back nine.
Some ideas for Victoria included the following: Holes 2, 3, and 9 could have a reverse routing, which would be quite an ambitious play for the club. That idea needs a lot of work but could be incredible. The 8th could be made into a par 4, because it’s so short. The tee on 5 should be right off the back of the 4th, creating a long par 4 or a shorter 5, bringing the green down all the way to the 12th in that bowl.
One of the coolest features of the course is that the last two holes of each nine are par 5’s, each with one that quite easy and one that could offer some trouble. That’s one of the most unique routing features I’ve seen come to life.
Here are some photos from Victoria:
Stay tuned for our next (probably our last) Australia blog: Homeless to Hospitality- for a look into my way back to the states.
As snow falls in my home town, I’m sitting in Melbourne watching the sun fall over the hills of South Yarra and Toorak after a day that reached 109 degrees. And after my last visit the blog a week ago, I can confidently say it was one hell of a week.
On Friday after some work at Peninsula Kingswood CGC North, Mike Cocking, Rob Swift, and I went over to Royal Melbourne to catch the final groups of the Master of the Amateurs. David Micheluzzi and Yuka Yasuda provided some unbelievable play coming down the stretch in some awful weather on that final day. Micheluzzi closed with 64 on Friday and Yasuda posted 65 in the third round to give herself a huge lead, holding on to win. As we arrived, we met up with Michael Clayton who was caddying for Julienne Soo, who was runner up to Yasuda. We grabbed a dog and went out to watch the leaders on the East. We were only there for about half an hour before the skies opened up, but Rob and I managed to walk the West after the rain cleared even though we were soaking wet, which made for a good day.
After a Saturday downpour, I finished the weekend with Simon Dick (@simonpdick, @chasingtop100), G (@hwlygolfer), and Jack (@jackjohnstoneagent) who were my hosts at Kingston Heath on Sunday, followed by an afternoon at Metropolitan with Michael Clayton (@thatguywhofellonhisball).
I have spent a boat load of time at Kingston Heath this week moving dirt to expand the teeing ground of their practice range, which has been such a blast. I have to say, it was a nice contrast walking through the front door with clean clothes and a golf bag on my shoulder. If there is a more thrilling experience than walking through the front doors at Kingston Heath, I have yet to experience it. As you walk up to the front, automatic glass doors open to a brick tunnel, mens locker room on your right, pro shop at your left, looking straight ahead towards the green and burnt brown tints of Melbourne sand belt golf. Every step you take towards the end of the tunnel reveals another clip of the panoramic view seen from the back porch. The place still hasn’t dulled on me since the very first day I walked in. We stood there on the first tee, filling the first slot of the day, minutes later walking down the first fairway, sand buckets in hand, leaving our footprints in the dew, as we crest the hill overlooking the first green. This is gonna be a pretty good day.
Simon and I connected quite a while ago, little did we know that our first round together would be all the way over in Melbourne. His page @chasingtop100G has gained quite a following, filled with awesome content of the courses he’s played around the world. If you haven’t heard of Simon through his Instagram presence, you may have seen or heard of him through @NoLayingUP, since he basically organized their entire trip over here in Australia. G is a fund manager who lives in Melbourne and is a member at Kingston Heath. Carries a Mackenzie bag, travels a ton, and has a ton of swag. His wife is an entrepreneur who started her own sun-protective athletic/golf apparel. I noticed that both he and Simon were wearing these shirts that were long sleeved- which was odd, but looked so soft and comfortable. The name of the company is SOLBARI, and they make great stuff- check them out. Jack is a real-estate guy in Melbourne, and also a member at Kingston Heath, and was just all around a carefree, cool dude to be around. He’s a huge American sports fan, so he was a really nice guy considering he doesn’t sleep very much at night. All around- a pretty kick ass foursome.
Here are some photo’s from our round at Kingston Heath:
After a few drinks (long blacks, latte’s, double shots) and lunch, Simon and I found ourselves at Metropolitan with Michael Clayton. Mike and I had met at Royal Melbourne, and we had connected a few times through twitter, but this was really my first experience with the guy. Little did I know I’d spend a good portion of the week with him.
For those who don’t know, Michael Clayton was a professional golfer who won numerous times in Australia, played on the European Tour, winning once there as well. He’s a polarizing figure, with bold takes on tree removal, width, variety, and architecture in general. Some think he’s too harsh, but after studying with him this week, its not hard to see how he thinks, and what an incredible impact he could have on the sand belt and the game if he was given the opportunity to sculpt as he wished. He is arguably the most well connected individual in the golf world I have ever met. When he walks in a pro shop in Australia there is not a pro who doesn’t know who he is. That being said- he’s a pretty selfless guy, treating everyone in his path with care and class, and has gone out of his way to give me some insight on his years of design work.
Our round at Metro was spectacular, despite it being a bit softer than advertised, which was somewhere between rock hard and ridiculous. The company was killer, and after thinking about it, we could’ve played a complete goat track and I would have enjoyed the round just the same. I heard stories I’ll never forget. Though it is known as being spectacular mostly through its conditioning, I think it was helpful to see the place not in freaky firm and fast condition, even though most of my drives still ran out 30 yards or so. I feel like I got a more true sample of Metropolitan that way. After the round we had a second coffee inside the new clubhouse, took a look at the history and the future plans, and cleared out the pro shop for my American blokes back home.
Here are some pictures of the round at Metropolitan:
This week was filled with work at Peninsula Kingswood back with my blokes Gossy, Cruze, and Shane. These guys will be featured in my recap of the month which will include a description of everyone I interacted with, the experiences we shared, and some cool moments along the way. We made some serious progress towards opening holes 10-15 on the North Course at Peninsula Kingswood. This is pretty special because I spent a great deal of time out there the last few weeks and unquestionably have some sweat in the completion and opening of these holes.
Here are a few pictures of 10-15 on the North which is opening up for members this week:
After work, Mike Clayton and I went on a few adventures to study the sand belt courses. This week that included Yarra Yarra, Commonwealth, and Spring Valley Golf Club. There is nothing more intriguing than hearing design takes on courses that someone consults for or has played hundreds of times. I generally am a proponent of tree clearing for with and visual purposes, but my view is normally limited to designing specific holes, and Mike had incredible vision for ‘Oakmonting’ certain places, which would make these courses incredible in the spots he selected, particularly Commonwealth. With the incredible clubhouse vibe that Commonwealth has, you could very easily turn that place into something of the likes of Riviera- something I didn’t even see, and something that certainly the members and committees don’t as well.
Here are some pictures from my time at Commonwealth, the other two weren’t photographed.
To end the week, Mike Clayton and I looked for an excuse to go down to St. Andrews Beach to play at the Doak/OCCM gem. The best we could do was finding a couple TV’s to take down to his beach house down there, so we hit the road this morning down the Peninsula. Two hours later I’m having a seltzer on the back patio overlooking the sand dunes and the ocean, and its 109 degrees.
We head out to see the water and to get a look at the sand dunes that could be home to an incredible golf course- but never will be, and we’re off to have a bash. The clubhouse at St. Andrews beach is a temporary, but I think it should just stay. It’s a tiny little shack accompanied by a punchbowl putting green so small it can only fit about 3 or 4 holes reasonably far apart. Quite ironic, the scale of the clubhouse, considering the monster that lays behind it.
When you step on the first tee at St. Andrews beach, some courses that come to mind are Ballyneal and Tobacco Road. The entire course was built on natural land, with almost zero manipulation of slopes, other than the green complexes. Balls roll far, you can’t find your pitch marks because you don’t make them, and you better know how to keep your ball low.
The most successful part of St. Andrews beach is the balance between difficulty that the land presents, and the generous or penal nature of the green surrounds to compliment. For example, the hardest hole on the course, the 13th, a 500 yard par 4 which today played into the wind has a crowned fairway which slopes away into the native areas on both sides. Even with a good drive, a player is still left with 230 yards into a green defended by bunkers short right. The difficulty up to this point is complimented with 20 yards on either side of funnel. Any shot left, right, or long by 20 yards or less will end up on the putting surface, and any player forced to lay up and play for a four the tough way has an approach they can likely get close. on the contrary, Easy holes like the 15th, which is a drivable par 4 are surrounded with slopes that carry balls into spots that are way below the green, or that are dangerously quick down the hill. This is the genius of St. Andrews Beach.
If you’re a cross country golf fan, this is your place. You can jump on Michael’s #holesthataren’tholes bandwagon because its unrealistic to walk the place and not see three or four holes that would just be incredible from alternate tees. We spoke today of adding four or five more greens and making up dozens of possible routings with the same teeing grounds and something like 23 green complexes.
Here are some photos of my time at St. Andrews Beach today:
This week is a wrap. I’ll be spending some time at the Australian Open this weekend watching people who are better than me at tennis, finishing up the range at Kingston Heath, photographing the sand belt, finishing some work at Peninsula Kingswood, and traveling to Tazzy to see Barnbougle.
To a certain extent it is common knowledge that none of us are where we are today without the help of another. Before I do anything else I feel it would be something of a crime not to express my thanks and gratitude to OCCM and specifically Mike Cocking for making this month in Melbourne a reality. Even in my first week here, It has become evident to me how busy OCCM is, and what that requires of Mike. It has made me appreciate even further his character and boldness to allow a kid come from across the world to study his interpretation and genius in golf course design and architecture. While I am already thankful to have gotten to know some of the members of OCCM very well in this short amount of time, I would not be here without Mike granting me this opportunity.
After arriving in Melbourne three days after I departed the states, I meet Mike in the airport, did the small talk and the formalities, like driving on the left side of the road- the whole deal. Eventually I found myself taking my first shower in Oz in the Men’s Locker Room at Kingston Heath- not bad.
Later that afternoon we walked the property. It doesn’t take long to understand the genius of the place. It’s utterly simplistic, tempting, teasing, simple, and mean. I’ve been here less than a week, and it seems to me that Kingston Heath is the most pure sand belt experience there is.
My week one of learning begins soon thereafter, the following morning, at Kingston Heath and Peninsula Kingswood CGC. OCCM was recently tasked with the practice tee (as they call it) at Kingston Heath. My first morning out of the gate I was seeing “dozers” tearing the hitting area of the driving range to shreds, in preparation for its leveling to expand the hitting area by over three times its original size. This is where I met Jason McCarthy, one of OCCM’s best shapers, and Hayden Mead, the course superintendent at KHGC, who happens to be Ashley Mead’s (OCCM Director) brother. It was only a short morning here, but even in a short amount of time, progress has been made, and I plan on spending more time around the project in the coming week.
That afternoon was filled with an entire walkthrough of the North Course at Peninsula Kingswood CGC, Mike’s home club growing up. Like many clubs all over the world, Peninsula Kingswood, over time has lost all intrigue, its sand has been choked by grass, its bunkers were tiny and ill placed, and its mowing lines had become lifeless and boring. OCCM has left their mark on the South Course with huge success, still with the North to complete.
My arrival comes at a very exciting time relative to this project. January is smack dab in the middle of Australia’s warm season, and it just so happens that over the course of the month, I’ll not only get to see this golf course come together from a sandy canvas to a functioning golf course, but I’ll be a part of getting it to the level it needs to be in April by opening.
It was this afternoon that I first met Rob Swift, OCCM’s project manager. This week he has been an absolute blessing and a pleasure to work with. He has been extremely selfless and eager to provide me with help or answer any questions I’ve had. Shortly after our meeting we head out for an 18 hole audit (periodic check-in) on the North, something that OCCM does on ALL of its designs, completed and in-progress, since the very beginning.
The course sits on a much more captivating side of the property. There is a great deal of elevation change, though gradual, and at its highest point reveals a view of the bay and the Melbourne skyline, thanks to some tree clearing. It features the same incredibly complex green sites that determine how the hole should be played. These surfaces are so well defended, so large, and so well thought out, that they are either incredibly easy or devilishly hard when attacked from certain angles, allowing tee balls to have such a dramatic impact on a round of golf. Often players are lured visually to hit a tee shot in a location that makes getting the ball close unlikely, though once he or she gets to their ball will they understand that a tee shot short some 50 yards, just behind a bunker gives a more likely chance at attacking the flag- a line that would seem insane from the tee. These green complexes are endlessly complicated and incredibly simple, allowing members and guests to play a certain hole dozens of times, having it rarely play the same way. I am not at liberty to show any of the photos of the North Course quite yet, but I can tell you that it will be more than a compliment to the already impressive South, while still having the familiar sand belt feel.
Throughout the week I got to know the North Course much better by working on the maintenance staff at Peninsula Kingswood aside Rob Swift. I was nervous at first, not knowing how I would be perceived by a group of Aussies I didn’t know. I was introduced to Glenn Stuart, who is superintendent in charge of both the North and South, and was very involved in the projects I was working on. I was really impressed with how welcoming Glenn was to have me in Australia and at his club. I was there to learn, and he was thankful and willing to help with anything I wanted to know.
I spent the first few days cutting and moving sod, and learning how to create sandy waste areas that looked like they had been there for quite a while- as if they were formed by nature. I was given and guided through these tasks by a few of the guys on the maintenance team with OCCM and PK. These are some of the guys I learned from this week.
I was on a bit of a learning curve with the Aussie Slang, but they made sure to educate me any time I didn’t understand. I’m only about a week in, and I’ve already created quite an extensive Aussie slang list which I may or may not reveal later. Some are pretty rough. Its been a blast getting to know and learn and work with these guys on and off the golf course from my cricket education to smoko.
I will be spending the next week jumping around a bit, checking out the Master of the Amateurs Championship at Royal Melbourne, playing some golf, and working too. I’ll be sure to update as things progress.
I remember being taken under the bridge on Beulah Hull Road by my dad for the first time, not knowing that seconds later my eyes would be exposed to nothing but golf holes. Of any golf moment, I think this was one that bonded me with Pinehurst forever. I’ve been back dozens of times for years, and so much has changed. And so much has stayed the same.
Since The Cradle’s opening in late September, its been a priority to get out to the sand-hills to see what Gil Hanse and team could do with a plot of land that held previously the first holes of courses 3 and 5. To those who haven’t been, it occupies the same space that was used as the driving range during the 2014 U.S. Opens.
I have never been a fan of course no. 5, as its been ruined by real estate which has suffocated the property. The land itself is excellent and I think likely it will be the next course worked on after Hanse and team finishes no. 4, post 2019 U.S Amateur and 2024 U.S. Open.
Pinehurst no. 3 has some of the best bones of any golf course in the area. Ross developed the land before his true fame was realized. Much like many courses there, the sandy paradise that is ever-so-present was choked by grass, closed by boring mowing lines, and ruined by white stakes. The restoration completely transformed the golf course with the addition of sandy areas, the removal of all rough, and an intention set on best returning it to it’s roots as once one of the best courses in Pinehurst. Despite the constraint of real estate on property, the end result was fantastic given the circumstances.
My connection between these two tracks and The Cradle is the piece of land that Hanse and team had to work with. The location is perfect.The first tee is a short walk from the clubhouse, and lays just beside the new Thistle Dhu putting course. Driving under the bridge on Beulah Hull Road is a much different experience than it was for me 7 years ago. Instead of grassy fields on either side of the road, the road is surrounded by a sandy, firm, weathered paradise. The contrast between weathered sand and native grasses, tight, firm looking short grass, and bold green complexes makes even a non-golfer turn their head in awe. The bunkering on The Cradle successfully captures the true slope and grade of the property. What was once two relatively lifeless golf holes could very well now be a contribution to the modern version of how the game is enjoyed.
I had a practice round at CCNC on Monday, but when I rolled into Pinehurst I drove under the bridge, taking a left on Morganton Road, parking in the maintenance parking lot. Coffee in hand, I set foot on The Cradle for the first time. I was amazed by the undulation of the place. I had played both first holes of no. 3 and no. 5, but when played as one track, it all flowed nicely.
There are a few massive pine trees on this property, and I think they add tremendous value to the short course. Much like Pinehurst no. 2, where shots are played without tree interference, long-leafs are still crucial to the feel of a round. Without these pines, The Cradle would feel much more like an artificial playground. A playground it is, but it comes off as genuine.
My time there in the morning was short. I met unexpectedly with a Pinehurst employee having a round at sunrise before the course opened. He raved about the place and showed be around the side furthest from the clubhouse before I explored a bit by myself. I didn’t have much time here, but I knew I had to make it back later in the week.
That afternoon I found myself there at closing. The starter was at the first tee as I approached him with my 58, 54, and putter. He let me out as long as I was okay with playing without pins, as he was about to close for the day, but he confirmed with a simple “Hell yeah man, go ahead”. But a pretty good sunset was developing, I was warm, and I knew where most of the pins were.
The definite highlight was the 60 yard punchbowl third, which I scaled to see where the hole was. I ran back down, eventually knocking one up there left of the middle-left hole location. When I reached the front of the green, there was no ball in sight. My first hole in one at The Cradle, with no witnesses and a killer sunset.
The remainder of the 789 yard course was excellent. But the best hole, my favorite hole, is the closing 9th. Hitting over a valley that feeds into the second, the angled 9th green is perched about 3 feet above the shortgrass below. Humps are placed along the front of this angled green to even further complicate things. I couldn’t think of anything better for a bet-settling finisher. The landing areas are only about 10×10 feet or so, missing the green is death if a pin is placed on the left, and a massive slope back right can allow for some possible hole in ones for a front right hole location. Just beware of the bunker lurking just behind it. If you hit it in there, you’re toast.