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Friday, October 30, 2009
A Golf Education At Yale
The most important club in your bag the first time you play The Course At Yale is a yardage book. In fact, I suspect it would come in handy every time you tee it up at the Charles Blair Macdonald masterpiece in New Haven, CT. Macdonald and his collaborators, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks, took full advantage of the twists and turns of the rolling topography to hide bunkers, bring sneaky water into play, and create some general confusion (if not outright panic) in the player's mind throughout the course. It all makes for great golf, but having an accurate map with precise distances in front of you is essential to scoring.
Take the third hole, a 411-yard par four with a serpentine fairway that hides the green on both your first and second shots. I misunderstood my playing partner's instruction and spent several minutes lining up my approach to the wrong "white pole" in the distance. Fortunately, I discovered my error before I fired away at the pond on the right instead of the green on the left--both hidden behind fescue-covered hills.
Or the number one handicap hole, the 437-yard fourth. The direct route to the green brings water into play--maybe. The lake on your right turns back toward the fairway at about 230 yards, but a carry of 280 will put you in the fairway dry and on the other side. There's plenty of room left, but that will leave a long, long, second shot to a green protected by four big bunkers.
The Course At Yale has remarkable features on just about every hole. The par-three ninth hole is not only 231 yards over water, but the green is about the size of California (it's 65 yards long!) and is divided by an eight-foot-deep swale right through the middle. The green on the 396-yard tenth hole is so elevated I literally walked out of my shoes trying to climb up the front after putting my approach into the bunker at the bottom. The twelfth hole is one where you'll definitely find that yardage book handy. A massive bunker stretches the width of the front of the green--except you can't see it at all from the fairway.
The finishing hole really tests your faith in your long ball. It's 621 yards, which makes it challenging enough, but both the tee shot and the second shot are basically blind! The second shot is steeply uphill to a narrow fairway, although there is an optional route to the right which leaves a long, blind third shot into the green. Two-putt birdies are tough if not impossible to achieve on this hole, but a player who puts his or her third shot in front of the green can manage a pretty easy up and down for a welcome par.
The Course At Yale, 6,749 yards from the tips, is tough but playable. The greens are huge, fast, and fun. They're full of both striking contours and subtle breaks yet eminently putt-able as long as you don't get too greedy and try to ram home those sixty-footers. Fairways are tight and twisty, but not claustrophobic, and the hazards, while plentiful, can be avoided with good tactical ball striking.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo