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We've Moved!

Dave Donelson Tee To Green has an exciting new home at
Westchester Magazine.

We're still about all things golf, especially those pertinent to golfers in Westchester and the NY Metro, but now we're in a much bigger space!

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Westchester Golf - A Fascinating History

An often-quoted but much-disputed belief holds that New York's Westchester County is the birthplace of golf in America, a claim based on the undeniable date of the establishment of St. Andrew's Golf Club in Yonkers in 1888. The details of the club's founding--along with a delightful collection of other facts about golf in Westchester--are to be found in a fascinating double issue of The Westchester Historian, the publication of the Westchester Historical Society.

Westcheser Historian"Under the Apple Tree: The History of Golf in Westchester County" was written by Dr. William Quirin, official historian of the Metropolitan Golf Association and the author of 40 books on golf and racing. I had a tiny role in the work when I had the pleasure of reading an early version and offering a (very) few editorial suggestions last year.

Among the issue's many treasures are dozens of pictures, old and new, of golf then and now in Westchester county. Among them are sketches of the the clubhouse at Pelham and photos of the 1911 Men's U.S. Amateur Championship at Apawamis, Gene Sarazen playing night golf in Briarcliff and Annika Sorenstam teeing off at the JAL Big Apple Classic at Wykagyl. The pictures are worth revisiting time and time again.

While Quirin gives plenty of ink to important events in golf history like the role Wykagyl played in the founding of the PGA, Knollwood's grill room discussion between Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones that led to the establishment of the Master's Tournament, and Winged Foot's storied role as a championship venue, he also dug up some slightly more obscure tales that I found even more interesting. Briarcliff Golf Club, for example, was a nine-hole course built in 1902 by Walter Law for the guests of Briarcliff Lodge. Quirin says,
"...it boasted a most unusual first hole--a 250-yard par 4 starting from a tee atop the pro shop in front of the Lodge, with a toboggan-slide drop of 250 feet down the hill to a green nestled in the valley below near Dalmeny Road. Gene Sarazen made a famous hole-in-one there in the 1920s."
You won't find the course today, but nearby is Trump National, built on the other side of the road on the site of a course originally known as Briar Hall, designed by Devereux Emmet and opened in 1922.

The public courses aren't ignored, either. Quirin gives an excellent account of the beginnings of daily fee golf in the county with the building of Mohansic Golf Course in Yorktown, which was opened in 1925 by the County Parks Commission.

This publication belongs in every golfer's library no matter where you live. Copies are available for only $15 directly from the Westchester Historical Society. While you're ordering, consider a membership to show your support for the organization's work to keep our past alive.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arcadia Bluffs - The Real Links Deal

One of my many pet peeves is a links course that isn't. Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, comes quickly to mind. It's a beautiful test of anyone's golf game and it may look like a links course, but it doesn't play like one. Granted, there aren't any trees in sight and the rough is tall, tangled, and gnarly, but the fairways are soft so there's not much roll and you have to fly your approach into almost every green. One the other side of Lake Michigan, though, is a real modern links course, Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.

Arcadia Bluffs is a collection of roller coaster fairways lined with prairie grass rough and protected by huge shaggy bunkers. Howling winds off the lake sweep the course and there's nary a level lie in sight. Speaking of sight, there are numerous blind first and second shots where you really have to trust your swing to play for par. The turf is firm and low rollers will play as well if not better than high booming tee shots or feathery pitches--especially in the wind. Best of all, most of the holes are designed to give the player the option of a bump and run approach to the green. The combination of unexpected bounces and optional playing strategies is what makes links golf my favorite.

Arcadia Bluffs was designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith to not only have some of the best views of Lake Michigan but to be one of the toughest courses in the state. At 7300 yards from the championship tees, it challenges the best players with a 75.4 course rating and slope of 147. It's no pushover at 6,702 from the black tees, either. From the whites, though, Arcadia Bluffs is perfectly playable--although still testing--at 6,244 yards with a 70.3 rating and 129 slope.

Choose the tee box appropriate to your handicap or you'll be faced with challenges like the 13th hole, a par 3 that plays 240 over a ravine from the championship tees but a manageable 160 from the whites.

A perfect example of how links golf works is the 441-yard (from the whites) par 4 16th hole. It's downhill from tee to green and the day I was there it played down-wind. My drive rolled out like a marathon runner, my nine-iron approach landed just where I intended in front of the green and bumped on into birdie range.

Arcadia Bluffs is one of the many excellent courses you'll find in Northern Michigan. Because the season is short in that part of the country, you'll want to make your tee times as far in advance as possible since the great daily fee courses like this one fill up prime times early.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 22, 2009

18 Dream 18s

David Barrett has written another golf book to make you drool. In Golf's Dream 18s: Fantasy Courses Comprised of Over 300 Holes from Around the World, he draws on his vast knowledge of the world's great courses to complete 18 fantasy tracks sure to make every golfer want to grab his sticks, wave goodbye to the wife, kids, and job, and spent the rest of his life trying to break par on some of the most fabulous golf holes around the globe.

I had a particular interest in seeing Barrett's work since I'm a golf writer myself and have one of the best assignments in the business: compiling a fantasy course for Westchester Magazine. I research (that is, play) storied clubs like Winged Foot, Westchester CC, Fenway, Century, and Quaker Ridge each year to choose holes for the feature article. Once I saw Barrett's new book, I got jealous.

Barrett did a great job of thinking through numerous themes for his fantasy courses. Among them are courses featuring 18 scenic holes, strategic holes, historic holes, mountain holes, and links holes. He's also built tracks based on Continental European holes and Australia/New Zealand holes. I book-marked that one with particular interest.

The photography alone makes the book well worth buying. Barrett's book features the work of a pantheon of masters of golf photography. L.C. Lambrecht, Russell Kirk, John and Jeannine Henebry, David Scaletti, and Evan Schiller are just a few of the artists whose dramatic shots tell stories of their own.

You can only play most of these courses in your dreams, of course, but Barrett's descriptions of each hole, its dangers and options, tips on playing strategies, and historic and sensory appeals make them come alive. Barret is formerly an editor at Golf Magazine and also wrote Golf Courses of the U.S. Open, which also graces my coffee table.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Take A Lesson, Stupid

Want to improve your scores? Cut strokes from your handicap index? Beat your buddies' brains in? Forget bout achieving these golf miracles with a new $400 driver or three days at a $3,000 golf school. Take a lesson from your local PGA pro instead. In fact, take one even if you think your game is perfect---you might be surprised.

A lesson with a PGA pro will cost about as much as a round of golf at a good daily fee course, but I guarantee it's the very best thing you can do for your game. Don't know where to go? Start with a phone call to the nearest golf club. Even if it's private, most club pros eagerly take on students who aren't members--and you'll get to use the practice facility at the course when you take your lesson, too.

I struggled on the course more than usual early this season, but for no good reason violated my practice of going for a lesson or two to tune things up before I did too much damage to my handicap in the spring rounds. I shot several scores I was ashamed to post (although I did) and was rapidly approaching a hara-kiri state of mind. That is not the way you want to start your golf year. I put the belly-slicer away, though, and went to see Rob Davis, head pro at Anglebrook Golf Club in Lincolndale, NY. I like Rob; he's an excellent player and a knowledgeable teacher. Because we're friends, I also knew he wouldn't pull any punches.

"What the hell are you thinking?" he said after watching me hit a half dozen balls, none of which went in the same direction. As I started to explain my lame-brained excuse for a swing thought, he told me to be quiet and address the ball. Before I could massacre another piece of turf, he put a tee in front of each my feet and told me to step away. Then he pointed to the position of the ball, which was exactly in the center of my stance. Even I knew that was the wrong place. I couldn't explain how it got there, either, although I had been consciously trying to make contact with the ball before the grass all year. As soon as I moved the ball forward to where Rob told me to put it (about in inch inside my left heel), good things started to happen.

It was a simple fix, but one I never would have figured out without another set of trained, knowledgeable eyes on my swing. With the help of Rob Davis, I knocked two points off my handicap index within the next month.

As time goes on, I'm sure some other little flaw will grow into a major carbuncle on my swing. When it does, you can bet the first dollar I spend to fix it will be with a PGA pro.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sublime Crystal Downs

One of the greatest pleasures of this golfer's life is playing a fine course for the first time. I remember my first rounds at Pebble Beach, Winged Foot West, and St. Andrews Old Course as vividly as if they were yesterday. Add Crystal Downs to that list.

Never heard of it? I must confess Crystal Downs was just another name high on the Golf Digest Top 100 list to me. I never would have had the opportunity to experience it without the kind generosity of a member who happened to know one of the guys on the buddy trip I took to Northern Michigan this summer. I've always said I'd rather be lucky than good.

The course was designed by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell and I venture to say Crystal Downs lives up to the pedigree. Crystal Downs is perched between Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan (with spectacular views of both) in Frankfort, Michigan, which is one reason you'll never see a PGA Tour event there. It's also the private domain of a couple hundred very lucky members, so you won't find it on any Northern Michigan tourism brochures.

In appearance, I liken Crystal Downs to a cross between Winged Foot and Bethpage, with varied and devilish green complexes, demanding elevation changes, and native grass rough that absolutely and completely swallows your ball if you're foolish enough to challenge it by trying to overpower the course. The layout is short (6518 from the tips), but no one is going to bomb their way around it without a few bruises to show for their effort.

There are so many holes worthy of note. Both the first and tenth are par fours with tee boxes set high above the fairways, offering the sublime pleasure of watching your drive sail forever against the brilliant blue sky. There are only two par fives, the eighth and the sixteenth, but both are man-sized three-shot tests, with the latter measuring 588 yards.

One of the more fascinating holes is the short (353 yard) fifth hole. MacKenzie used the undulating topography to build two alternative routes to the green from the tee. The lower fairway to the left and the higher one to the right are divided by the "Three Sisters," a bunker complex that lies in the straight line from the tee to the green, which you can't see from the tee box. Another large bunker sits in front of the green, which means you have to have perfect distance control to take the straight route to the putting surface. The right side route is a longer carry that brings a large tree and out of bounds into play but leaves a better angle to the green while the safer left route leaves a blind approach to a green sloping away from the player from that angle.

Whether you're a golf architecture devotee or just a regular hacker with champagne tastes, Crystal Downs is worth the trek.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yet Another Demagog Takes A Shot At Golf

Apparently, Venezuela's Caesar Chavez is running out of scapegoats. How else could you explain his recent tirade against golf and moves by his supporters to shut down two more of the country's golf courses? You'd think nationalizing the oil industry and seizing the assets of coffee growers, cattle ranchers, and tomato farmers would be enough to keep the demagogy engine chugging along, but I guess those elitist golfers proved just too easy a target to pass up.

Julio L. Torres, director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation, says the number of courses in the country has fallen from 28 to 18. Chavez and his supporters vaguely promise to turn the fairways and greens on the closed courses into housing for the poor...or at least to keep the bourgeois capitalist pigs from enjoying themselves by indulging in the decadent sport.

Somehow, I suspect the poor people of Venezuela won't get much out of the crusade. I know they certainly won't see any of my tourist dollars any time soon.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the