It’s the one day of the year when the golf writers become golf stars…and it’s a good thing for them that the cameras aren’t rolling, because play would look like U.S. Open Saturday at Shinnecock Hills pretty quick.
The 12th annual Writer Cup, the yearly showdown between the Philly golf writers and the New York scribes, tees of this Thursday at high noon. Hosted by venerable Forsgate Country Club and contested on their scintillating Banks Course, the best 36 writers from each region will battle the Banks course at medal play, the top 15 scores counting towards the team score. Captained by Mike “The Colonel” Kern of the Philly Inquirer, Philly leads the series 9-2, and is a heavy Vegas betting favorite this year as well.
The Banks is a stunning golf course, beaming brightly from hole 1-18, beginning with the infinity fairway and infinity green at the first and closing with mighty Purgatory Bunker at the 18th, and featuring 16 more intrepid golf adventures in-between. Designed in 1931 by Charles “Steamshovel” Banks, the course showcases many great holes in the Macdonald-Raynor-Banks lexicon. It thrived during the Great Depression, stewarded sagely by John Forster, then was polished to a high shine during the 2008 restoration/renovation by Stephen Kay, New York City’s favorite son of a golf course architect and owner/operator Chris Schiavone of RDC.
“It’s one of the greatest courses of the Golden Age of Golf in America,” said golfer Mike Mosely. “It’s especially known for its phenomenal greens, its ferocious bunkers, and its almost unparalleled collection of par-3s.”
Indeed, each of the par-3s – Eden, Reverse Redan, Short, and Biarritz – is a museum piece, so much so that golf design architecture Ran Morrissett echoed Mosely’s assessment, calling them every bit as good as Pine Valley’s.
Moreover, the ferocious bunkering is also a stern defense. 15, 20, even 25 feet deep at times, the bunkers – many of which have names – are to be avoided at all costs. From the cavernous Sea of Tranquility at the base of the Plateau ninth to the Horseshoe Bunker that encircles the iconic par-3 12th to the Tusks, thew long slim bunkers flanking the 84 yard deep Biarritz green at the mighty 17th, they are so deep, if they were in West Virgina, golfers would risk Black Lung disease trying to get out.
Here are the important swing holes the golfers will have to carefully negotiate if they hope to score points for their team:
3. Eden Par-3, 180-205 yards
Most Eden Holes might offer a breather, but at Forsgate the Eden is a fire-breather instead. Longer than Edens usually are and slightly uphill as well, and with a tilted fairway, there is nowhere to miss. The green resembles an album cover by Yes, seemingly floating in mid-air, and bi-sected by a longitudinal hog’s back, effectively making it two small greens in one. A former player who sought comfort after losing a recent election for Congress took a 10 after playing ping-pong back and forth between the bunkers and 3-putting from the wrong side of the hump.
4. Hog’s Back, 315-340 yards
This short, downhill par-4 offers one of the best chances for a birdie, but with the narrow fairway guarded by the road on the left and a steep grassy knoll on the right (mimicked by a similar mound in the green) it’s tough to recover from a wayward drive.
5. Punchbowl, 417-437 yards
Don’t let the yardage fool you. The reverse camber of the fairway sheds balls away from the green on this long, uphill par-4. At 14,000 square feet, the green, once the largest in the United States, is actually an inverted tea cup. The bowl is the grass covered slopes around it.
7. Redan, 190-220 yards
Actually a Reverse Redan as the green runs from front left to back right, the Redan bunker clocks in at a brutish 20 feet deep.
“The hardest pin placement is the front,” noted Morrissett in a Golf Club Atlas article, and he’s right. Your ball will likely roll past the pin, but at least your putt will be back up the hill.
8. Long, 570-600 yards
This downright majestic par-5 is a true three-shotter that ends in yet another green that seemingly hangs in the edge of space. Guarded by another bunker over 20-feet deep and with the slender green bisected into two small tiers, there’s a good reason why the sprinkler head about three hundred yards out reads “YOU WISH.”
15. Chocolate Drop, 315-330 yards
Morrissett praises Banks’s courage in creating a short, yet fascinating par-4 so close to the course’s finish. So many clubs try for machismo and a gargantuanly long finish, but this sharp dog-leg left says more in 330 yards than most holes say in 480. For those attempting to drive the slightly elevated green, the tee shot must risk attacking from an awkward angle, bringing the dangerous Large Marge bunker into play. Everyone else must draw it hard around the corner, then stop it with a lofted iron on the correct tier.
17. Biarritz, 190-250 yards
The restoration of this green is one of the golf design world’s greatest triumphs of the Second Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture. 84 yards deep with a swale 25 feet wide and six feet deep, players come from across the globe to marvel at its splendor. A true par=3.5, the green also feature mounds at each of the four corners and a thumbprint in the back third as well.
Forsgate in 2018 is everything that both designer Charles Banks and founder John Forster wanted it to be: a beacon of golf to everyone in every way, design, operation, and morale. To the scribes competing this Thursday, Writer Cup day is like a golf Christmas in July. But to the members, and I am fortunate to be an honorary one, to the members, everyday is like golf Christmas. And that’s the clubs greatest gift to the game they give us something promotes and preserves the ethos of the game. So no matter what teams hoists the Waterford crystal trophy, Forsgate always wins.