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In the interest of consumer awareness, every once in a while we will have to make frank and honest reviews of some courses that “need improvement” ;);) in certain areas. Some great designs occasionally fall into dis-repair. Other courses may have great conditioning, but have lackluster, poorly conceived designs. Other courses are in heavily travelled areas (especially vacation spots) so they have tourists at their mercy, but are not economical for whatever reason. There is too much great golf out there for us to be wasting our time and money.

This week meet two courses that may be in an gorgeous location, but need to make some serious changes if they are to earn the high price tag they carry. Last summer I went to the lovely mountain paradise of Lake Placid, NY and found every pastoral pleasure in this idyllic Olympic retreat I could want – except great golf. Family invited me up for a great getaway weekend, so I was stuck playing “Random Courses x and y” at a cousin’s suggestion. My wallet suffered the worst.

One Olympic Drive
Lake Placid, NY 12946

Architect: Seymour Dunn
Par 71
Excitement Level: 3/12
Difficulty: 4/12
Cost $70 high season, $50 reduced
Design: Two stars (all ratings out of seven)
Natural Setting: 5 and 1/2 stars
Conditioning: Zero Stars
Value: One-Half a star
Overall: 1 and 1/2 stars

I once defined the word “melange” to my design management students as “a collage gone badly wrong.” Trying to pass off what purports to be a links course in the high peaks mountain area of Lake Placid definitely qualifies. The resort touts the “Links Course” as a “true links design” for all the wrong reasons. They claim it’s “wide open fairways and large undulating greens” make it a loinks design. The marketing people need to run out and pick up Golf magazine or Golf Digest quickly and they will soon learn that travellers are much more savvy and discriminating than they were 25 years ago. We know what a real links course looks like and plays like – and the “links course” fails on every level. The site is choked with stands of tall trees, so the wind rarely comes into play. There are many forced carries over ditches, ravines, bunkers and random hazards. There are few open routes to greens crafted to accept bump and run shots. Finally the “mounds for mounds sake” feel contrived. The course feels and plays like a parkland style course set in the otherwise pleasant surroundings of the Adirondacks. They should tout it as such.

The utter lack of conditioning was the even deeper problem. The course significantly escalated the greens fees from the previous year due to their recent addition of watered fairways. The fairways were still choked with weeds and overgrown. Lies were uneven at best. Worse yet, many of the greens had lost vast expanses and were dried out so as to be unplayable – a condition unforgiveable at a “resort” commanding a such a whopping greens fee.

The holes themselves were a hit or miss affair from a design perspective. Some featured vaguely shaped shots, but there were rarely instances of alternating shot requirements or risk-reward options. There were few bumps in the fairway to use to position a drive to the “optimum side” of a fairway and nary a backstop off which to spin an iron shot. There were no false front greens, punchbowls or other advanced design techniques used by the great designers. There were no tantalizing par fours or fives featuring a heroic of even inspiring shot value or risk-reward option. Finally, many fairways ran adjacent to one another and were seperated, if at all, by either rough or a line of short pine trees. A mere three sets of tees offer little difference between experts and novices other than distance. Angles were virtually identical for all players.

The course should refocus itself on conditioning and marketing. To attract players, the greens must return to a pristine condition where they welcome high and low trajectory shots. Most importantly, they must roll true and not be burned out. The setting is pretty, but pretty will not carry the day in the competitive world of resort golf. Many players have sadi they were disappointed with the course and the high price tag. There is an even shorter “sportier” course, the mountain course, on the site. Perhaps the best course of action would be to redesign the entire facility into one epic 18 hole layout and one upscale executive course a la the amazing “Threetops” featured at the Sylvan Treetops resort in Michigan.

301 Main Street
Lake Placid, NY 12946

Architect: Seymour Dunn
Par: 72
Excitement Level: Zero out of 12
Difficulty: 5/12
Cost: $70
Design: Zero stars – clear architectural carelessness. A poorly thought out course with no rhyme or reason to the routing or the green settings. A clumsy, amateur effort.
Natural Setting: two stars…how can it be so low in Lake Placid? easy…angle all the tees and greens AWAY form the mtns…again…poorly thought out routing.
Conditioning: One Half a star
Value: Zero Stars
Overall: Zero stars…the only zero I have ever given out to date (as of 2/06)

Here is a another course lacking in both design concepts and conditioning. Both sides of each fairway are framed by ubiquitous pine trees. There are some general shot shaping requirements – a fade off the tee here, a draw to a green there, but nothing to command a $70 greens fee or elevate the course from the level of a puny muni. Worse yet there are two fundemental problems. First, some design features are so ridiculous that certain holes need to be completely re-done…from scratch. Second, the conditioning was ghastly.

The design flaws are at their worst at the par 3 sixth hole – this 180-200 yard par three requires a long iron to a fairway wood to a shallow green fronting a stand of trees. The only problem? The green is partially obscured by an enormous mogul just in front of the green which blocks the right hand half. The green is not set up to accept high trajectory shots in the first place, but sticking a twelve foot ski jump just in front of the green to interject – if not require – blind luck into the equation divests the hole of any semblance of seriousness. J.C. Snead may have been engaging in hyperbole when he once descibed Sawgrass when he quipped “the only thing missing is the clown’s nose.” Well J.C. I found it…it’s right here.

If six features the clown’s nose, then thirteen has the “loop-de-loop” – in this case a three teired green pitched from back to front. Three small tiers with about 24 inches of rise on each step are contained in a green a mere ten paces wide. Holding the correct tier of the green is again an exercise in luck as much as skill. Luckily, its a three shot par five, so a wedge may hold.

Architect Brian Silva once said “its the easiest thing in the world to build a hard golf course…just line every fairway with trees and make it ridiculously narrow.” Craig Wood must have taken him seriously. There is very little thought here (god forbid!)…if you miss a fairway, you have a dinky tree in your way…and they line every fairway. Oh yeah…could someone cut the grass, or water the fairway? Perhaps some sand might be in the bunkers? Not a drop. They were sand traps in name only. Rock like hardpan was intermixed with stones. “Explosion” shots were void ab initio leaving the player to “pick” the ball out of traps with high lips. Good luck. $70 please…

Lake Placid deserves better. In an area designed to offer the best in both winter and summer vacation options, good and affordable public golf is sorely lacking. In short, no risk-reward options, no shot values, no conditioning, no beautiful holes and no, I am not listening to my cousin’s recommendations for golf courses again. I’ll stick to his cooking instead…and his skiing both of which are deservedly world-class.

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