Can you tell Kelly Blake Moran is a Texan? He may not wear a ten gallon hat or leather boots, but boy is he proud of the Lone Star State. Amarillo Slim in a windshirt.
“And I’ll tell you another thing!” he roars disapprovingly. “Those Oklahoma teams that won those national championships a few years ago? I’ll give you one guess where half their roster is from. Texas, that’s where! If I had my way, those players that crossed the border should lose their citizenship and never be allowed back!” Funny thing about it is most of Texas is laughing and saying, “he’s right, you know.”
Happily, Kelly’s sense of humor is spilling over into his work. I walked his latest project, Lederach just west of Philly and was glad to see some bold and daring features, most notably in greens which featured steep and sweeping contours and fearsome false fronts. This is good because Kelly can keep the stimps at around 9 – 9.5 and bring all that contour into play. Instead of your ten foot putt sliding 9 feet straight past the hole, here you’ll have a ten footer with three feet of break and a five foot breaking comebacker. Tough, but fair.
The course and the greens are hilly, but its not a difficult walk..
Purists will love this place because its Old School. First, it’s minimalist, they only moved no more than 140,000 cubic yards of earth, but that estimate may be too high. Second, there are several holes where bunkers are in the line of play directly, or at least are oriented perpendicular to the line of play, so options abound. My only concern is that I wish on those holes Kelly gave us even a bit more room to either side on those bifurcated fairways. They are juuuuuuuuuust a bit tight and since Kelly cants his fairways fairly steeply (steepest I’ve seen all year…a good thing ordinarily…flat lies are for pansies), a little more room would help contain the ball for us. They also will keep the fairway roll a bit more in check. You can further learn the benefits of not trying to make YOUR home course play like a U.S. Open and still defend par well and have character by reading Tom Doak’s “The Anatomy of a Golf Course.”
Kelly confirmed to me that he has read one other important tome, Mackenzie’s “The Spirit of St. Andrews.” Kelly also believes in the concept of the Line of Charm, the most important concept in building an interesting golf hole and course. He also put lots of undulations in the fairways as well as the greens. There will be crazy bounces all day, so your patience and chipping will be tested. The course plays pretty long (one par-5s is 630 and a lot of par-4s are over 400.)
I liked a couple other things. Kelly gave us a great false front on 8. Really huge rolloff…great stuff. He also put in a blind bunker. I’m all for an architect having a laugh at our expense and I like this, but this bunker will piss people off because it is totally blind from the fairway.
Now…here’s the COOL thing. You see the 3rd green AND THE BLIND BUNKER FROM THE SECOND GREEN AND THIRD TEE. So unless you’re a first timer AND not playing with a local AND not very observant, YOU SAW IT. Now, the other problem is that it’s so blind some lunkhead dingbat is gonna drive his cart over the hill and right off the cliff into the bunker. Hence, they will put up some “carts this way signs”, so they will warn you of the bunker’s presence indirectly.
Note…this one example where the “Mike Strantz Rule of cart path signs” does not govern. That rule states,”when playing a Mike Strantz course, if you have no idea where you are going, hit it between the cart signs.” Think I’m kidding? Try it, it’s gold. However, in the case of 3 at Lederach, you’ll end up in the blind bunker, so hit left of the signs.
If there are any drawbacks, the property itself, while hilly and good terrain for golf, has a lot of houses and water collection areas. Kelly avoided the houses as well as anybody could, but the water collection areas were in some really tough places, therefore a couple ponds pinch fairways in some pesky places, most notably 3 and off the tee on either 5 or 6. (the par-5). While most of Kelly’s mounding avoided the repetitious chocolate drops of lesser designers and while the course feels very understated (again, a good thing), there were some mounds and some fairway that were a little much and detract from the natural look.
Finally, maybe it’s because I saw how amazing both Doak’s and Spann’s skyline greens were and since that’s in my head I think there were a couple places where if Kelly built the green up just a little more, he’d have had a better green backdrop. I also think that rolling farmland underwhelms a bit as far as natural setting goes. This course doesn’t have the ubiquitous bells and whistles that seem to appeal to the 5 handicappers that rate for GD. The price is $75, which is better than Tattersall (a prettier course, but which gets repetitive for most of the back nine), but quite more expensive than Gettysburg, (a sportier little layout which is also prettier, but has a three hole stretch on the back that is too dictatorial.)
But, hey, less is more here. I don’t think the casual and fan and TV golf crowd will get Lederach as the best features – the steep greens, with their higher green and fairway cuts and quirkier personality traits like the blind bunker – are anathema to them. Kelly also may have outrun the raters. But for experienced golfers, it will resonate. Its like an old warm sweater you pull out of the drawer on a cold winter day. You wont wear it to church or out to dinner with clients, but boy it sure is comfortable to curl up with your girl and watch football in it. Same for Lederach. Great place to take the wife and kids to play, competitively priced and low key. You won’t make it the centerpiece of your golf vacation, but it’s interesting and combined with Tattersall and Gettysburg, makes a nice little getaway weekend at a respectable price. Plus from a straight ahead golf architecture standpoint, while it’s not NGLA (Naional Golf Links of America) Kelly had some interesting things to say and executed them well. He took some risks and tried out some new things. Some went well, some may not, and he’ll keep the wheat and will pass on the chaff next time.
Kelly built a really interesting, solid minimalist test on time and under budget. Plus, he grasps Mackenzie’s concepts and is beginning to do a good job of implemeting them on the ground. Hideout down in Florida is gaining some really good reviews too, and that is actually a more recent example of Kelly’s work than here. You give this guy some more time and some money and watch out, he’ll make a big score…sooner rather than later.