Course of the Year (Classic Golden Age Division) – Pine Valley
The Shangri-La of golf courses, Pine Valley appears out of the mists of history like a reverie, both figuratively and literally. Deep in a forested section of suburban New Jersey, you have to get lost to find it. Moreover, the moment you step on the property, you walk back 100 years in time.
There is no rough at Pine Valley, the entire playing corridor is fairway. While that makes for wide fairways, it also makes for marrow playing corridors, if you understand the distinction. And if you miss the wide playing corridors, you’re in the woods. And the first thing you do when you get off the fairway is get back on the fairway immediately! Fives and sixes become eights or worse when you try heroic recoveries at Pine Valley.
There are so many architectural treasures there: the acre-and-a-half large “Hell’s Half-acre” bunker complex that bisects the seventh fairway, the cone-shaped depression guarding the 10th green known as the “Devil’s Asshole,” the double greens at eight and nine, the idyllic serenity of the waterside holes of the back nine to name a few. Stately and refined, beautiful and challenging, historic and restorative, Pine Valley earns every lofty superlative. It’s a reunion with old friends every time you return, a microcosm of al golf was meant to be.
Course of the Year (Modern Design Division) – Dye Fore at Casa de Campo
Dye Fore shatters all expectations and resets the bar for the highest quality of golf in the entire Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Atlantic Ocean region, hands down. It’s every bit as good as Teeth of the Dog and is even stronger, 1-18 than fabled Mid-Ocean in Bermuda. The golf course looks – but more importantly plays – like it was 100 years old. To look at it, you’d be convinced it was designed by Seth Raynor, which was exactly what Pete would hope.
“Seth Raynor is my favorite designer,” he’s said countless times, and nowhere does it show more than at Dye Fore. Enormous geometric bunkering, the ground game back in play, great movement in the fairways and greens, brilliant strategic angles and options, and an all but unparalleled natural setting, nothing short of majestic: For everyone who laments that Pete Dye never designed a U.K. or Irish seaside links, his greatest and most authentic looking links is right here at Casa de Campo. Gone is the hypermodern shaping at Whistling Straits and the sculpted marshland ecosystem of Kiawah Island. If you didn’t know you were in the Dominican Republic, you’d think you were playing a Golden Age U.S. or U.K. links by a classical designer, which is doubly astonishing considering Dye built Dye Fore in 2003, during his move towards a more ‘hypermodern’ look to his courses, with Purdue, Colleton River, Barefoot Landing, Whistling Straits, and Old Marsh all behind him. Suddenly out of nowhere comes this masterful blast of unapologetically classic architecture.
“Absolutely it’s a links,” explains Dye Fore PGA Head Professional Dave Pfisterer. “You can recognize elements in the uneven lies, the windswept heights, the bunkering style, and the ground game options. It looks and plays right out of the U.K.”
“I agree,” concurred golf writer Jeff Neumann. “I love to play the ground game and Dye Fore, with all the fairway undulations and huge playing corridors allow you to hit all sorts of different shots. You can be as clever and creative from 150 yards in as anywhere in the World.”
“I guess you could say it’s a links. It does play like it,” agreed Dye, reflecting thoughtfully for his answer. “I don’t normally think about things like that when I design. It’s never ‘I’m gonna do this or that’ I just go out there and design the best holes the land has.”
“Let me tell you something,” began outspoken but highly intelligent and articulate golf architecture expert Pat Mucci, who once played a competitive match against Dye in the North and South Open back in the late 1960s. “This is what’s good for golf: 6,500 yard courses with good green contours, fairway undulations, and interesting architecture, even some quirkiness, .along with three to three and a half hour rounds. We need more of that in golf. That’s how to grow the game!”
Well guess what? That’s Dye Fore, only it’s 6,600 yards. N It has great green contours, uneven lies in the fairways, fascinating Golden Age architecture and, yes, it’s quirky in places, but not in the least bit unfair, especially if you think creatively when you play golf.
The first word that comes to mind when you think about Dye Fore is “gargantuan.” It’s absolutely enormous in scale. The fairways can be as wide as 120 yards across, (useful in a crosswind!), the bunkers can be up to 100 yards long, (like the great courses of Macdonald and Raynor), and green are upwards of 6,500 square feet. It feels so big when you’re out there, that I was astounded when I heard it was built on only 190 acres, until it hit me that it’s all playable – there’s almost no rough to speak of. There’s scarcely any rough at the entire resort actually, another thing they do amazingly well. It’s refreshing to have interesting golf and no rough. Plus, no rough brings out the great fairway undulations! PGA of America and U.S.G.A., take notice! (There are 129 bunkers, however, many of them deep.)
Moreover there is great horizontal sweep to the fairways as they curve around the bunkers, hillocks, river, and oceanside. There is terrific vertical movement in the earth as well in the form of everything from fairway undulations, to severely uphill or downhill shots. That means you have to factor in the ground game in two ways: first, you can play low running shots, and second, you have o consider what the ball is going to do after it lands. With tilted fairways, you must account for how much your ball will run out. Before dismissing such architectural eatures as unfair or anachronistic, rememeber that both Tom Doak and Alister Mackenzie called ground movement the soul of golf, and they are right. Tilted fairways and blind shots are part of the ancient game, but they have tried to be marginalized by modern players not because they are unfair, but because those players want to have an excuse for when they don’t have that particular skill or when a shot just doesn’t come off the way they planned had it been a flat lie teed up perfectly. At Dye Fore in particular, all this makes for a golf course both super-intelligent and palpably thrilling.