Pitching well above par
These quirky courses will change your game, says James Cusick
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Friday 30 November 2012
Wisconsin, Idaho, Colorado, Oregon; they sound like a post-election night quiz. But those who play golf away from the well-trodden swing states of Florida and South Carolina will recognise the link between the four states that take you from Lake Michigan to the Rocky Mountains and on to the Pacific. In between, there is a resort hotel that aimed to beat the splendour of the European grand palaces even before Gleneagles had laid its first brick; a resort with a floating 15,000 square-foot green, complete with ferry boat to take you and your putter to glory. There is also a collection of ocean-side venues that recently redefined what a golf course should do and look like, and a place so precise in its recreation of golf in Scotland that they imported a herd of Scottish black-face sheep to roam around the fairways to make you and your tartan trousers feel all royal and ancient.
Golf in the rest of America
South of Green Bay, near Sheboygan on Lake Michigan's west shore, the Kohler resort (001 855 444 2838; americanclubresort.com) offers four courses. Two bear the hallmark of Pete Dye's attritional genius. Together they make Blackwolf Run, which staged the 2012 US Woman's Open. It winds through the forests of a spectacular tree-lined river valley. Water is everywhere. Greens hang out over small lakes. There are approach shots here where your wedge will be scared to come out of the bag.
But it's at Whistling Straits, a 15‑minute drive out of Kohler Village, that the show really begins. Where previously there was nothing, Dye and Herb Kohler's blank chequebook has recreated the best of Scotland and Ireland's links land. It's a hybrid of Troon, Ballybunion, Cruden Bay, Reservoir Dogs, Braveheart and The Tempest. The Straits, and its herd of Scottish sheep, should be included in any new seven wonders of the world.
The American Club is Kohler's main residence. But Sandhill, a timber-framed cabin that sleeps six, is the resort's best-kept secret. The interior reflects a meeting of Little House on the Prairie with Ralph Lauren, all with a wraparound porch that only lacks Henry Fonda sitting in a rocking chair.
Near Cheyenne Mountain at Colorado Springs, a Philadelphia entrepreneur called Spencer Penrose, turned a small turn-of-the-century hotel and casino into one of the world's greatest golf resorts. Since the Broadmoor (001 719 634 7711; broadmoor.com) was opened in 1918, they've never eased up. It now has three courses, 3,000 acres, another $100m (£62.5m) spent recently on the hotel's sixth renovation. Penrose brought in the finest golf architect of his generation, Donald Ross (the creator of Pinehurst's best) to build the first course. The Ross 18 (the best) is now split between the west and east courses. The Jack Nicklaus mountainside layout adds to the confusion.
French fur traders decided Idaho was the place to be. And they were right. The Coeur d'Alene (001 208 765 4000; coeurdalene.org) golf resort sits at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains in north Idaho. The former Nicklaus company architect, Scott Miller, turned the former lumber plantation into a lake-side haven. They do things differently at Coeur d'Alene, such as the no-charge massage near the first tee, or the driving range where you hit "into" the water. And although the "island" 17th at the TPC Sawgrass is probably the most famous hole in US golf, Coeur d'Alene's 14th hole is a moving island built on top of a barge that changes the hole from an easy wedge to an impossible target more than 200 yards away. Par here and they give you a signed certificate to frame!
In 1999, on a bluff above the Pacific's waves, Scots architect David McLay Kidd rejected the damaging fashion for eye-candy courses, and went back to nature, golf's organic heritage, to deliver Oregon's Bandon Dunes (001 888 345 6008; bandondunesgolf.com). The applause hasn't eased up. The talented Tom Doak has since designed Bandon's Pacific Dunes and the wonderfully named "Old Macdonald" using the same principle of natural gimmick-free drama.
The involvement of Ben Crenshaw, who co-designd Bandon Preserve and Bandon Trails, confirms the principle of get-it-right and they will come. Even the accommodation, especially the Lodge and Grove cottages, sticks to the less-is-more principle.
For more details, see DiscoverAmerica.com
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