It is July 2, 2013 and I’ve arrived in one of my favorite places in the world, St. Andrews, Scotland. Though my Greek genes are dominant, I’m actually half Scottish. Greek mixed with Scot. That means I love links golf and feta cheese, often at the same time.
After checking in at the hotel in St. Andrews the first place my pals and I went was to the Old Course to get on the waiting list. The good news was that I’d be playing the Old with my good friend and caddie John Boyne, and my best friend Al Nelson.
While waiting, John and I were watching players coming home on the 18th hole. Our vantage point was directly behind the green. There’s a small fence there where locals hang out and watch the “gophers” come in.
Behind the 18th Green – Old Course – St. Andrews, Scotland
A ball goes through the green, a “wee bit” hot and settles in some long grass behind the green and about five feet in front of us. The grass is long enough that it has gone to seed. In comes the group, obviously Americans, to survey their shots. The player who hit the long shot is loud and obnoxious. This guy epitomizes the opposite of what I wished we Americans portrayed in foreign countries.
When Mr. Obnoxious American gets to his ball he surveys the situation. He’s presented with 10 inch long grass behind and around his ball and a very tricky, fast shot with a ton of break in it. He reaches down, presumably to move a few loose impediments, but that’s not what he did. Instead, he started pulling the grass right out of the ground. It was no accident. He was improving his lie. John and I were, as they say in the UK, “gobsmacked.” We looked at each other in silent disbelief.
Mr. Obnoxious then walked his line, checking out the break. Upon returning to his ball, as if to confirm to John and me what we weren’t sure we just saw, he started pulling grass again! By now his lie isn’t too bad. He hits quite a good shot which ends up about 14 inches from the cup.
We thought we had seen it all at that point but to our horror, we had not. Mr. Obnoxious then went up to tap his putt in. He stood over it for a second, concentrating, then took a huge swing at the ball and knocked it off the green, nearly to The Links road and the Tom Morris golf shop. Laughing proudly at himself he looked at his group and sarcastically shouted “oops!”
John and I were astonished.
I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “you spend thousands of dollars to go on the golf trip of a lifetime to the Home of Golf. You’ve waited your whole life to get to this place. You are playing the 18th green of the most famous and historic golf course in the world, where every one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport have played. You then cheat twice by pulling grass from your lie and then sarcastically and intentionally miss your 14 inch finishing putt, in front of the ghost of Old Tom Morris. You never bother to finish the final hole, or the round.”
I know Americans in St. Andrews are a double edge sword. The caddies love us and hate us at the same time. They hate us because of obnoxious jerks like this guy who make us all look bad. They love us because, well, we are the biggest tippers of all the tourists who go to St. Andrews.
I can’t imagine the agony this obnoxious American’s poor caddie had to endure, and the wee tip he probably received for his services. Surely the prior 17.5 holes must have been a nightmare. Who knows what other asinine things this guy did or said. Somehow I wish I could buy the caddie, hell, the rest of this guy’s group, a wee pint to kill the pain.
To my friends and caddies in Scotland: we’re not all like that.
The club has been considering a course redesign by Rees Jones and the membership voted last week. 60% of the votes were in favor of NOT doing the redesign.
I’d have to say this is once more a case of “sometimes the best decision is to do nothing.” I don’t feel the course needs a major overhaul. It could use some tweaking, sure. Fixes in drainage and irrigation and a few other maintenance things would be appropriate. Perhaps a few new strategically placed tee boxes. Not $5+ million worth of work and certainly not work which would close down ⅓ of the course for three consecutive years.
Some of the membership seems to think the course will lose its playability and stature as time goes on. “We have a great club at the present time, but we have to look to the future and make sure we can say this ten years from now.” I’m not sure where this line of thinking comes from. Members make a great club first, then the course. 10 years from now the course will still be a gem and a joy to play and its only about 1300 years younger than the Old Course at St. Andrews. Do the members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club worry so much about upgrading the course so that it would still be great 10 years down the road?
Hidden Valley Country Club – Poisoned Tree – Mountain Course 8th Hole – click to zoom
Vandalism Reward Bumped Up To $10,000
In the same article last week I mentioned that the club had offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the vandal (or vandals) who poisoned the trees on the Mountain nine, holes #6 and #8. Those were two of the three most strategic and crucial trees on the 27-hole course.
Add a 3rd tree now, and bump up the reward to $10,000.
The Valley Course hole #5 tree, a classic tree in the middle of the fairway which eats drives and forces players to execute great shots to either side, is now dying.
For someone to stoop so low as to poison trees on their golf course is beyond my comprehension. The golf gods will certainly curse these assholes with a lifetime case of the yips. This person (or persons) deserves some maffia style justice, the kind which involves a pair of pliers and a 9-iron. For good measure, add a Joe Pesci skull vice procedure like in the movie Casino.
I’ve been lucky to have played one Utah’s best golf courses with my dad many 100’s, of not 1000’s of times over the last few decades. Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy, Utah is without a doubt my favorite course in northern Utah. HVCC is a fantastic mountainside 27 hole facility with tree-lined holes, great elevation changes and many fantastic views of the valley below and mountains above. Somehow they manage to produce the softest, yet smoothest and fastest greens around. My personal best score was a satisfying 68 (-4) there last year. I love HVCC and know practically every square inch.
Hidden Valley Country Club – Mountain Nine – 3rd Hole
A few years ago the club considered a course redesign by Matt Dye and wisely opted not to do it. During a redesign presentation one of the lady members pointed out to Dye and those considering the project that the course was wonderful as it was, saying, “why would anyone want to change this?”
Rees Jones Proposed Redesign – click to zoom
The members at HVCC, which I am not, are once again considering a redesign. This time by Rees Jones. The focus would be the greens and tees, with some modifications to bunkers and trees. Some of the reasons behind the redesign: The course was built a long time ago. Two architects contributed to the current greens design. The course is too short. The putting surfaces are not consistent. The drainage systems need to be updated.
Much effort is put into stressing that the goal is not to make the course more difficult.
While I (sort of ) understand these reasons, I once again question redesigning such a great course. I just mentioned how great the greens are, yet some think they need to be redone? Perhaps I don’t know that much about golf architecture, but I’m trying to think of which greens are so out of place on the course. I suppose I’ve always thought of them as they are, and not how they could or should be. Maybe the members should go play some of the muni courses in town with bad greens to remind themselves how great their greens really are. I don’t find the surfaces to be inconsistent. I find them to be consistently good and the speeds perfect.
I do understand the need for drainage work. The course can often be very soggy and spongy in places, yet very dry in others. Some of the tee boxes can be way too soft.
I can definitely imagine some tee box redesign and repositioning. Some good variation could be added to the course by putting boxes in different locations, providing different angles off the tee as well as different elevations. Right now some of the tee boxes can be a bit boring, with all the tee sets in the same strip, just a few yards apart.
Having grown up playing “mountain golf” I do love the way these types of courses frame up when lined with large mature pines like Hidden Valley is. That being said, I’m also as big a fan of links style golf as anyone. There aren’t any “tree lined” holes on the Old Course in St. Andrews. While part of me wants to see the trees and hole shapes stay, I’d be curious to see what a more modern design might bring in the way of playability and aesthetics. If I had any input at all, I would have suggested the club talk with Gil Hanse, Tom Doak or Baxter Spann about the redesign. I’d recommend getting a 2nd, 3rd or 4th opinion/bid on something as big and important as what the club calls their “biggest asset,” their course. I know if I was looking at spending over $5 million on a project, I’d want want to be sure I was making the right choice.
Hidden Valley Country Club – Poisoned Tree – Mountain Course 8th Hole – click to zoom
Recently the club was the victim of some bad vandalism. Gloves and poison were found in a garbage can on the course. Shortly after those items were found, two large trees on the 6th and 8th holes of the Mountain nine started to die (pictured right). These trees play a very strong role in the strategy of the holes. Without them, the holes become much easier and less challenging, as well as less attractive aesthetically.
Seeing these great trees dying makes me ill. I’m very saddened that someone would stoop that low. Certainly doing something like this is not in the spirit of golf and the golf gods will make these vandals pay.
Some theorize that the “flat bellies” of the club may be the source of the sabotage. If those trees weren’t there, the young and long hitters would be able to drive the short par-4 6th or reach the par-5 8th in two shots easily.
I suspect it is also possible the vandalism may have been performed by a disgruntled member or former member. Perhaps someone has an axe to grind and this is their way of getting back at the club?
A third theory I have is one I really hope isn’t the case. I do find it interesting timing that the course is considering a redesign at the same time this sabotage takes place. If I read the design notes correctly, these two trees would be eliminated in the new design. Coincidence? Was the vandalism done by someone who really wants the redesign to happen or worse yet, has a financial interest in the redesign taking place? As I said, I certainly hope this theory is not the case.
A reward is now offered by the club. $2,500 cash to whoever provides the club information leading to the positive identification of the person responsible for the damage.
For close to 10 years I’ve been blogging about golf. One of the greatest benefits of this blog has been the opportunity to travel and visit some amazing places. There are a few very “special” places I’ve visited which are head and shoulders above the rest. Some of those special places include Black Mesa Golf Club, Ballyneal Golf Club, The Old Course, Kingsbarns and Sand Hollow.
Add another special place to the list.
Diamante – Dunes Course – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
On my last trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico I had the pleasure of playing the Diamante Dunes Course. Diamante Dunes opened in 2009 and quickly attained the ranking of #1 golf course in Mexico and #52 in the world. The Dunes course is the first course on the property at Diamante. The 2nd course is under construction right now, a Tiger Woods design.
Designed By Davis Love III
Speaking of design, I was intrigued and excited to learn that the course designer at the Dunes course was none other than Davis Love III. I’m not completely immersed in the golf architecture genre like some golf writers, so this is the first DLIII design I’ve heard of.
The course measures out at 7,300 yards from the tips, a.k.a. “Tee I.” Course rating from Tee I is 75.4 with a slope of 146. At sea level that’s as much golf course as any player on the planet needs. I played from a more reasonable tee, you guessed it, “Tee II.” In all there are five sets of tees, “Tee V” measuring out at 5,151 yards.
Location Location Location
Cabo San Lucas may have the best overall weather on the planet. The average temperature year-round is 78 degrees. There are 350 days of sunshine per year and very little rain. Perfect golf weather 24/7/365.
Diamante is located six miles from downtown Cabo and occupies 1.5 miles of beachfront property overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The area is comprised of fantastic pure white sand dunes and natural desert vegetation.
Diamante Dunes is routed through some of the most stunning topography I’ve ever seen. The beachside views along with the massive sand dunes provide a canvas which Davis Love III brilliantly painted with perfectly green grass, pure white sand and an occasional red or yellow accent from the native desert vegetation. In the distance are the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean along with the thunderous sound of waves pounding the shoreline.
That perfectly green grass I mentioned? Its a rare breed of grass which is salt and warm-weather resistant, perfect for a seaside course. The paspalum at Diamante is so perfect and trimmed to such precision, that it almost doesn’t seem real.
The strength of paspalum is astounding. In trying to pull up some blades to throw up into the wind for club selection, I almost fell over. The grass is so strong that it takes quite an effort to pull out some blades.
Tee shots at Diamante set up perfectly for not only great golf shots, but great photos. I spent more time shooting pictures than I did hitting my golf shots. Multiple teeing areas are located at different elevations and angles to provide a multitude of options from day to day or from handicap level to handicap level.
Golf pro Rodrigo about to let it fly… click to zoom
Tee shots at Diamante can be quite dramatic, featuring large elevation changes.
The fairways at Diamante Dunes run through, over, between, or around massive sand dunes. What fun DLIII must have had envisioning hole routings and shots. The fairways are fairly wide and not terribly penal.
Par-5 14th Hole From The Tee – click to zoom
Errant shots which miss the fairways find the soft sand which is far more penal and difficult to navigate. Missing the fairways for the sand doesn’t mean a guaranteed bogey or worse, but making par or better from the sand is an accomplishment.
The greens at Diamante may be the most perfect putting surfaces I’ve ever putted. I could not find one dry spot, one ball mark, one inconsistency. Putting on surfaces like this is almost a religious experience.
Diamante Dunes #2 Green – click to zoom
The green complexes at Diamante are brilliantly laid out, with rugged bunkering guarding them and natural sandy areas surrounding. The challenging undulations and slopes require solid putting for good scores, but are definitely fair.
Diamante Dunes is built on perhaps the world’s largest bunker. 1,500 acres of light beach sand line all the holes. Many of the natural bunkers are simply filled with the native sand.
Playing The Course
Playing the course is an amazing experience. From the sand dunes, routing, the sound of the ocean waves pounding the shore, to the perfectly manicured greens, this is a golf experience like no other.
I’m damn proud of my 86 as a two handicap. Hear me out. I almost never play well on media trips due to not knowing the course, focusing on photos, taking notes, being a little tired from the late nights schmoozing and probably having one to many adult beverages. This 86 was more special because of the conditions. I experienced Diamante during a full dose of Baja Peninsula winds. The sand was flying sideways as were the golf balls. Following the round I was cleaning sand out of places on my body I didn’t know existed. I managed that round in those conditions with one golf ball. ONE GOLF BALL.
Diamante is a private facility. Members can enjoy one of the best golf courses in the world of course.
Along with golf the facility offers plush lodging, golf villas and estates, restaurants, spas, a 10 acre crystal lagoon, horseback riding and of course, 1.5 miles of beach to enjoy.
At a few strategic locations on the course there are what I will call “relief shacks.” In these shacks are all a golfer needs: restrooms, tequilla bottles, a bar, fully stocked fridge and snacks. Grab a tequila bottle and take it with you. When you reach the next shack, pull another full tequila bottle out and put your empty one in.
I particularly loved the hard boiled eggs, available in the shacks. The egg goes in a small plastic cup and there are salsas to dress the egg with. Those eggs saved my life. The tequila helped quite a bit too. Much better than the aspirin.
My Favorite Holes
A friend and “golf journalist” (I consider myself a blogger, not necessarily a journalist) gave me grief for using the term “signature hole.” I suppose he’s right. The term is overused for sure. So I’ll post my “favorite” holes from Diamante.
Island in the Sand 16th
Hole #16 is a fantastic par-3, which is right next to the shore. The green is what I like to call an “island in the sand.” 16 is a prime example showing that a great par-3 need not be long.
Diamante Dunes 16 Green
From the back tees this par-3 is only 154 yards but a small group of dark green desert foliage guards the front, looking quite like gorse in St. Andrews. The green slopes front to back and has a large tier dissecting it perpendicular to the tee.
My next favorite hole comes up right after 16. The 17th is a fantastic par-5 which measures at 588 yards, uphill. The tee shot is challenging, with gorse-like bushes dictating that shots come up strategically short. Long hitters can take on the challenge of flying it over.
Diamante Dunes 17th Hole – click to zoom
The approach to 17 is severely uphill to a large green with two levels. I happily hit my 3rd shot, a sand wedge, to the correct tier and left myself with a 15 footer for birdie. Unfortunately the bird did not drop, but the tap-in par was rewarding, especially as I looked out from the elevated green to miles of virgin Mexico shoreline. That was a “stop and soak it in” moment. I stood there and took some deep breaths. I can still smell the ocean.
In the video below, I pan from the 16th green through the 17th tee. You can hear how windy it was that day, which also makes the video quality a little rough because of the sand flying through the air.
As I played golf on this fantastic layout I was saddened a bit. The serenity, purity and remoteness of these golf holes in the dunes will soon be tarnished by residences. Lots are already being excavated for course-side estates. In a way I feel even more privileged to have played the course in its original pure form with no real estate development.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against high end golf real estate per se. If I could sell about 12 million more ads this year on this blog, I’d happily be one of the first to call Diamante home. I’ll take the lot between 16 green and 17 tee please.
Though it is private, Diamante can be experienced if you’re not a member. There are ways to get on. If you can swing it (so to speak) when you’re in Cabo next time, do it.
Bring your A game and bring your camera. I’d bring more than one golf ball, just in case.
Yesterday the web and social networks were buzzing with with a large backlash over a 9-11 promotion a Wisconsin golf course advertised. The “12th Anniversary of 9-11” ad offered a round of nine holes for $9.11 or 18 holes for $19.11.
Many thought this was in poor taste, as did I. The course received so much bad press and so many negative social comments that they offered an apology, then saying they’d donate the proceeds to a 9-11 charity. Now it seems they’re considering closing the course today (9/11/13).
I have some other bad golf marketing suggestions this course can try throughout the year: