By Kelly Neely & Gretchen Yoder, Handicapping & Course Rating Department
We’re pretty sure you already know just how unique golf is. That’s likely one reason why you play. Other reasons might run the gamut from a need to punish yourself to an excuse to day drink, but no judgment here.
Yes, golf is exceptional due, in part, to the fact that each golf course is utterly distinct. And what can we say about the special people who do yeoman’s work rating golf courses? Well, among their other fine qualities, they are rare indeed. It might surprise you to know that there are more Paper Towel Sniffers (not joking) and Professional Paint Dry Watchers (so there ARE people who would rather watch paint dry) than Course Raters. But likely fewer Alligator Wranglers.
You might not realize this, but Course Raters become quite adept at viewing golf courses with a different lens than golfers do. The Course Rating System demands the expertise of breaking down the course to physical details not necessarily noticed by players. Some raters even have the uncanny ability to open brimming file cabinets in their brains, recalling exact characteristics of random golf holes from a weird and wonderful Course Rating perspective. Our resident expert, Gretchen Yoder, is one of those folks.
Holes With Crazy Bunkers
Old Macdonald – The 4th Bandon Dunes course in the lineup and to many, a favorite due to generous fairways and the iconic Ghost Tree, presents the player with the cumulative effect of All. Those. Bunkers. Can we just highlight the one on No. 6 that is modeled after ‘Hell’ bunker at St. Andrews’ Old Course? This beauty is a monstrous 45 yards wide, and so deep you could stand in it waving a white flag and no one would see you surrender. In textbook Course Rating language, every possible adjustment and extreme situation exists here – pot bunkers, stacked sod bunker faces, “extreme rough interferes with swing”, squeeze, carry, depth, “very large or series of multiple bunkers causing long carries over sand,” and more. Most other courses might have a couple of these, but Old Mac has every single one and multiple times, to boot.
Tetherow, No. 17 – Even though famed architect David McLay Kidd has been known to quip that he “hates the term ‘signature hole’ but doesn’t mind the term ‘cover girl’”, we think the expansive bunkering between tees and green resembles, from Google Earth, a cartoon alien. Okay, maybe a cartoon alien cover girl.
Did You Know? “Squeeze” is Course Rating terminology for an adjustment made for when the same obstacle is on both sides of the fairway; bunkers across from bunkers, trees across from trees, penalty areas across from penalty areas.
Holes With Tree Impact
Eagle Creek No. 13 – With tees from 208 to 272 yards, this hole greets you with towering firs that fortunately escaped the recent Estacada Wildfires. Those that still have live branches almost extend their fingers across the narrow fairway as if they’re playing Red Rover with your golf ball.
Club Green Meadows No. 9 – In resourceful fashion, a low handicapper playing from the back tee might hit into the fairway of adjacent No. 10, avoiding laying up due to multiple trees on the left-hand side and a beast on the right. Though this creative solution gets style points, we still must rate the course using the hole in its entirety without involving its neighbor.
A common question is: “We took out trees (or a storm did) this year – how will that affect our rating?” You could call our answer trite, but it’s not wrong: “It depends.” Was it a single nemesis tree, always blocking your perfect approach shot to the green? Or was it a plethora on a course that already has a forest of them? An example of little or no impact to the Course Rating would be Bend GC, who removed hundreds of trees at once with nary a consequence.
Years ago, a USGA Course Rating official visited our region, never having been to the Pacific Northwest. His first astonished words were – “You guys have BIG trees here.” Why yes, yes we do.
Water Water, Everywhere
Cross Creek – Ponds, Creeks, And a Slough, oh my! On nearly every hole you’ll find the challenging wet stuff. You might be lucky to find your ball taking a bath on the rocks in the creek but then you’ll need to weigh the risk of marring your shiny new wedge to extract it. Forever on the mind of the player is whether to lay up or carry crisscrossing creeks.
Cross Creek presents lots of smaller water-crossings, in contrast to Crosswater, which is awash in substantial ones. Both introduce obvious challenges for the golfer and ramifications to their ratings. And it wouldn’t be proper to point out the influence of water without acknowledging the Grand Daddy Penalty Area of Them All – namely the Pacific Ocean – which abuts most of the Bandon Dunes courses.
Did You Know? Since the major change to the Rules of Golf in 2019, it is up to the course to determine relief options under the Penalty Area rules, which can include water.
Old Macdonald – Hole No. 8 green, a rare public course Biarritz, is figuratively and literally off the charts in the Course Rating system at 40 yards wide by 70 yards deep. It’s nearly the enormity of four or five average greens banding together to turn your short game into one that isn’t. In the middle of the green, players find a deep swale; deep enough that you can stand with extended arms and almost touch plateaus on either side. Depending on the pin placement on this colossal creature (and of course, the wind, which you’re trying valiantly to make peace with), what’s your strategy from the elevated tee? Maybe driver. Maybe even….sand wedge.
Astoundingly, Old Mac’s greens are among the largest in the world and total around 6.5 acres (yep, ACRES), exceeding 6.1 at The Old Course.
Did You Know? Coastal courses, those along the Columbia River and some exposed courses (like Wildhorse) are more affected by wind. We look up historical weather data for average wind speeds; disregarding winter months when scores are not posted. Wind is assessed per each nine.
Juniper GC – Tenacious Central Oregon lava rock pervasively comes into play on Juniper which, from a Course Rating perspective, is considered extreme rough. This is when it is likely a ball – let’s admit it, balls – “will be lost or only advanced with great difficulty.”
Tetherow – Here’s another example where extreme rough exists, also located in the picturesque high desert of Central Oregon, where the remarkable vegetation takes on a life of its own. The rough at Tetherow happens to be in the form of scrubby shrubs we refer to as ‘tumbleweeds before they start tumbling’.
Widest Fairways, Goats & Other Oddities
Silvies Valley Ranch – A 140,000 acre working ranch with two regulation golf courses named for families Craddock and Hankins (and three others, including a par-3 and a putting course), the remote Silvies Valley Ranch has fairways so wide we often don’t bother picking up our lasers to measure them. Under the Course Rating system, we measure obstacles up to 50 yards away from the center of fairways and greens, but no farther. And even though Silvies is free of water, you could still spend a lot of time at the beach with over 100 bunkers, some flanking and thus narrowing the wide fairways.
Links style, Craddock and Hankins are also ‘reversible’. Even though the course direction is reversed each day to create different layouts, this unique feature doesn’t impact the way each course is rated.
As a bonus, Silvies is also the place where motivational, pithy one-liners like, “Whisky Time!” and “I Love Rakes!” can be found laser-cut onto rakes. This tends to make you feel better about using them. And who knew that the best caddies around would be the four-legged variety? With Bruce LeGoat leading the pack as Caddie Master, Silvies employs hard-working, sweet-natured goats to assist golfers around the McVeigh course (only seven holes, but steep enough to, well, need a goat). While their club selection advice might not be as honed as two-legged caddies, they will work for peanuts.