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Can't Make It to Augusta or St. Andrews? Not a Problem
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01

Scotland's famed Postage Stamp is the shortest hole on the British Open rota, a par-3 playing just 126 yards from the tips. Nonetheless, it is one of the greatest holes in golf, and not easy by any means. Just ask Tiger Woods, who racked up a 6 on his first attempt in the 1997 Open Championship. To experience it yourself, you can head to Royal Troon, on the southwest coast of Scotland, some 30 miles from the Glasgow airport. Or, you can tackle the Postage Stamp in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There is one in Ocala, Florida, as well. Or, you can play not one, but two Postage Stamps in Las Vegas.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case, holes such as the Postage Stamp, Augusta's Amen Corner and the island green 17th at Sawgrass are receiving plenty of flattery. You can play Amen Corner at four courses besides the original and the Sawgrass 17th at five, including at St. Augustine, less than half an hour from the real thing. Holes from Hilton Head are reproduced in Texas, holes from Texas in Myrtle Beach. While Las Vegas has imported holes from all over the United States and the British Isles, a Houston course has borrowed a hole from Las Vegas.

In just a few short years, tribute and replica courses have gone from fringe to mainstream. Once viewed as gimmicks, these courses have been turned into upscale golf experiences, as developers couple the unusual opportunity to play famous holes with first-rate clubhouses, stellar yardage books and top-notch maintenance.

Some purists think the trend is nothing new, as golf architects have been copying one another since before there was such a science as golf course design. Classic holes such as the par-3 redan, which originated at Scotland's North Berwick, have been used hundreds, if not thousands of times around the globe, to the point where a course can almost be considered a failure without one. In the golden age of American course design, from 1911 to 1937, architects borrowed freely from British layouts.

The National Golf Links of America in Southhampton, New York, is considered by many to be the first strategic masterpiece built in America. George Bahto, a golf historian and author of The Evangelist of Golf, the forthcoming biography of designer C. B. MacDonald, says, "MacDonald did not strive to reinvent golf, but rather emulated many great classical holes of Europe intertwined onto a single course with no weak holes."

Renowned architect John Fought, who has worked on award- winning designs like Oregon's Pumpkin Ridge and Crosswater, puts it more succinctly: "The truth of the matter is that we incorporate tried-and-true designs from great courses in all the work we do. People have this idea that we're reinventing the wheel, but that's a misnomer. Look at a redan: Jack Nicklaus uses it on every course he does, but you don't say it's a tribute. I guarantee you, just about every design idea has already been tried."

"If some of the great golf holes were built today, they might be considered goofy or unfair," says Geoff Shackelford, an expert on golf architecture and author of The Golden Age of Golf Design. "Some are really eccentric. But if guys today build them under the guise of tributes, they can get away with it. I have no problem with replica holes, because even if they don't get it right, it will be fun to play and won't hurt the game. For example, everyone I've talked to comes back from the Donald Ross course in Michigan and says, ¿They weren't perfect replicas, but it was a whole lot of fun to play.'"

Nonetheless, some folks in the golf industry look down their noses at tribute and replica courses. But the reality is, most golfers will never play all the British Open venues, even though most welcome visitors. They certainly will not get to play ultra-exclusive private layouts such as Pine Valley, Augusta, Baltusurol, Seminole, Winged Foot, Olympic or Cypress Point, although you can experience the feel of all these venues in a single round in South Carolina at the World Tour Golf Links in Myrtle Beach. If you can swallow your pride and admit you are not likely to tee it up at Shinnecock anytime soon, you might as well play the next best thing.

"Yes, they are gimmicky, but if they're done right it can be thrilling for someone who otherwise doesn't have the opportunity to play Augusta or St. Andrews," says Brad King, senior editor of LINKS magazine. "Not everyone has the time or wherewithal to play every course that has held a British Open, making repeated trips to Northern Ireland, Scotland and England."

If you still think these courses are tacky, consider this: New Jersey's Pine Valley, one of the most elite clubs on earth, and perennially recognized as the world's best course by most golf magazines, hired Tom Fazio to build a replica course on the property. So enamored are members and critics of Pine Valley's par-3s and its approach shots on the longer holes that Fazio designed a 10-hole course replicating these settings. He re-created three par-3s, the second shots on four par-4s, and a longer hole offering the second and third shots on the 600-yard par-5 15th. Two new holes joined what Fazio quite openly describes as eight replicas to create the short course at Pine Valley, where he is a member.

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