Can't Make It to Augusta or St. Andrews? Not a Problem
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.
Replica courses are just what the name implies, re-creations, often described as "simulations" of or "inspired by" (for legal reasons) existing holes. None built to date copy an entire course. Instead, they collect great golf holes with a theme of famous courses or famous architects. Some mix a handful of replica holes with original designs.
Tribute courses are a newer phenomenon, featuring holes done in the style of renowned architects or courses, borrowing the philosophy and some design elements without duplicating holes in cookie-cutter fashion. It has become trendy recently, with not one but two new courses intended as tributes to architects Seth Raynor and Charles Blair MacDonald, who collaborated on courses such as Bermuda's MidOcean, the Yale University Golf Course, Piping Rock and the National Golf Links. Another new tribute course is an homage to great British Open layouts, without any direct replications. Tom Fazio's two courses at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Florida, are homages to the terrain and style of Augusta and Pine Valley, again without copying individual holes. One ambitious project in New Jersey attempts to pay tribute to 18 different golf architects.
Finally, there are hybrids, blurring the line between tribute and replica. Jack Nicklaus's New Course at Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida, features replicas of the first and last holes from the Old Course at St. Andrews, plus 16 more done in a Scottish tribute style. Florida's RLR Golden Ocala has eight replica holes plus a composite hole "patterned after" three holes at Pine Valley. A second Ocala layout in the works will follow this "pattern" of borrowing elements rather than holes from existing layouts.
None of these courses, no matter how well intentioned, is a perfect re-creation. You may be able to duplicate the Postage Stamp flawlessly five miles down the Ayrshire coast, but you simply cannot do it in Las Vegas. For one thing, there is no ocean. Neighbors might complain when invasive gorse spreads into their gardens. Fescue grasses can grow on the Oregon coast and the shores of the Great Lakes, but almost nowhere else in the United States.
Likewise, the vast majority of the courses worthy of copying lie north of the Snowbelt, and have bent-grass greens. Most of the replicas are in warmer locales where Bermuda grass is used. In any case, a perfect replica would require 18 completely different greens, with different grasses, different levels of watering, different soil compositions for each fairway, and different species of trees on every hole. Standing on the tee of the Royal Links's Postage Stamp in Las Vegas, the hole looks remarkably similar to the real thing¿but the green is slightly larger. Likewise, Royal Links chose not to dig its St. Andrews Hell Bunker quite so deep. Why the changes? According to my caddie, the original holes are too hard and would slow the pace of play. But land in the Nevada Hell Bunker, and you will still experience the frustration of the real thing. It may not be a great replica, but it is a very good one.
"Las Vegas is not the Monterey Peninsula," says architect Fought, who laid out the Cloud Nine replica course at Angel Park in Las Vegas. "Even by Las Vegas standards, it would have been too expensive to replicate these holes. The island hole is similar to Sawgrass, but the green is a different size. The Postage Stamp is not an exact replica, but it is very similar."
Similar enough so that all but the most uptight golfers will enjoy these efforts. If world-class restaurants like Le Cirque 2000 and Lutece can spin off Vegas versions, why can't St. Andrews? If Olives celebrity chef Todd English can open a restaurant in Myrtle Beach, why shouldn't World Tour Golf Links reproduce 27 great holes there? As World Tour's director of golf, Rick Shoemaker says, "Our Augusta number 12 is as close to identical as could be, but for number 11, we just don't have as much elevation drop, so ours plays a little longer. But even Augusta changes their course all the time. And look at Doral. They've redone the course twice recently. If you come here expecting to play the exact holes, you're missing the point; but it's still fun. We're trying to bring a rare, unexpected experience to the average golfer." Hard to argue with that.
If you can't get to the original courses, here's where to go to find the next best thing:
Angel Park Golf Club, Las Vegas, Nevada
Besides its two original 18-hole courses, Angel Park offers this 12-hole par-3 course, re-creating famous par-3s from around the world. Of course, the Postage Stamp and the island hole from Sawgrass are included. Par-3s are generally easier to replicate than longer holes, and this unique layout offers a whirlwind international golf experience that even the most cynical player will enjoy. It is also lighted for night play, putting a much different spin on Las Vegas nightlife.
Donald Ross Memorial Course
Boyne Highlands Resort, Harbor Spring, Michigan
800-GO-BOYNE, ext. 3028, www.boynehighlands.com
With more than 400 courses to his credit, Donald Ross is widely considered to be the greatest golf architect in history. This layout in Michigan's Lower Peninsula features re-creations of 18 famous Ross-designed holes from courses like Pinehurst Number Two, Oakland Hills, Oak Hills and Seminole, along with several others. The topography and thick pine forests of northern Michigan are uncannily similar to the hills of North Carolina, site of Ross's coup de grace, Pinehurst Two.
Replicas of the Carolina holes are the best, since the terrain does not resemble either Scotland or Florida, whose courses were the inspiration for some of the other holes. It is the only replica course devoted to a single architect, and one of the few re-creations located at a full-service golf resort, with two other excellent courses.
Architect Stephen Kay, who worked on an early version of the routing, calls the course the inspiration for his new Architects Course tribute layout in New Jersey.
RLR Golden Ocala
Considered the mother of all replica courses, this Ron Garl design, which opened in 1986, features eight replica holes, plus one composite "pattern" hole based on three Pine Valley holes. Not only are the copies very accurate, but the nine original holes are excellent as well, making Golden Ocala a fun course regardless of your stand on replicas. The re-created holes include two-thirds of Amen Corner plus the 16th from Augusta, the first hole and Road Hole from St. Andrews, Troon's Postage Stamp, the ninth from Scotland's Muirfield, and the fourth from Baltusurol (all four par-3s are replicas). Golden Ocala has long had a loyal local following, and during Masters week, many golf lovers at Augusta undertake the five-and-a-half-hour drive, a pilgrimage to play the Augusta replica holes here.
Golden Ocala recently changed hands and has closed for a top-to-bottom, 21-month renovation, including new fairways, tees, greens and irrigation systems; the course will reopen in January. The new owners are perfecting the replicas, changing one Augusta green to mirror changes at the real thing, and adding details like thousands of flowers and the elaborate stone bridges from Augusta, an intricate stone wall along the Road Hole, and sod-walled bunkers on the Old Course holes. A new clubhouse is also being built. A second Garl course will be added, a tribute effort patterned after styles of existing courses, and the first and 18th are being built now to serve as practice holes when the original layout reopens.
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