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.
Las Vegas, Nevada
A new course consisting of 18 famous holes from British Open venues, this has quickly become one of the most successful replica courses in the country by paying attention to detail, right down to offering caddies who dress in the uniform formerly worn by their counterparts at the British Open. While the usual suspects, the Road Hole and the Postage Stamp, are represented, designer Perry Dye also chose interesting holes from lesser-known venues like Royal Liverpool and St. Georges. Attention to detail is high, both on and off the course, with suitable substitutes for gorse and knee-high rough mimicking the British Isles playing experience. There's even a Swilcan Bridge so authentic that golfers stop to have their pictures taken on it, just as they do when playing the real Old Course at St. Andrews. More than 120 deep bunkers, many of them with sod walls, line the course. The clubhouse is a fantastic castle-like structure with a pub, and the yardage books are the best in golf: spiral-bound keepsakes that explore the layout of the replicas and the history of the original holes.
Dallas and Houston, Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas, and these two courses were the first to embrace the concept of blatantly copying a full slate of great holes. Now owned by Arnold Palmer Golf Management, Tour 18 is poised for growth, and you may soon see one near you. While the layouts are quite different, both re-create the island hole at TPC Sawgrass and all of Augusta's Amen Corner, holes 11, 12 and 13. This holy trinity of golf closes out the Dallas layout and is sandwiched into the front nine in Houston.
Surprisingly, both courses replicate only domestic holes, boldly selected more for quality than fame. Even the Dallas version, which has more household-name courses like Winged Foot, Augusta, Riviera and Pine Valley represented, gets daring with great but less well-known holes such as the first from Cherry Hills, the 15th from Crooked Stick and the 16th from Oakland Hills.
Houston is even more eclectic, featuring the sixth from the Magnolia course at Walt Disney World, the fourth from La Costa and the eighth from Oak Tree, holes only the most die-hard fans will recognize from television. Ironically, with the demise of the most famous course on the Las Vegas Strip, Houston is now the only place in the world where you can play the 10th hole from the Desert Inn. Between the two, the Tour 18 courses represent 27 courses, including heavy hitters such as Pebble Beach, Shinnecock, Doral, Muirfield Village, Firestone, Harbour Town and Colonial.
World Tour Golf Links
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This high-end, daily-fee trio of courses in Myrtle Beach strives to combine its 27 replica holes with first-rate service, from well-spaced tee times to global positioning systems. Its 25,000-square-foot clubhouse flies the flag of every state and country represented, and even houses five glass cases full of mementos (authentic and replicas) of trophies and antiques from the courses copied. Golf director Shoemaker believes the International Nine is the best of the three, with holes from Valderrama, Royal Melbourne and Wentworth, along with domestic locales, including Spanish Bay, Seminole and Doral. The Championship Nine is the most popular, probably because it has all of Amen Corner, along with the ubiquitous Postage Stamp, and holes from Cypress Point, Winged Foot and Olympic. Duffers can try the more forgiving Open Nine, which fittingly starts and ends with the first and 18th holes from the Old Course at St. Andrews, bookending choices from Pinehurst Two, Pine Valley, Augusta, Colonial and the island hole from Sawgrass, among others. The courses are owned by Mel Graham, a nephew of the Rev. Billy Graham, and he hopes to replicate the replicas in other sites in California, Florida and, of course, Las Vegas.
The Architects Golf Club
Phillipsburg, New Jersey
The newest tribute or replica course in the United States, this design by Stephen Kay, with assistance from golf author and historian Ron Whitten, is scheduled to open in July. The course is a tribute to 18 architects whose work spanned more than a century. Kay got the idea from his early work on the replica Donald Ross course in Michigan. "I said to myself, 'Wouldn't it be nice to take people on a ride through history, where they could play in the historical sequence?' The first hole is Old Tom Morris, the very first golf course designer. We jump to the States with C. B. MacDonald, who designed our very first 18-hole course [in the United States], the Chicago Golf Club." Architects is located in western New Jersey near the Delaware River, about an hour's drive from Newark International Airport. Other architects represented in the course include Walter Travis, Donald Ross, Harry Colt and C. H. Alison, A. W. Tillinghast, Alister Mackenzie and Robert Trent Jones. "We did not copy holes," says Kay. "We looked at three things: how the architect would set up play, the style of bunkering, and the contours of the putting service."
Black Creek Club
The first of two new tributes to the work of Seth Raynor and C. B. MacDonald, Black Creek opened last year. Brian Silva, named Architect of the Year by Golf World magazine in 1999, tried to include the hallmarks of the duo's designs in his routing, including blind approaches, a redan hole, drivable par-4s, a punch-bowl green and, in general, layouts that beg for some shots to be played on the ground. Silva had recently done extensive renovations on a couple of Raynor designs, including Lookout Mountain and Fox Chapel, and carried the lessons he learned to Black Creek. "It lets players who haven't been able to visit Scotland or play the great early American courses with these design features be exposed to the way the game once was, and still is, on the links of Scotland," says Silva.
The New Course at Grand Cypress
This is an homage by no less a golf icon than the Golden Bear himself to the birthplace of golf. Nicklaus made credible replicas of the first and last holes from the Old Course, and in between created 16 Scottish-style designs, complete with lots of double greens and deep bunkers. This is the subtlest of all the tribute or replica courses, offering a real feel for the old country without making it seem tacky. Modern touches like GPS, yardage books and cart paths do not ruin the effect, and of all the tribute and replica courses, this one resides at the best resort. The Grand Cypress Resort also has a Nicklaus-designed 27-hole course that hosts an LPGA tournament; between its two layouts, the resort offers a fantastic golf experience.
Stonebridge Golf Links & Country Club
Hauppauge, New York
This more recent MacDonald tribute, by golf historian George Bahto, opened at Easter. While Bahto has been hired to consult on numerous MacDonald renovations, this is his first solo design effort, and unlike big-name architects, he worked on-site throughout the design process¿ a labor of love.
"I left my ego behind," says Bahto. "I didn't want to leave my mark on the course, and I did not try to duplicate certain holes. I didn't copy the fourth at the National or the second at Shinnecock." Instead, Bahto incorporated the same trademark elements that Silva tried to re-create in Tennessee: the redan, punch-bowl green, Alps hole and other European designs that MacDonald and Raynor embraced in their careers. "The experience you're going to get is a great set of greens," Bahto says. "They're very large with dramatic transitions. MacDonald wanted you to think on your approach shots." While acknowledged as great designers, the duo is less well known than many of their contemporaries because many of their courses, like the National and Chicago Golf Club, are private. In researching his biography of MacDonald, Bahto visited more than 80 courses that one or both designers had worked on. "You can now play a Raynor course," Bahto says of Stonebridge. "There are very few that are public access, and very few that you can even hope to be invited to."
The Tribute at the Colony
The holes at The Tribute, which opened last summer, are inspired by ones at Carnoustie, Royal Dornoch, Royal Troon, Muirfield, Prestwick, Nairn and Western Gailes. But unlike replica courses, the holes are not carbon copies. Architect Tripp Davis laid out his holes in the style of their more famous inspirations. As Davis says, "We simply re-created the excitement and playability that is inherent with some of Scotland's great golf holes." Off the course, they didn't skimp either, with a 33,000-square-foot Tudor-style clubhouse and a 25-acre practice area with a one-acre putting course. Upstairs in the clubhouse are seven luxury suites available for rental, all with golf course views. Future plans call for a 400-room hotel and a second course.
World Woods Golf Club
The least blatant of the tribute efforts, this 36-hole facility features two Tom Fazio courses done in the styles of Augusta and Pine Valley, where Fazio has already created a replica short course. The Pine Barrens course utilizes sandy soil and numerous pine trees to capture the essence of Pine Valley's namesake New Jersey setting, while Rolling Oaks features bridges, flowers and oak trees dripping with Spanish moss to emulate Augusta. The elaborate complex also has a nine-hole short course, three full-size practice holes, and a wide variety of driving ranges and putting greens, albeit no lodging.
A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, Larry Olmsted is a freelance writer living in Vermont.