Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Honors Club

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The 9th green

One of the reasons I was looking forward to going to Chattanooga was to play the Honors Course. I’ve recently shared with you that Pete Dye represents a bit of conundrum to me since I can clearly see the skill in his designs, but I generally don’t care for the excessive shaping and manipulation of the land to create his courses. I was curious to see if I would find the love for his work in Chattanooga that I found at The Golf Club many years ago.

I was fortunate to play with Damian Pascuzzo and asked him mid round about his thoughts on Pete’s work. The discussion centered on Pete’s outstanding use of angles to set up decisions, the ability to create grand theater, his clear understanding of scale and the innate ability to come up with novel ideas. Quite often they were generated by the need to either lose or gain fill. In short, I get Pete is a great architect.

The 6th hole 

I found Honors to be a good illustration of the transition he was making from Minimalist to Maximalist. His routing makes terrific use of the land on so many wonderful holes away from the main lake. The collection of fives (which are fantastic) all standout for the terrain they incorporate. The only real complain I had on the holes away from the lake is the decision to shape and manipulate every fairway. I’ll never fully understand the reasoning for this, nor will I ever appreciate the contrast it creates to the natural undulations beyond the hole.

I loved the green sites and short grass playing areas around the perimeters. Some of the undulations on and off the green were magnificent. He managed to get some wonderful undulation without ever going too far on a single contour. These were an outstanding set of greens.

The main lake from the 15th tee

I always liked the angles and strategies he offered at all the courses I have gone to see. The par 5 17th features one single bunker every bit as powerful and important as the Road Hole bunker. A bunker you must plan carefully to avoid. This becomes tough when Pete allows the opportunity to drive the ball into a great position to get home in two, other than the trees on the right which prevent a safe side approach. You must flirt with disaster to reach the green.

I agree with Damian’s comment about the lake creating great theatre as you can easily watch other players around you. I’ll confess I’ve never been a fan of regular use of water to pressure players at green sites and have always felt it was one of the great failings of the Modern School of Design. Pete brings water into play on five holes and each time right up against the green. While I can appreciate the scale and grand theatre created by the central lake, these were the holes that I liked least as a collection.

The bunker fronting the 17th green

The biggest surprise was for me was the use of trees to create strategy. In some cases like the 6th they were too tight. I remember one of the staff commenting that’s Pete Dye, but I expect the opening was twice as big on opening day and made far more sense. I don’t mind the trees as much as the water since most were big enough to have some options to go under, but I do believe that this course could use some work along a few key forest lines to provide a little more options for the player.

I get the course is meant to be tough and I really did like this more than all the other recent Dye courses I have seen. I do think it deserves the praise it receives and I fully acknowledge that my criticisms revolve more around my own personal taste than any flaw in what Pete has designed. He is a great designer and this course helped me see a little more of what others see in him. I’m glad I made the trip.

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