Four Seasons Carmelo
Green Keeper: Ricardo Meglonio
The beauty of a resort with less than fifty bungalows and suites is that the guest is assured of a tranquil environment. Of course, few such size resorts offer golf. After all, even if the resort is full, the golf course would be more than half empty. The Four Seasons resort at Carmelo, Uruguay is a wonderful anomaly, one that golfers are well advised upon which to take advantage.
Designed by Kelly Blake Moran and Randy Thompson, the golf course here at the Four Seasons Golf Club garnered immediate praise upon opening in 2001. Considered the finest course in Uruguay, a lead Brazilian golf magazine voted it the best course in all of South America in 2007. Despite such recognition, less than 4,000 rounds were played on it in 2006.
Yet, to the Four Seasons’ credit, they continually commit the resources so that Green Keeper Ricardo Meglonio can present the course in a first class manner as the resort appreciates the loyalty that the course stirs with many of its core visitors that return year after year.
How did such a quality design emerge here? In some ways, the story begins with Dick Wilson, considered by some including this author as the finest golf course architect for the twenty year period from the end of World War II to 1965. Pine Tree Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida, NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio, and Lucayan Country Club in the Bahamas are among his finest designs. A common feature throughout many of his designs is the angle he placed his greens relative to the fairways. No doubt Wilson learned how to do so while working on Shinnecock Hills and Indian Creek for master architect William Flynn.
Wilson’s work was highly sought after to the point where he had to rely on a talented team of associates to carry out many of his projects. Among this group of associates were Joe Lee and Robert Von Hagge and both went on to have successful careers of their own. In the case of Von Hagge, he left Wilson in 1963 to create his own firm. Boca Rio Country Club is a very fine example of his work and for some it even rivals Wilson’s nearby Pine Tree, a course famously praised by Ben Hogan.
In the 1990s, Randy Thompson met Kelly Blake Moran while both were working for Von Hagge on a project in Texas. The two became friends and remained in touch even when Thompson moved to South America. When Thompson uncovered the opportunity to build this course in Uruguay, he knew whom to call. Moran had just started his own firm in the United States. Appreciating it would take a year or two to develop a workload, Moran was happy to come to Uruguay to help his friend.
Given the low level of play that was forecast, the construction budget was a modest $2.5 million (USD). Other than the first and tenth holes, the holes were literally created from a swamp. Twenty seven hectares of continuous lakes were created with the resulting fill used to create the golf holes. Slightly over one million cubic yards were moved with nearly one third of that being used in a triangle between the fourth, fifth and eighth holes.
Given the background of the two architects, the fact that there is a considerable amount of Robert Von Hagge’s and Dick Wilson’s influence in the design comes as no surprise. This influence particularly manifests itself in the green complexes where many are broader than they are deep. Combined with the bunkers which are invariably cut at the edge of the greens, the golfer is given a number of shallow targets. Without doubt, the golfer who can hit high soft approach shots enjoys an advantage.
One of the finest greens is found at the 375 yard sixth hole. This gull wing green is two feet higher on both its left and right ‘wings’ than its lower middle portion. The green is over fifty yards wide but only the middle portion offers much of a target in terms of depth. Place the day’s hole location on either wing and brave (or foolish) is the golfer who attempts to get his approach shot close. Place it in the middle and many of the resort’s guests find a potential birdie hole. As Randy Thompson says, there are only so many ways to crumple a piece of paper. By that, he means there are only so many ways to build an interesting green from scratch and both he and Moran take great pride in this creation.
Typical of Four Seasons service, they happily accommodate the request of several returning groups to ‘hide’ the hole locations during their three day visits.
Holes to Note
2nd hole, 445/410 yards; For a course that emerged from a swamp, the golfer delights in finding interesting contours throughout many of the holes. The second is a particularly fine example of very good land movement from the tee to green.
3rd hole, 190/165 yards; This green complex would be right at home at Pine Tree, high praise considering that many (including Ben Hogan) consider it to be Dick Wilson’s finest design. The built up green pad gives the front bunkers depth but it is the boomerang configuration of the green itself that gives the golfer fits.
4th hole, 420/390 yards; Alister MacKenzie was a huge fan of doglegs. In his day, the inside of a dogleg was often covered by bunkers or scrub, leaving the golfer with wonderful options to puzzle as to what line to take from the tee. In modern times, the golfer finds the inside of too many doglegs protected by trees, squashing the strategic merit from the tee ball. Not so here as only bunkers cut into the far hillside guard the inside of this dogleg right. The tiger dearly likes to carry the far right bunker because 1) the ground just past it gives his tee ball a nice kick forward to the green and 2) the green is much broader than deep, pointing to the desire to have a short iron in to such a target.
5th hole, 440/400 yards; The fairway’s right to left cant created by Moran and Thompson makes the hole. The farther the golfer steers away from the lake down the left, the more pronounced his stance becomes with the ball above the right handed golfer’s feet.
7th hole, 205/160 yards; Lakes appear on fifteen of the eighteen holes; only the first, third, and tenth holes are devoid of any water hazards. If the water was used in an aggressive, heavy handed manner, the golfer would quickly tire of the sameness of the challenge. Such is mercifully not the case as Moran and Thompson used the water in every imaginable manner possible, frequently – to their credit – with it essentially out of play for all but the absolute worst shot. Indeed, of the fifteen holes with water, this is the sole one whereby the water directly fronts the green. Too many modern architects use water as a crutch when they start to run low on design ideas. Clearly, Moran and Thompson’s restrained use of water shows they never lacked ideas when building Carmelo.
8th hole, 565/560 yards; One of the great holes in South American golf, the fairway parallels the lake for the first four hundred and thirty yards before wrapping around its top and heading to the green. This candy cane shaped fairway leads to all sorts of interesting playing angles, regardless of one’s ability.