Beechtree Golf Course
R.I.P. – The course was closed on November 7th, 2008 and the property was to be sold and converted into a housing development.
Firm playing conditions have long played a major role in making golf in the United Kingdomsuch a joy. Watching a white golf ball bumble along the ground for 20 or 30 or even 70 yards is a sight to behold. In addition, such firm conditions also mean that a slight knob or a few degree slope in the land can play amajor role in determining where a golf ball ends up.
This message of simplicity and of using the nuances in the topography was snuffed out in American architecture from WWII until the late 1980s because of the rush to use heavy earth moving equipment. Man-made hazards in the form of rows of mounds and water hazards became the norm but ultimately such hazards became repetitive and coursestook on a certain sameness, both visually and how they played. Courses tried to distinguish themselves by becoming harder and harder, to the pointof ridiculousnessby the mid to late 1980s.
Tom Doak attempted to help lead the charge back to the ground game and firm playing conditions when he designed the highly original High Pointe in 1988. However, its design never had the intended effect on architecture nor did it bring Doak the credit that it should have. The reason? There was a complete disconnect between how the architect intended the course to play and how the course was presented for play. Firm playing conditions were a must the holes to play properly and yet, within ten years of its opening, on the front side alone, holes 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8 had become shadows of how good they could have been because of soft playing conditions. The bunker behind the 7th greenbecame a wasted feature and gone was the joy of trying to chase an approach up the ridge in the 8th green.
The common – but unfortunate – desire to see green has also led to the overwatering at Lost Dunes, Doak’sothernoted design in Michigan. To see so many potentially arresting shots be lost to soft playing conditions is a shame but fortunately, events tooka change for the better when Doak and Renaissance Golf Design were commissionedto design both Quail Crossing in Evansville, Indiana and Beechtree Golf Club north of Baltimore in Aberdeen, Maryland.
In the ownerJames Knott and Green Keeper Russ Davis at Beechtree,Renaissance Golf Design finally foundpeople who understood their design philosophy and howeach hole was meant to play. Doak’s long held beliefs in minimal architecture and getting the most from the subtle nuances of the land would be allowed to shine through finally.
Take the 3rd hole as an example. Modest in length at 345 yards, the hole fits the ground perfectly. Unlike Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus are prone to do, the tee area itself is raised only a few feet with the result being that the golfer will not see his ball land. He may well see it bounce but he won’t see it land. The fairway slopes from left to right and in the right rough there is a drop that encourages the ball to findtwo fairway bunkers that are perfectly melded into their surrounds.
At first glance, the approach to the 3rd greenseems easy. The golfershould have a short iron in his hand and the large green is ‘only’ defended on one side.
Just as the low profile 3rd hole goes, so do many of the other holes. The golferis never bombarded or overwhelmed with flashy, artificial features but rather gains a broad sense of how the holes should be played by studying the immediate surrounding land and its natural features.
For instance, just as the left to right slope of the land dictates the play of the 3rd hole, this same slope was used equally well on the the 5th hole (which runs in the opposite direction to the 3rd and thus the slope ofits fairway is from right to left) and the nearby 10thhole (which plays downhill/sidehill off this slope).The team at Renaissance Golf Design deserves fullmarks forfindingthe ideal routing that uses the same slope insuch different manners.
Holes to Note:
Fifth hole, 425 yards; A perfect dogleg in that it can accomodate the full range of players that a public course attracts. Themore modest golfer can play straight ahead and turn the hole into a three shotter, though with the green open in front, he never feels out of it. The further left the tiger golfer seeks to go, the more challenging the tee ball becomes. A bunker on the inside of the dogleg requires a 250 yard carry from the back markers and it receives plenty of play. The approach shot typifies the fun of golf at Beechtreeas the golfer may well elect toinvent a low running approach from 150 yards, let it take the right to left fairway slope, and chase onto the green, which is angled to receive a shot from its high side. Such an approach is what makes Huntingdon Valley in nearby Philadelphia such a remarkable course to play.