This isn’t going to be easy. I’m home now. In rural Connecticut. Where it’s drizzling and 39 degrees. Seven degrees colder and it’s snowing.
In other words, I’m no longer a Golf Road Warrior. I’m a stay-at-home dad who works out of the house. I’m not comfortably ensconced in a multi-bedroom condo tucked into a grove of tall Georgia pines with a nice verandah where the salubrious air is scented by Nature. Outside my office window, the daffodils look unhappy to have burst from the earth when the weather was unseasonably warm last week. Inside, my warrior’s weapons—my golf clubs—lay forlornly on the floor. There’s no telling when I’ll get a chance to use them again.
But use them I did at Reynolds Plantation. It’s hard to conceive playing courses as varied and excellent as the Landing, National, Oconee, Great Waters and The Creek Club in the span of five days. Now that the deed is done, I can pause to reflect and sum up the experience.
But that’s for a later post. My most recent memory is yesterday’s round at The Creek Club, the community’s private members-only venue.
Sometimes a first impression doesn’t count. Our accommodations were adjacent to The Creek Club. From what I saw, there appeared to be a great deal of overcooked vertical hoopla on the course. But that is the way of Jim Engh, a true original in the golf design profession. With ideas rooted in Greek architecture and a strong sense of symmetry, this Colorado-based maverick and iconoclast built a course that would have been a serious mistake had Reynolds Plantation only one venue in mind. But with 99 holes of golf, the owners could afford to let a guy like Engh (“Mr. Exuberance”) go to town on a lovely parcel of rolling, wooded terrain.
Engh, for all the controversy generated by his work, actually delights in building visually intimidating courses that play less difficult than they look. Most of his layouts are found in the western U.S. and are unknown to golfers who live east of the Mississippi. Seven years ago, I spent a day with Engh at The Golf Club at Black Rock on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Even my 10-year-old daughter, Jordana, was impressed by Jim’s handiwork, but then, she always went big and bold in the sandbox.
Back to The Creek Club. Engh grabs you by the collar from the get-go. The elevated first tee looks down to a creek that runs diagonally across the entire left side of the fairway. Staring you in the face just where you want to place your drive is a large bunker enveloped by giant grassy molehills, his signature look. Naturally, I drove into this steep-sided monstrosity.
The only thing Engh likes better than heavily mounded bunkers are heavily-sloped, amphitheater-style greens. Many of the ones he built here are punchbowls that gather the ball. Which is nice for those of us who don’t fire pinpoint approaches at the flag.
My playing partners, head pro Wes Forester and fellow warrior David Gould (who insisted on walking the course despite its Everestian climbs), had a nice moment at the par-3 11th hole, where we waved through former Masters champ Ian Woosnam and his group. The Welsh are naturally voluble, and Ian was no exception. I reminded him of our meeting several years ago at Royal Westmoreland in Barbados, where he maintains a home. We exchanged a few pleasantries, I wished him luck at Augusta, and off he went.
Golf-wise, the highlight of the round was the 12th hole, which I’m going on record to declare as one of the finest and most fascinating par 5’s in the world. There must be 40 ways to play this masterful creation. I can’t do it justice in words, but suffice to say, there are two fairways bisected by a channel of Richland Creek, a pair of pines that will knock down an errant second shot, and a lolling tongue of a green defended to the left by one of Engh’s burrowing animal bunkers.
Forester, an accomplished player and consummate gentleman, pointed out that over 150 holes-in-one have been recorded at the short par-3 13th since the course opened in 2007. This is especially true when the pin in placed on the front portion of the four- (or is it five?) tiered green. Banked on both sides, even slightly errant shots are funneled to the center. Golf is supposed to be fun. Engh makes his point on No. 13 at The Creek Club.
On the other hand, Mr. Exuberance goes the limit on the pull-out-all-stops par-5 18th, where he built three separate greens because that’s what the land wanted, or so he says. The hole location shifts daily. The pin sheet in the cart tells you which green is in use—Left, Right or Center—so you can plan your strategy accordingly. All three greens are completely differently one from the next. My advice: Retain your sense of humor. This is a Jim Engh-designed golf course.
The rain has subsided here in Stonington, but the skies are leaden and the landscape lifeless outside my office window. I long for the warm Georgia sun, a small helping of cheese grits at breakfast, the mellow drawl of one of the starters before teeing off on one of the superlative courses at Reynolds Plantation. What a place!