Golf courses built on sloping terrain usually feature distinct sections or acts, as the land transitions from high to low ground. Depending on the topography and architecture, some holes may fit the ground better or offer highlights other areas can’t match. But the key on such sites is to unify all of it and make each act interesting and vital. Courses like Bandon Trails and Colorado Golf Club manage to splice it all together with rhythm and tempo, while others, like Cascades (mostly because of the placement of the flat holes in the routing), can feel gassed.
The forested upper and middle sections of The Farm, pitched against the rising side of Rocky Face Ridge in northwest Georgia, are exhilarating. Unfussy and working on and off different points of elevation, the holes possesses the authenticity and character intrinsic in the land.
Things change when the routing heads into the meadow at the low side of the property. Without the natural ridges and uneven ground to guide them, these holes are actors without lines. Mill Creek forms the golf course’s western border, and Tom Fazio uses it wonderfully to inject personality into four consecutive holes, particularly 13, 15 and 16. But little else down here feels momentous, and his shaping fits like wardrobes from a different movie.
It’s instructive to consider that The Farm was built in the mid- to late-1980’s. Up to that point golf courses were being highly shaped, but nowhere near to the comprehensiveness they would be going into the next decade. Fazio himself was still working in the lower-volume mode of the day — it wasn’t until two years after The Farm, with the opening of Shadow Creek, a Shangri-La built on a bare desert floor, that Fazio commenced his era of blockbuster budgets and total site manipulation.
If anything, the shaping at The Farm’s lower holes is reminiscent of 1980’s Pete Dye. The par-5 2nd, curling around a lake toward a two-level green set against a backboard of mounds, would be at home on any TPC course in the country. Elsewhere there’s soft perimeter mounding, wavy putting surfaces nestled into saddles of grassy knobs, and greens pressed aggressively close to water features in ways Fazio might not recognize today.
One of the better holes down on the flats is the short par-4 16th running along Mill Creek. The wide fairway offers plenty of room on the right, but also a poor angle into a thin green pushed against the water. It’s a delightful little spot that tells you to play strategically close to the creek to get a better line.
It’s tough, though, not to sense the absence of the purity and adventure of the holes up in the hills. The short par-4 1st coming off the heights is one of the most sublime openers in the state. Bunkers down the entire left side of the slowly ascending par-5 9th keep forcing play toward a stream on the right and a poor angle into the deep, angled green with an impossible back right pin.
Other strong points are the par-4 6th with a blind green set on a knoll above a grassy ravine. The 10th runs parallel to the base of the mountain and kicks shots to the right, leaving awkward stances into another elevated green. And the par-3 11th, the most scenic hole on the course, plays across a deep gully to a 3-level catcher’s mitt green surrounded by bunkers.
The Farm ultimately feels like two different courses, with some excellent action in the woods and some mismatched meadow holes that fight to keep pace with what’s going on up above. The par-5 12th is this in a microcosm — the right-to-left tee shot begins in the foothills, dropping to a fairway below. Nice. The second and third shots heading toward the meadow are benign, either a safe layup or a low-risk gun to the big, open green.
Fazio, of course, would go on to create courses where every feature is touched and enhanced, adding more volume and aesthetic shading than we find here. In his “Confidential Guide,” Tom Doak writes that The Farm is what he used to not like about Fazio designs but what he now misses, and it’s true that this course marks the end of the less-is-more “early Fazio” period.
I equate it to special effects in films like Rambo, Aliens or the first generation Star Wars films. They looked sensational upon release, but with the advent of advanced CGI and other technology it now seems rather quaint. But the current special effects, as spectacular as they are, can be sensory overload, too much and too literal. Those more modest creations of the past can carry light magic we now miss.
I actually thought of this the other night as I watched “Jason and the Argonauts” with my children, the 1963 version. It’s not a great movie — the acting is not recommended — but the monsters created by animator Ray Harryhausen were just was magical as I remember from when I was a boy. Harryhausen never changed — his last movie, “Clash of the Titans” (1981) is not much more technically advanced or different than his early work in the 1950’s — because why would he? He already had a perfectly wonderful art.
I admire much of Fazio’s more recent work, but The Farm — like Ray Harryhausen’s special effects — is a reminder that newer isn’t always better, the effect of something subtle can be more inspiring than something wrought, and creations can be purely enjoyable even if all the parts aren’t in unison. (91)
Architect: Tom Fazio