When the PGA Tour arrived at Torrey Pines a year ago, it was a Tour in transition. A year later, there’s raging debate about whether golf is being led by a Big Three or a full-fledged foursome.
Two of the players in golf’s most prestige pack – Rickie Fowler and Jason Day – are in the Farmers Insurance Open Field this week. Fowler is fresh off a win in Abu Dhabi over major winners Jordan Spieth and Rory McIroy. Day is the defending champion at Torrey, but reportedly battling the flu.
This is set to be Day’s 2016 Tour debut and first chance to make a statement against his peers. He ended the 2015 major season by capturing the title at the PGA Championship by shooting 25-under to set a major championship scoring record. He briefly thereafter vaulted to No. 1 in the world.
Day’s win a year ago at Torrey started to set the Tour on a new course during a week that began with Tiger Woods withdrawing with a back injury. This week Day and Fowler have a chance to contribute to golf’s great debate. Will they deliver? We’ll start finding out on Thurs.
Last week, I added a new tool to my social media toolbox when I began dabbling with the new Layout feature on Instagram.
For those aren’t familiar, Layout, as it suggests, arranges your photos into layout templates that you can manipulate to create collages. Those who know me know this is the kind of thing that can send me down a creative rabbit hole for hours – or days – and it did. I’m still experimenting and exploring as the possibilities became apparent.
My immediate application was for my golf course photos. I’ve received many compliments on them in the history of the blog – thank you – and sometimes for how I present them on social. Well, here’s the best way yet. The possibilities are far beyond just what I’m showing you here, but here are some samples for courses you should recognize from golfing in San Diego and following the blog.
What I immediately love about this is that when someone asks me about a local course, I can kick them one of these layouts because I think they capture the experience between than a single shot or series can.
Hope you like these. Get used to them because I can see manifest uses for this feature to enhance the visual presentation of the blog.
In case you aren’t following at Instagram: @socalgolfblog. I already have a veritable trove of videos and photos over there – and much more to come.
The most highly anticipated round of my five-day central Oregon golf trip in Sept. was getting to play Pronghorn Golf Club’s Nicklaus Course, ranked No. 33 in the Golf Digest Top 100.
In its course summary, Golf Digest praised the back nine as possibly “the most delightful Jack (Nicklaus) has ever designed.” ”Delightful” may hinge on the state of your game, but memorable is certainly in play. You won’t forget the signature hole on the side, the grand par 4 13th, nor likely the finishing tee shot.
The course conditions at Pronghorn and the facilities are first rate. Pronghorn’s location is indeed remote, but it’s a journey to a place unlike any I’ve been before. I simply don’t have a comparison for this course.
Which bring us to the first of my impressions about playing Pronghorn …
Now For Something Totally Different … & Completely Unique – If you’ve never visited the Pacific Northwest’s high desert, this terrain will seem alien to you. In fact, only the tees, greens, fairways and mountains might be familiar.
Your image of golf in Oregon is likely fairways lined and defined by towering pine trees with shots occasionally played over meandering streams. That applied to two of the courses I played (Crosswater and Meadows, both at Sunriver). That’s not Pronghorn.
Built in a juniper forest, this desert scape is similar to the terrain of other courses in the area, but definitely notches above anything else I played in design and overall experience. The course is actually quite wide open, but looks can be deceiving here. Nicklaus is visually always throwing something at you (we’ll talk more about this in a second).
My round included a few interesting shot scenarios, but none more than finding my ball in a juniper bush short left of the green after my second shot on a par 4. I hit out of the juniper bush (my ball was 6 inches off the ground), into a juniper tree and, like Plinko on “The Price Is Right,” my ball trickled down and made a satisfying thud on the green. Knowing the green sloped toward the hole, I was hopeful. Yep. Three feet from the pin. I saved par for the up and down of the trip by far.
You need a little luck and a dose of local knowledge to play Pronghorn well if you have only once chance. But regardless of your card, the course is a joy to discover with unique designs greeting you on every hole.
Golf XXXL – Golf at Pronghorn is done on a grand scale. Big greens. Big sandtraps. Big rock walls. Big knotty, twisted trees. Big vistas (all the way to the Cascades). And big fairways on many holes. And a huge collection area to one elevated par 3.
And this design grandeur even moreso applies to the Fazio side, which is the 18-hole private course. (I’ve linked a photo tour at the end of this.)
Visually there’s always something coming at you to dazzle you. It truly is a feast for the senses. There’s nothing predictable about the layout – and there’s a big surprise waiting for you on the back. And the cool part is you get to preview it from the front nine.
You pass by tee on No. 13 while playing the front and you can’t help but overhear the oohs, aahs and banter (“Can I just build a house here?”). Your curiosity beckons you to stop and take a peak. This is what you see …
No. 13 – No. 13 is a short dogleg-right par 4 played to a green guarded by a pond on the right and a massive sand trap in the back. Truth be told, the sand trap is mostly scenery (you shouldn’t be in there) but it adds a visual access to the hole akin to how the beach complements the ocean. In fact, that’s what it looks like: Pronghorn Beach.
The tee shot, with tail wind, is played over the pond to a generous fairway with a fly-over pot bunker in the middle. The approach is the type of shot golfers live for.
With likely a wedge in hand, you’re looking at a sizeable green in front of a massive rockwall with two waterfalls to the right filling a pond that should mostly be taken out of play with a decent drive. You’ve got ample room to make a safe landing in regulation and set up a shot at a cherished birdie or par. (One caveat: We had perfect weather; local rumor is that the wind can really blow here.)
This is hardly the toughest hole on the course but it’s one you’ll never forget. And you get a third glimpse of it on No. 18.
On the 18th tee box, you get an overview of the green and can see the creek that feeds the waterfalls. The entire hole is a magnificent shrine to the central Oregon golf experience – and you get a 360 appreciation of it. So cool.
Speaking of cool …
Ghost trees are cool – One high desert phenomenon that quickly captured my attention is the ghost desert.
“Aim at the ghost tree” was my first reference, given to me by a caddie. I deduced that the ghostly white deceased juniper tree in front of me was the intended target.
These trees are everywhere in central Oregon and used mostly effectively in the design of Pronghorn. (There’s even a Ghost Tree Drive in the development.)
They’re just one more geographic marker that will leave you with an indelible impression of Pronghorn.
Risk And … Reward? – As I was warming up in the short-game area, a fellow golfer dropped a sack of balls and advised, “Hit plenty of these.”
He meant chips off thin lies. And I did as recommended, which came in handy. It ended up later setting up the only birdie putt I sank.
Looking back from the elevated green on that short par 4, we noticed two tee shots driven to within close range – a tough chipping distance. These are the plays and club choices that are tough to make in one round here. The course likes to tempt you … and you don’t know enough yet to resist.
Similarly, on an elevated and crowned par 3, three of use took great runs at the flag … only to watch our approaches trickle off into a massive collection area, which did make for a quite fun uphill recovery putt.
Playing it for the first time, the course allows you to get your shots in, but know that it has ways of taking them back. Overall, it’s an experience that transports you to what is a very different place for most of us, but you’ll be glad you made the journey.
You’ll be reading more about Pronghorn later this week on the site but thought I’d start with this. This is a photo tour of the Fazio Course, the country club (private) side of Pronghorn. I didn’t get to play it, but touring it was a treat unto itself. Everything at Pronghorn is done on a grand scale, and the Fazio Course is certainly no exception. The photo above is of the signature par 3, the 13th, built above a giant lava tube. You’ll find better photos of it than mine online, but you get the idea. The use of the natural landscape at Pronghorn is masterful, and if you truly appreciate course design, this is the candy store of course design quirks and twists – water flowing over cart paths, an awesome stone footbridge, split greens (yes, played to two different greens) on the par 3 17th, etc.
Here’s some of what you find on the Fazio side of the golf played through a Juniper forest.
After three days of being treated to some of the best and most beautiful golf central Oregon has to offer, I discovered a golf hole that trumps them all.
The par 4 13th on the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn Golf Club is a sight to behold, a joy to play and shrine to Oregon golf at its dramatic best. And perhaps best of all, you get a 360-degree appreciation of this magnificent golf hole (more on that in a bit).
No. 13 is a short dogleg right par 4 played to green guarded by a pond on the right and a massive sand trap in the back. Truth be told, the trap is mostly scenery (you shouldn’t be in there) but it adds a visual accent to the hole akin to the how the beach complements the ocean. In fact, that’s what it looks like: Pronghorn Beach.
The tee shot with tail wind is played over the pond to a generous fairway with a fly-over pot bunker. The approach is the type of shot golfer’s live for.
With likely a wedge in hand, you’re looking at a shot that’s a feast for the golf senses. The backdrop is a massive rockwall with two waterfalls to the right filling a pond that should be taken mostly out of play with a decent drive. A sizeable green gives you ample room for a safe landing in regulation and a shot at a cherished birdie or par. (One caveat about my playing experience: We’ve had absolutely perfect weather; local rumor is that the wind can really blow here.)
A bit like No. 3 at Monarch Beach, the famed par-4 ocean hole, this is hardly the toughest hole on the course – and believe me, Tom Fazio gives you plenty of those – but it’s one you’ll never forget. But unlike No. 3 at Monarch, you get a preview and a post-view of No. 13 at Pronghorn.
You glimpse it for the first time passing by on the front nine – we could hear the excited golf banter on the tee (“Can I just build a house here?) – and then unexpectedly get to experience 13 again on the 18th tee, where you get a bird’s-eye view of the hole.
The view from 18 allows you to appreciate the creek that feeds the waterfalls and tempts you to pull a wedge and try the ultimate flop shot back to the 13th green. But alas, the tee shot on 18 awaits and a close to an extraordinary golf experience that is sure to give you an indelible impression of golf in central Oregon.