Photo finishers: Part two

    Yesterday, I shared some notes and photos from a few of the best finishing holes I played this past year.  Below are three more.


The 18th hole at Royal Lakes presents a quadruple dose of trouble for those who go for the green in two -- two bunkers with 10 foot stone facings, a lake and two-tiered green. 


Royal Lakes Golf Club, Chestnut Mountain, GA 

    Royal Lakes, northeast of Atlanta and close to Lake Lanier, was suffering through the drought that gripped the southeast this summer and fall.  But true to its name, a number of lakes came into play when I followed my son around the course during a Division III collegiate golf match in October.  After struggling all round, including a soggy double bogey on the par 5 11th, Tim came to the par 5 18th needing a birdie or par to put up a respectable score.  At 530 yards straight downhill from tee to green, the green is reachable in two shots, but two bunkers - one directly in front and one at right rear - make the long hitter think twice.  They both are more than 10 feet high with sheer stone walls up against the green; no club in the bag is lofted enough to clear a shot from within five yards of the wall.  Tim's five-wood skidded along the right edge of the green and found the back bunker, just five feet from the wall.  After a few moments of indecision, he took his medicine by dropping in the back of the trap and faced a 25-yard blast down a double-sloped green to a front pin position.  It seemed likely he would come up short on the top tier or, worse, skid off the front into the other treacherous bunker.  However, he hit the ball clean, it teetered on the top of the ridge and then rolled down to a foot short of the hole.  It was the most improbable and best par I witnessed all year.



Sand and grasses and good design sense are enough to make North Hampton's 18th a classic.


North Hampton Golf Club, Fernandina Beach, FL 

    The North Hampton Golf Club near Jacksonville was a revelation for me, the first Arnold Palmer designed course I had played that did not seem overdone.  Arnie turned the rather flat land into a links style course that puts a premium on accuracy without his customary garishly sized bunkers.  Everything at the daily fee course worked in harmony, and the 18th hole was indicative, an impressive sculpture of tall grasses and natural-looking sand.  The finisher at North Hampton and indeed the entire course is worth a return visit and a reminder that sometimes diamonds emerge from rough landscapes.




One of the best 18th holes of the year was also the most tragic.  Weeks after we played it, its green fell into the sea. 


Wild Dunes Links Course, Isle of Palms, SC   

    The most scenic 18th hole I played this year was at Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC.  Under normal circumstances, not even the hulking condo buildings that lined the right side of the fairway could neutralize the drama of a true ocean-side hole.  Yet the Tom Fazio finisher was a sight for sore eyes, literally.  The huge white sandbags from midway down the fairway to greenside, many of them shredded by the strong riptides, blotted the landscape, and appeared to be fighting a losing battle.  Indeed, a few weeks after we putted out on 18 in early August, the green lost its battle with the ocean tides and fell away into the sea.  The hole has been relocated and reconstituted as a par 3.  This is the second time in its 35-year history that Wild Dunes lost its 18th hole, the first time to Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  Mother Nature has not been kind to Wild Dunes, whose fantastic finisher has taken a more severe beating than those of us who tried to master it.  That probably makes it unique among finishing holes, a dubious distinction at best.



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