The National


[Cue Autotune:] Never thought I'd see the day...I'd be teeing it up at NGLA!

But that's exactly what I did this week. I just got back from what was easily the best three-day golf trip of my life, and arguably the best three-day golf trip you could possibly muster. The highlight was a day at CB MacDonald's National Golf Links of America, a.k.a. The National (now that I've played it, I can officially call it that); a.k.a. the number one golf course on my rapidly shrinking bucket list (should I be upping my life insurance?)

The National may be under the radar for many golfers, especially compared to its next door neighbor Shinnecock Hills. Heck, I admit to not knowing that much about it as recently as two years ago. In my 2009 write-up of Sand Hills, I wrote: "I want to play four golf courses before I die: Pine Valley. Cypress Point. Augusta National. Sand Hills. That's the bucket list. Sure, you could throw Shinnecock Hills, Merion, NGLA, Oakmont and Royal County Down on there, but that's just being greedy. The four are the big four. The rest are a half-notch below." But I think it's safe to say my tastes have evolved. Partly it's due to being blessed to see these world-class courses. Partly it's due to getting more and more rounds out at Ballyneal under my belt. And part of it is due to building out my golf-course architecture library and studying the art in more detail.  Last summer, I bought George Bahto's book, "The Evangelist of Golf: The Story of Charles Blair MacDonald", which is probably my favorite book in my library (coincidentally, it's now out-of-print and going for $725 on Amazon. I will be auctioning off my copy on eBay and donating the proceeds to the Ben Cox marathon...see right sidebar for more details.)

Bahto's book goes into the life and work of C.B. Mac in great detail (did you know he was the first U.S. Amateur and was instrumental in the creation of the USGA? Did you know that part of the reason the USGA was formed was because C.B. successfully downplayed the validity of two previous national championships, primarily because he didn't win them?) Most of the book focuses on the history and hole-by-hole walkthrough of the National. MacDonald studied the great golf holes of the world and wanted to create an ideal golf courses that comprised these great holes as templates. He search for a suitable site for this dream course and found it in Southampton, just west of Shinnecock. The rest is history.

The ironic thing about the National is that for a course that it made up primarily by copycats of other famous golf holes, it's unlike any other golf course in the world (well, until Old MacDonald opened last summer). It reminded me of The Old Course in that it gives you the freedom and challenge of deciding among one of many different options to get to the hole. The simpleton in me describes NGLA as "The Old Course with topography". Like the Old Course, MacDonald gives you Point A and Point B and leaves it up to you to determine how to go about getting there in as few strokes as possible. I find this freedom, variety and strategic interest to be the most compelling aspects of golf-course design.

Check out the photo tour and comments below, although the photos and my words barely do the place justice. The National is truly a special, special place. CB Mac truly did build the ideal golf course.

No. 3 - Alps

It's hard to adequately describe just how high the hill is on the Alps hole. As a low-ball hitter, this hole absolutely terrified me... 

No. 4 - Redan
...but not nearly as much as the Redan. As a duck-hooking lefty, I am hopelessly lost on trying to play Redans in general (but money on Reverse Redans like the 11th at LA North). In my match play match with good friend Matt, I asked "should I just concede now and get it over with?" Five strokes later, I was right.

No. 6 - Short

The 6th green is WILD! I chickened out left and had a terrifying lag putt over a ridge with about 10 feet of break.

No. 7 - Road (Road Hole Bunker w/ me whinnying a short par putt)

I really liked the Road Hole, although the Road Hole bunker is not nearly as menacing to a front pin location. The "Road" aspect of the hole is really well done, with a deep, wide bunker greeting those who miss the green right.

No. 8 - Bottle (or as I like to call it, Bahto)

No. 8 - Bahto's Principals Nose

No. 11- Double Plateau

I have to  admit, I am a sucker for a Double Plateau green. So cool and so effective. Plus you could build this type of green pretty much anywhere. Makes you wonder why there aren't more of them. 

No. 14 - Cape

Although the original hole was named Cape for a different reason, a Cape Hole is now synonymous with a diagonal bite-off-as-much-as-you-can-chew type tee shot. The drive on National's Cape wasn't as nearly biting or chewy as I expected, but the green setting out on the bay is very cool.

The Cape Green

No. 15 - Narrows

On a course with a ton of width, it's funny how Narrows is one of the few fairways I actually hit (I actually did play pretty well overall. Or at least good enough to beat Matt 2&1! Let's ignore the fact the Matty was playing with borrowed clubs since Jet Blue had lost his sticks three days prior.)

[By the way, have I mentioned how comfortable the TRUE Tours are?]

No. 15 - Narrows Approach
No. 17 - Peconic (Look at me!)
No. 18 - Home

No. 18 - Home

This picture gives you the sense of the huge scale out at NGLA. Matt is across the fairway and looks like a spec next to wide turf, the water and sky and the renowned National flag (which was at half-mast honoring a 28-year old caddie who died recently in a tragic accident.) Matt birdied this hole.

Euphoria don't lie (No. 16 - Punchbowl)

National Clubhouse

The answer is Yes, we did the lobster/sportcoat lunch thing. My wife and mother won't believe me, but yes, I did have lobster for lunch. But after a four-hour shopping mall experience that led me to the verge of tears, I couldn't pull the trigger on buying a blue sportcoat. I love wearing suits, but I am just not a sportcoat guy. (Being the closest thing to a Metrosexual that I know, I called Matt looking for fashion advice. He was absolutely no help whatsoever: "What are you doing at the mall? I haven't been to a brick-and-mortar retail establishment in years!") So I faked it and just wore a blue suit jacket. But I still felt and looked like an idiot wearing a jacket over a golf shirt (even more than usual, at least.)

The windmill

Aww yeah!

Golf nerd alert!

So is that one freakishly bony finger signaling the fact that numero uno has been crossed off el bucket list or the possibly of a new number one on my course list? (scroll down to find out)


1. National Golf Links of America
2. Ballyneal Golf and Hunt Club
3. Cypress Point
4. The Old Course at St. Andrews
5. Pacific Dunes

Click here for Part Two (Shinnecock Hills)

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  1. Rich said...:

    Man, I am SOOOO jealous...

    I have no doubt in my mind that NGLA would easily be #1 course for me in the world if I played it. There is no other course that interests me more.

    What a great place...

  1. That last pic summed up your hole post! I love knocking courses off my bucket list and now exactly how it feels.

    In case I missed it, what were the other two courses you played?


  1. Jim, I think you have a typo. You put National ahead of Ballyneal :D

    What an absurdly good-looking course. Have you been out to Old Mac yet? Interested to hear how it compares ti "the original."

  1. I should also say that if Pacific Dunes is only four spots behind National, it couldn't possibly be THAT good :D

  1. Dan said...:

    Surely, creating bunkers like the Road Hole bunker should be criminal offenses.....punishable by having to play golf for the remainder of your life only with your wife.

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