Well fellow golfers, this week wraps up our first-ever 18 Greatest Golf Holes of the Valley.
For our finishing hole, we head south to Columbiana County and visit the 18th hole at The Links at Firestone Farms. This par 5 is a great finishing hole, and I personally am glad that we used an actual 18th hole as our Greatest's finishing hole as well.
Measuring anywhere from 530 - 580 yards for the men, this par 5 creates a nice mixture of decision making, precision, risk-reward and power. For most players, this hole is probably a three-shot hole. I'm not always a huge fan of three-shot par fives, but here's why I like this one... Standing on the tee, you can basically swing away. The fairway is wide enough to allow the majority of players to hit it hard and get their tee shots as far out there as possible. From there however, the hole becomes more about precision and angles than distance. On their second shots, players are forced to hit a lay up shot into a fairway that slopes right toward the water. While the safer shot is to keep the ball down the left side of the fairway away from the water, because of the way the green sits, you almost always have a better angle into the green from the right side. Even though players aren't necessarily going for the green in two, this actually creates a little risk-reward situation on the lay up shot. Challenge the right side for an easier angle into the green, or hit the safer lay up left and leave yourself a more difficult approach.
I'm also a big fan of this Brian Huntley-designed green complex and the approach shot that results from it. Brian Huntley is a great (in my opinion, more modern) golf course architect who is not affraid to challenge conventional thinking with green complexes. Unlike a lot of the holes we've covered this year, where we've seen round greens with a gentle continuous slope from one direction to the other, Brian uses a lot of multiple tiers, irregular shapes, and "different" angles, in some of his greens, and this 18th green is no exception. Depending on where the pin placements is, angles definitely come into play on the third shot. With a slope from left to right basically throughout the whole green, if the pin is on the left side of the green, I've always felt it was an easier shot from the right side of the fairway, and vice versa. Another aspect of this green that I like is how it's almost "crowned" in the middle of the green. Rather than use a continuous slope (back to front thoughout for example), Huntley created a green that runs uphill in the first half and then actually falls back downhill for the second half of the green. This sloping really affects third shots into the green and forces players to not only try to leave the correct angle into the green, but also the correct yardage. Distance control has been a big topic of mine throughout this entire year, and having a green that slopes uphill and then downhill really emphasizes this point. If you don't carry your approach shot the correct yardage on this green, you can easily come up short on a back pin (not enough steam to get over the crown) or long on a front pin (too much steam and caught the downslope). Once on the green however, Huntley gives you a relatively easy-to-read green that, if your speed is correct, should lead to a two-putt or even a one-putt.
Another aspect of the hole that I love is the opportunity it gives the longest hitters. With the front of the green open, big hitters have a legitimate opportunity to challenge the water all the way down the right side and try to knock it on in two. Often times you'll see long par fives with as much water as this hole has create a shot that requires a forced carry at some point, basically taking away from most players the option of going for it in two. I like how Brian designed a hole that forces all players to think about angles, yardages, and lay up positions, but also gives the biggest hitters an opportunity to challenge the hole even further by going for the green in two. In the end, I believe this hole is wonderfully designed, extremely fair, and will challenge basically all aspects of a player's game. And that's why the finishing hole at The Links at Firestons Farms is the final hole of our inaugural 18 Greatest Golf Holes of the Valley!
I'd just like to take a moment here in my final blog to say a few thank you's to a few different people/groups... First off, I think we should all thank Todd Franko from the Vindicator for his vision in putting this Greatest Golf Holes and Greatest Golfer tournament together.
I personally would like to thank Todd for allowing me to share my thoughts with Valley golfers through this weekly blog. I haven't always agreed with every hole on the list (and I'm sure you all haven't always agreed with everything I've said!), but I've enjoyed this process and I look forward to seeing this whole program grow in the future.
I'd also like to thank all of the golf courses who participated in this process. Obviously we couldn't create a list of great holes without the willingness of the great local golf courses to share these holes with us.
I think looking back on these holes collectively, we can all agree that we are VERY lucky to have as many great golf courses as we do here in the Valley.
I'd just quickly like to thank my parents and family members for introducing me to and affording me the many opportunities I've had to experience this great game. Without their love and support, I'm certain I wouldn't have had the opportunities to play all of the great courses we have here in town, and while you would simply be reading someone else's words here, I know I certainly wouldn't have had the amazing experiences I've had with this great game without them.
And finally, I'd like to thank all of you, my fellow Valley golfers who came right here week after to week to read my thoughts about these great golf holes. I know I wasn't always exactly "prompt" with my posts each week, but I truly enjoyed this process and I hope you all somewhat enjoyed reading a little insight into why I believed these holes were great! I'm sure you didn't always agree with evertyhing I wrote, but hopefully at some point you said to yourself, "I never thought of it like that!" (Vindy note: More than 1,000 page visits per week.)
To conclude, I'd like to say good luck and thanks to all of the participants who played last weekend and those who made the cut to compete this Saturday in the inaugural Greatest Golfer of the Valley tournament.
We had a great time this past weekend at Mill Creek and Trumbull and we're looking forward to a great day this Saturday at The Lake Club.
And remember, if any of you would like to come out and watch some tournament golf in action, the tournament is open and free to all spectators! And as always fellow golfers, thanks for taking the time to read this and until next time, Hit 'em Straight!
President & Founder - The Youngstown Golf Association