Okay fellow golfers, welcome back to week 8 of our Greatest 18 Holes of 2011. This week we’re heading north again and visiting Squaw Creek Golf Course, part of the amazing Avalon Golf Country Club. In my opinion, Squaw Creek might just be the best golf course we have in the area. I remember learning the game there and the great part about Squaw is that you truly have to learn and play all aspects of the game. The fairways are tree lined, the holes dogleg both directions, the greens are ample sized but severely sloped, and the course is always in good shape. From a player’s perspective, distance is not as important as accuracy, distance control, scrambling, and most importantly, putting. I think if you can consistently play Squaw Creek well, you could pretty much take your game anywhere and be able to compete. So with that said, let’s take a closer look at our featured hole, Squaw Creek number 18.
Our hole this week is a par three that measures approximately 200 yards from the back tee all the way up to about 75 yards from the front tee. While I understand the desire to lengthen courses as a way to stay “relevant” with new technology, I personally think this hole is perfect from the “old blue tees” from the Squaw Creek days, which plays at about 150 yards. Standing on the tee looking at the hole, it doesn’t look all that challenging. From the 150 plate, I remember I used to hit eight or nine iron depending on where the pin was (not all that difficult right?). But here’s the great part about this hole... While the green is maybe 30-35 yards from front to back, in reality, your actual landing area for a good shot is maybe a third of that.
I’ve said a number of times that I am a fan of holes that put an emphasis on distance control. We have that here. I’m also a fan of green complexes that, through subtle mounding and bunkering, punish errant shots that are missed in the wrong spot much more than shots that are missed in the right spot. And we definitely have that here. Because we don’t have a driver tee shot to discuss on this hole, I’m going to break down the different “shots” required, and the challenges presented, based on where the pin placement is. And this week, I’m going to break it down from a scratch golfer’s perspective just to give some insight that “once a week” golfers might not realize when they play the hole.
To start, let’s look at the shot presented when the pin is in the front of the green. From the 150 yard plate, this is one of the easier pin placements for a scratch golfer (definitely NOT the case for mid to high handicappers!). There’s a little “bowl” that sits on the front of the green just above the water and just left of the bunker. Now, being the part of the green nearest to the water, you might think that this area of the green would be the hardest to hit. But because scratch golfers are able to spin the ball more, this section of the green actually becomes easier to hit. I always used to pick a club that I knew I could “max out” at the middle green yardage (for me, it was usually a nine iron). This way, I could aim at the middle of the green, swing “full” to get maximum spin, land the ball anywhere near the middle of the green, and spin the ball back down the slope. If you get the ball on the lower tier, you pretty much always have a makeable putt for birdie. Even if I didn’t hit the ball perfectly and carried the shot ONLY to the lower tier itself, the miss hit would impart less spin on the ball, and the ball would usually stay on the lower tier, still leaving a makeable birdie putt. And finally, even a good shot with maximum spin that lands on the lower tier and spins back will usually always get caught up in the rough between the green and the water, and you’ll be left with a very easy chip shot straight up the hill. Obviously there’s trouble here if you miss the shot in all directions; bunker right, bunker long, water short, and rough left. But, because we’re playing from the 150 plate, scratch golfers should be licking their chops to hit a nine iron or wedge to this location. This is what I mean by giving the golfer a realistic chance to make a birdie, but then severely punishing the golfer for hitting a poor shot.
The next pin placement I want to look it is middle left. By that I mean, the pin is in the middle of the green depth wise, and on the left side of the green width wise. In my opinion, this is the hardest pin placement for a scratch golfer to make birdie on. Why? Well look at what I said earlier about spinning the ball back down the slope. Because scratch golfers do spin the ball more, the actual landing area to get close to this pin is literally only a few yards deep. I always knew when I was striking the ball well just by seeing if I was able to control my distance here and get the ball close to this pin. Land the ball to short with spin and the ball win spin back down to the lower tier. Hit the ball just a few yards too long, and you’ll go in a bunker with a green running straight away from you (basically an impossible up and down). The ideal shot here for a scratch golfer is to actually take slightly more club (bringing the back bunker in play) and take a little off the shot (picture a three-quarter shot or a mini-punch shot). This type of shot will come in slightly lower and with less spin. Even with this type of shot however, it’s still difficult to get the ball on top of the tier but short of the bunker because the green is only about 8-10 yards deep here. In all reality, the safer play to this pin is keeping the ball slightly right of the hole, taking the back bunker out of play, and leaving yourself a 25 foot putt from the correct tier. Without going too far into the little intricacies presented from this pin placement, hopefully you understand what I’m talking about here and why this pin placement becomes so difficult.
Finally, the last pin placement I want to discuss is the middle to middle back pin on the center or right side of the green. I know I said before that the front pin was probably the easiest for a scratch golfer. I want to clarify that I meant easiest to make birdie on. The middle or right pin on this green is probably the easiest section of the green to hit, but not necessarily get as close as the front pin. For a scratch golfer, when the pin is middle to right middle here (picture right of the back bunker and beyond the front bunker), it’s basically just a “stock shot.” What I mean by that is, golfers will just hit their “normal” shot. The green is deep enough to land short of the pin and bounce up OR fly past the pin and spin back. And from a width viewpoint, it’s wide enough where even if you pull it or push it slightly, you should still find the green. I always found that I made a lot of pars when the pin was on this section of the green because I wasn’t as concerned with getting the exact yardage. I’d hit the green a lot, but because I didn’t have the as exact with my distance control as when the pin is on the left, I’d leave myself a lot of 15 – 30 foot putts. And, even if you do find yourself close to the hole, this green is deceptively sloped from back to front and from side to side. Unless you leave it in the absolute “fall line,” you’ll usually always have a bit of a bender putt one direction or another. The other aspect of this pin placement that makes it easier for scratch golfers to make par, is the ability to get up and down if you do miss the green. The front bowl and the middle left pins are almost impossible to get up and down to. This pin however, you have a decent chance. The front bunker really isn’t that bad and the rough right of the green leaves you with a pretty basic chip. The worst misses are the back bunker and long, but again, for a scratch golfer hitting 8 or 9 iron, those should be out play and deserve to be punishing places to miss the ball.
So, as you can see, I am a big fan of the finishing hole at Squaw Creek. I love when golf course architects are able to create separate “mini holes” within a hole. Especially a par three of only 150 yards! From a mental standpoint, the key here for scratch golfers is to really decide on the shot they want to hit from the tee. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite T.V. shows was “more is lost from indecision than from poor decisions,” and that really stands true here. If you get on this tee and don’t commit to the shot you want to hit, it’s very easy to turn a possible birdie hole into a bogey or double bogey just by missing the ball in the wrong spot. So what do you think about my break down of a little 150 yard hole? Do you ever look at a hole and see “mini-holes” within the hole? Do you ever think about spin rate and landing areas when playing shots? Or do you think I just over analyze? As always, I thank you for taking the time to read my blog this week and I look forward to hearing and reading your thoughts about this or anything else golf related! So, until next week Valley golfers, “Hit ‘em Straight!”