Black Rock Country Club
A crucial addition occurs early inconstruction and that is when Chuck Welch is brought on board as Green Keeper. Silva worked with him in Maine and knew of his ability to grow grass in less than ideal (e.g. rocky with severe winters) situations. As at Silva’s highly successful Black Creek in Chattanooga, Silva provides several ‘kick boards’ for golfers to use in banking balls onto greens at Black Rock. In addition, short grass plays a key role around the greens. Thus,much of the fun and strategy of playing Black Rock hinges on firm and fast playing conditions, attributes that Chuck Welch and his crew have continually delivered since the course opened in July 4th, 2002. Examples of the optimal playing conditions found at Black Rock are citied below.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 400 yards; A perfect example of how not to bunker a green. Presently, raters of various golf magazines appear fixated regarding the look of bunkers, seemingly more so than their placement. Bunkers with ragged edges are the rage as they are deemed ‘natural’ in appearance. With attractive bunkers being highly prized, there appears to be an absence of thought given as to when not to bunker a green complex. The 3rd hole at Black Rock is made by Silva’s lack of greenside bunkering. In lieu of eye-catching bunkers cut into the hillside, the golfer is confronted with seemingly nothing other than the tight grass leading up to (or is that away from?) the green. After just a round or two, the golfer appreciates that the playing characteristics of the short grass coupled with the narrow shelf green is far more vexing than any bunker(s) could be.
Fourth hole, 565 yards; Aptly named the Green Monster, the architect, the owners, and the Green Keeper should be congratulated for this hole. First, the architect for even conceiving the hole to begin with and for not having the ridge destroyed during construction. The owner deserves lots of credit for grasping how much fun this hole could play, despite its unconventional nature. And finally, the Green Keeper and his crew for maintaining the 12,000 square foot punch bowl green, the crucial attribute in allowing the hole to play so well.
Sixth hole, 585 yards; Silva rightly contends that the weakest shot on most courses is the second shot on the par five holes. In short, most golfers are given little to think about or do other than advance the ball a couple of hundred yards ahead. This is emphatically not the case at Black Rock, as seen at the 4th and again here at the 6th. A fine drive rewards the golfer with a good view of the next plateau that he ideally seeks with his second shot. From there, a crisp pitch to the green slightly below might set the golfer up for a ’4′. Such smooth sailing is set up by the drive. If the drive is weak or indifferent, the view for one’s second shot becomes materially worse. In fact, a bunker that is centrally located in the fairway 150 yards from the green now becomes blind and preys on the golfer’s mind.
Seventh hole, 385 yards; Some great short two shotters like the 9th at Harbour Town require an accurate drive in order to set up the approach shot at the horseshoe green. Accuracy is a pre-requisite on both the tee ball and the approach shot, which seems ‘fair’ on a sub 400 yard hole. Still, there are lots of ways to require such accuracy. Harbour Town does it with tall pine trees pinching in the fairway sixty yards shy of the green. Another, more subtle way is to give the golfer plenty of fairway as a target off the tee. However, because of the angle of the green, the golfer eventually realizes after a few rounds that there is an exact area in the fairway that sets up the ideal approach. Such is the case here at the 7th where the course’s narrowest green at only 16 paces wide points back to the left center of the fairway. Bunkered both left and right, the golfer wants to pitch to this green down its center line.
Ninth hole, 175 yards; All the best playing characteristics of a Redan are present here with a green that slopes from high front right to lower back left. There are so many fun ways to play this hole that one wonders why other modern architects aren’t as keen in adapting this classic designelement into some of their own designs. Ever since Silva became involved in restoring Seth Raynor’s very fine design at Lookout Mountain in 1999, his own work such as Cape Cod National and Waverly Oaks have regularly featured this Redan playing characteristic, a good thing.
Eleventh hole, 415 yards; According to Brian Silva’s own description of how the routing evolved at Black Rock, the 11th was a connector hole. He had the definite end pointof the 10th green site and the 12th was a natural. The success of the design at Black Rock is just how well the connector holes like the 3rd, here at the 11th, and the 17th turned out. In this case, the green complex makes the hole. The 32 yard long green is high in the front for the first 13 yards, lower in the middle, and highest in its back third. Ala the famous 16th at North Berwick, the green is canted at an angle to a tee ball hit down the middle. Though the green is open in front and along its right side, some of the deepest greenside bunkers on the course are found left and behind this green.
Twelfth hole, 225 yards; Spectacular in appearance, the golfer soaks in the view from the elevated tee. Well in the distance is the green with a 50 yard long bunker along its right side. Though the scale of the bunker dominates the eye, the area of real interest should be the tightly mown short grass on the left to right slope along the left of the green. The ‘real’ – certainly the fun – shot is to hit a low ball toward that slope and watch the ball feed onto the green.
Thirteenth hole, 335 yards; In a show of how well run Black Rock is, the 13th is played slightly forward at many of the club events. The golfer is goaded from the elevated tee to having a ‘go’ for the green approximately 300 yards in the distance. And that is when the fun begins. An interesting attribute of the hole is that the fairway is widest sixty yards from the green and narrowest one hundred yards from the green. Golfers that gear down off the tee andelect to hit a controlled iron two hundred yards are actually trying to hit the most narrow portion of the fairway. Silva acknowledges that he is messing with the golfer – and loves it!
Sixteenth hole, 460 yards; Brian Silva once remarked to the author in Bandon, Oregon how highly he regarded Pete Dye’s switchback holes. By that, he meant how Dye asked a golfer to shape a tee ball one way followed by an approach shaped the other. The 16th at Black Rock is a superb example of that very design principle. A long fade around the left to right bend of the fifty foot rock face places the golfer in the ideal position to approach this green. However, a right to left running approach is the preferred shape approach shot as it affords the golfer the opportunity a) to stay well away from the pond on the left and b) to take advantage of pronounced back to front slope that rings this green. As much as it pains the author to admit, he witnessed Silva himself hit the ideal fade tee ball followed by a low running draw for his approach. Silva’s approach took the high ridge around the back of the green, continued running, and eventually feed to within fifteen feet of the very tough back left hole location. This is yet another fine example of Green Keeper Chuck Welch and his crew maximizing the design/playing attributes of Black Rock.
Seventeenth hole, 420 yards; Creating interest and playing angles on straight holes was a lost art form from the 1950s though the mid 1980s. The noted architects of the time placed bunkers in the rough left and right off the tee, essentially calling for little decision making on the tee. Central bunkers were ignored in this period of architecture, and one of the primary design lessons available from The Old Course at St. Andrews went ignored. Mercifully, there has been a return in golf design to putting bunkers in the direct line of play where they might a) create confusion/uncertainty as to the best playing tactic and b) dictate strategy. The 17th features six bunkers in the tee ball hitting area, effectively creating a left and right fairway. The right fairway, which is more tightly defended,is preferable as the green is canted from front right to back left. The members – and that is who the course is built for – get to enjoy a hole with many different playing angles, a fact that insures that the hole never becomes monotonous to play.
There are many ways to marvel at Black Rock. First, for the owners and architect who had the vision and belief of what a rock quarry could become. Second, as a construction and engineering marvel. If one was unfamiliar with the history of the property, one might think Silva was given an idyllic piece of New England property – rolling with rock outcrops – with which to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Third, as a work of art as from a harsh beginning, a thing of lasting beauty has emerged. And finally, and most importantly, as a great place to enjoy a game of golf with one engaging hole after another.