Forest Creek Golf Club (North Course)
North Carolina, USA
Tom Fazio’s career path has been the very blue print for success.
First, he apprenticed with an accomplished architect (his Uncle George), acquiring valuable expertise in the field working on diverse and premium projects like Butler National, Jupiter Hills and National Golf Club of Canada.
Next came solo projects with his breakthrough moment being Wild Dunes Links in 1978. That outstanding course was carved through specimen oaks, meandered into some marshland and then dunes, concluding with two oceanside stunners of genuine architectural merit. P.J. Boatwright told this author in 1985 that he considered Wild Dunes to be among the twenty-five finest courses in the world, highlighted by its amazingly diverse set of green complexes. Unquestionably, the original Wild Dunes was among the three of four finest designs of its decade.
Accolades justly followed and Tom Fazio’s career was launched on a high trajectory. With an inspiring setting the developer of Wade Hampton came calling and was adamant that Fazio design his mountain retreat project. Played in the shadow of Chimney Rock, Fazio’s impressive routing incorporated numerous natural features. The year was 1986 and Fazio had done something crucial to any busy architect’s success: The cultivation of talented design associates. Folks like Tom Marzoff, Dana Fry, and Mike Strantz were part of Fazio’s Wade Hampton team, contributing heavily to its ultimate success.
After Wade Hampton, people appreciated Fazio’s work for being not only artistic but fun to play; factors that were rarely true for the designs of the more famous players/architects of the day including Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.
By the time Forest Creek in Pinehurst North Carolina was considered in 1994, Fazio had built over seventy courses and become a formidable force in architecture. His South Course at Forest Creek (profiled elsewhere in this web site) was a graceful, traditional design flowing through wide corridors of long leaf pines and was the best course to open in Moore County since Donald Ross’s death.
In 1998 when construction began on the North Course, Fazio Design was now responsible for over one hundred courses across North America. As such, critics had much work to evaluate and compare. Common design themes became apparent including elevated tee pads to enhance visuals, holes that played predominately downhill, par threes and fives sprinkled evenly throughout, bunkers on the sides of fairways where they punished errant shots rather than dictate good ones, and greens that sloped from back to front while being framed in a comforting manner. In some circles this familiarity bred disappointment if not contempt from some who felt they lacked strategy.
However, no good architect’s work can be so easily stereotyped. The North Course at Forest Creek is a refreshingly rare example of an architect doing something different at the height of his success. Defying convention, design anomalies abound, including back to back par fives, two par threes in the first four holes and not another for nine holes, at least five drives where the player won’t see his tee ball finish, and four greens where the predominate slope is front to back. In these ways the North Course which opened in 2005 attained an identity all its own, a significant feat for a group that had then built close to 150 courses. Better yet for the owners, they had a course that felt fresh/unique and that played differently than other Fazio designs. Best of all players found a course full of strategic choices of the sort that they enjoy making time and again.
In building the companion course to the South, the owners and Fazio Design agreed that the second course should be different from the first and that the logical way to achieve this was to showcase the native sandy environs. The result is 30 acres of open exposed sand on the North Course compared to only 15 on the South. All the sand on the North Course is from the site; none was imported. As seen below, long sprawling open areas of native sand define the North Course. Playing over, beside or past such bunkers invariably provides a reward to the player.
In addition to featuring burlier hazards than the South Course, the North is also some 115 yards longer, measuring 7,210 yards. The yardages below are from the more human tees and total 6,700 yards. After suffering drives into the up-slopes found on holes six, seven, ten, eleven, twelve, and eighteen, you might even find the course more pleasurable at 6,250 yards.
Holes to Note
Third hole, 520 yards; All sorts of things have changed in golf course architecture since Tom joined his uncle in 1963, especially the equipment one now uses to play the game. Lending integrity to par fives is especially challenging in light of 460cc drivers and hot three woods. Forcing a golfer to shape the ball off the tee and producing difficult greens are superior tactics to combat the march of technology.
Fifth hole, 410 yards; One of the best holes on the Forest Creek property is this lengthy two shotter. Given the grand feeling from teeing off up high and seeing a wide tumbling fairway below, most golfers instinctively reach for their driver. Alas, the going is more complicated than that as a well placed bunker left off the tee poses the intended conflict of laying-up with a three wood versus risk getting tangled in it by hitting a driver. The green, which is one of the more confounding ones on the course, starts as an extension of the fairway and then acts in every possible manner to shed golf balls.
Sixth hole, 360 yards; At the Home of Golf, otherwise known as Scotland, bunkers are generally smallish in size. Why? Try maintaining a formalized bunker that is 50 or 100 yards long after a wind/rain storm. Large scale bunkers first gained popularity in world golf in the famed sandbelt region of Australia when Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell among others proved adept at creating large sprawling sandy hazards. Architects like Dick Wilson and then Pete Dye carried the torch for a while at places like Pine Tree and Harbour Town. Eventually, architects got to work on naturally sandy properties. Subsequent bunker achievements at Sand Hills and Pacific Dunes set a new, exciting standard. Tom Fazio was certainly part of the mix too with some of his Florida designs, most notably his world class design at the Pine Barrens course at World Woods. First is often times best though and that may be the case based on the superlative hazards found on MacKenzie’s West Course at Royal Melbourne whereby the bunkers are used in concert with short grass to form compelling strategic holes. Here at the sixth at Forest Creek is a similar classic configuration with the 125 yard long bunker right off the tee in perfect tandem with the solitary greenside one on the left. The short grass to the sides of the green complex might actually be more villainous than the bunker itself, especially for the good player.