Forest Creek Golf Club (South Course)
North Carolina, United States of America
Tenth hole, 225 yards; This dramatic hole generally plays into the prevailing wind. Typical of other green complexes on the South, it features just one greenside bunker and plenty of short grass on the other side. Yet, the ‘safe’ shot steered away from the hazard leaves the golfer a ticklish pitch from a tight lie to a green that tilts away (here from left to right). Depending on one’s proficiency from the sand and the day’s hole location, misses into the hazard might provide the more straightforward recovery.
Eleventh hole, 345 yards; Sandwiched in the middle of the course’s toughest five hole stretch, the golfer might look on this modest length hole as a respite – and that would be a mistake! After the eighth, the eleventh is the shortest two shotter on the course but it is so unsympathetic. As a perfect foil to the dogleg right first, this hole turns just as sharply left. Hopes of grandeur crowd into the greedy golfer’s mind but experience has shown that a three wood to the middle of the fairway followed by a short iron to the middle of the green saves the golfer shots over a full playing season.
Thirteenth hole, 405 yards; Fazio has created some of the most photographed courses in modern architecture featuring everything from quarries to deserts to oceans. With expectations come burdens but the strict directive from the Browns and Hall-Jones were to be true to the property. Here we are in the middle of the back nine and Fazio hasn’t created anything glamourous or out of character with the land. So it continues here with an uncompromising dogleg right hole that plays to an uphill green. Real golfers appreciate that window-dressing is unnecessary for quality golf in the Sand Hills of North Carolina.
Fourteenth hole, 510 yards; A reachable par five with a green that is open in front for sixty yards may not sound like much but this is one of the best risk/reward holes anywhere. It is such an appealing gambling hole that the question is raised why architects don’t concentrate more often on the area fifty to eighty yards short of par five greens? Often times this area is the least interesting part of a three shotter. Instead, unimaginative architects shove some sort of a water hazard flush against the putting surface. Yet if the area fifty to eighty yards short of the green is full of interest, the hole itself is almost guaranteed to be imbued with options. In this case, the Tiger gets the thrill of trying to flight a three wood approach from a slightly downhill lie over a vast amount of sand to a green open in front. The less accomplished player gains his own sense of achievement by negotiating a lay-up beside the hazard to afford him a pitch to the green. Nothing can be taken for granted as the putting surface drops three feet from back to front.
Fifteenth hole, 400 yards; Fazio uses the angles well and formulates this hole’s challenge at the green which is high in the middle and low in the front and back. It is better to miss a back hole location long as at least that way, the golfer has a straightforward uphill chip shot. If one comes up short of the middle hump with his approach for a back hole location, the matter becomes daunting. The putt must be coaxed over the brow and down the slope. If the strike is too gentle, he leaves a quick downhill ten footer for a two putt … and then … a six footer for a three putt … now he’s stomping to the sixteenth tee after four putting. Don’t ask how the author knows THIS!
Sixteenth hole, 420 yards; A fairway bunker is perfectly placed to lend strategy to a straight hole. The closer the golfer hugs the bunker on the right, the better his approach angle into the green. If he shuns the bunker and veers left, he will have to carry the six foot deep bunker that guards the green’s left side and he may be partially blocked by a strand of tall pines. Driving to the clubhouse, the player passes this handsome hole. In many ways, it demonstrates what he can expect during his round: A broad playing corridor between pines, rolling land with the tee ball and approach played over valleys, and large scale features.
Seventeenth hole, 170 yards; The one shot holes on the South Course require a forced carry either over wetlands (the second), scrub (the sixth and tenth) or a formalized water hazard here. Very picturesque, this hole features the greatest drop in elevation of any single shot on the course. As such it is hard to judge, especially as it is the first shot that the golfer plays in a westerly direction on this nine. Add up all the elements – elevated tee exposed to the wind, drop in elevation, change in direction, steepest greenside bunker face on the course, a shallow putting surface tilted to the right- and you have a penultimate hole that commands the respect of every skill level.
Eighteenth hole, 410 yards; Initially, the Fazio team contemplated concluding with a par five with one’s third shot over water to a green at the base of the clubhouse. Fazio personally vetoed the idea, determining that there were too many sequelae without a recovery from water whereby the golfer would finish on a demoralizing note. So they pulled the green forward and the twelve acre lake now serves primarily as a backdrop. Interestingly, member Jim Lewis once asked the long time, beloved professional Waddy Stokes what he considered the most difficult hole on the course for the ace player to birdie. Unhesitatingly, he answered the eighteenth. Why? The ample fairway provides relatively clean sailing but Waddy’s selection was based on the green contours. The front third slopes toward the golfer and offers few hole locations while the last two thirds slopes away. Waddy contended that the fallaway slope created more worries in the head of a good player than any other challenge.
One side benefit of pulling the Home green forward was that it left an untilized area between it and the clubhouse. Brown approached Fazio with the concept of a nineteenth hole. This was in 1997 before such holes had gained popularity. Fazio embraced the idea and the ensuing 165 yard one shot remains the best 19th hole that the author has seen.
Not unlike the famous Ross course in the village, Fazio gives the golfer plenty of room off the tee and presents the heart of the challenge within 40 yards of the green. For some of the strategic dilemmas to come off properly (i.e. in order to carry the fairway bunker at the third, to fret about the fallaway slopes at the eighth, fifteenth and eighteenth greens, etc.), fast and firm playing conditions must exist. Green Keeper Bill Patton has the advantage of a sandy base and limited play but still his work is to be commended. The two courses at Forest Creek are consistently the firmest courses in town.
Where there is good hunting there is often good golf. Both pursuits benefit from temperate climates, rolling land skirting past wetlands, and broad fertile spaces. For the same reasons that Terry Brown’s grandfather loved it as a hunter, Terry loves it as a golfer. No doubt Charles Meyer would be pleased that people are enjoying the beauty and dimensions of the property that he pieced together many years ago. Fazio’s restrained design amplifies its low key, serene nature. Unlike so many modern courses that followed in the Pinehurst area after Ross’s death, water hazards and built-up features are at a minimum. Fazio, it appears borrowed a page from Donald Ross’s playbook and allowed a well routed course with interesting green complexes to do the talking. Such a simple, uncluttered philosophy worked well back in Ross’s day of the Golden Age of golf course architecture and it works as wonderfully today at the South Course at Forest Creek.