Old Macdonald
Oregon, United States of America

Fifth hole, Short, 160/100 yards; Macdonald was quite taken by the one shot fourth hole at Royal West Norfolk and when it came time to build National Golf Links of America, he added the twist of a wild green to that of a forced carry. This rendition has both characteristics with the right bunker the most pernicious greenside hazard on the course and the green itself looking like the sister to Alister Mackenzie’s eye-popping sixteenth green at Sitwell Park. Similar to other courses with large greens such as The Old Course at St. Andrews and Yale, hitting the green in regulation is but the start. Good players may well hit fourteen greens and still not break 80 if they don’t position their approach shots correctly.

As seen from the right, the fifth green measures over 18,000 square feet and falls more than nine feet (!) from back to front. Even such statistics fail to convey its dramatic playing nature. One player remarked upon walking up to it that the green felt like a series of waves coming at him.

Fair for a hole named Short, not only is the green challenging but the course's most striking greenside hazard is also found on this hole.

Sixth hole, Long, 555/355 yards; What do you do as architect when you come to the only flat portion of the property? You want to use the land so that the next hole can go up into the dunes but how do you knock character into it to allow it to stand up with the rest? The answer is that you manufacture one of the world’s most famous hazards (the Hell Bunker as found at the Long Hole at St. Andrews) as well as one of the course’s best greens. In addition,  the subtle contours that Urbina painstakingly built into the fairway make the bunkers left off the tee play much bigger than their actual footprint. Tee balls hit with a slight draw may land thirty yards away but have a mysterious way of ending up in these bunkers, from where carrying Hell Bunker in two is out of the question. Though much of the initial commentary centers on Old Macdonald’s vast scale, it’s this kind of finesse dirt work – of these twelve to twenty four inch rolls in the fairway – that allows the actual playing of  Old Macdonald to live up to the intrigue provided for over a century by some of the orginal template holes.

Perfectly placed 100 yards short of the green, this fearsome rendition of Hell Bunker dominates the second shot requirements. Note its depth versus the height of George Bahto.

One of the two or three best greens on the course, the sixth is a hard one to hit and hold.

This view from behind the sixth shows how the green slopes from front to back and toward this penal pot bunker, which is out of view from back in the fairway.

Seventh hole, Ocean, 365/195 yards; Some of the best holes at National Golf Links of America are Macdonald’s own original creations (e.g. the first, tenth, and fifteenth holes). No doubt some golfers will list this hole which has no precedent among their favorites at Old Macdonald. It starts with a scintillating blind drive over some hummocks to a wide fairway before climbing uphill to a green site that provides a fine place to contemplate one’s stake in life. Finding this green is a must as self pity will sweep over the man whose approach comes up short and rolls well back down the hill as well as the man whose approach goes long and finds a punishing back bunker.

A neat tee shot over a couple of hummocks sets the golfer up nicely for the attractive uphill approach.

As seen from the top, the golfer is richly rewarded making the climb to the seventh green. Not only are the views inspiring but the golf is good as well.

Eighth hole, Biarritz, 180/120 yards; The first time a golfer plays to a Biarritz green is an unforgettable experience. Even from this elevated tee, the uninitiated can’t quite process what it is that he is looking at as there appears to be something that runs through the middle of the green. Closer inspection shows it to be trough or swale that is over three feet deep in spots. The hole location determines the challenge: If the flag is on the front plateau, the golfer needs to have his tee ball stop before it disappears down into the swale. If the hole location is on the back half, the golfer needs to make sure that his ball motors on past the swale and up onto the back plateau. Either way, the elevated tee gives him the perfect spot to watch the action unfold.

The view from the eighth tee shows an immense green that seems simple to hit. Here, the indentation through the middle of the green provides both the fun and the challenge.

The flight of this golfer’s tee ball was too high and his ball landed too soft to chase onto the back plateau, making it just a question of time before he registered another sad three putt. Unlike the famous swale at Yale, this one isn’t as rigid and linear which is in keeping with the free flowing nature of the property.

This view from across the fifteenth fairway shows how the golfer climbs up to the seventh green before playing back down to the Biarritz green.

Ninth hole, Cape, 415/230 yards; The best Cape holes (the fifth at Mid Ocean, the eighth at St. Louis, the fourteenth at National Golf Links of America) feature a water hazard upon which the hole pivots around. Such all or nothing hazards provide intense interest that the bunkers and vegetation on the inside of this Cape hole don’t match. Conversely, the bunkers and gorse here better tempt the golfer into being greedy, making this version a delightful hole to play time and time again.

The array of hazards along the inside of this Cape hole mete out punishment that varies, which is a most appealing characteristic for a hazard to enjoy.

Tenth hole, Bottle, 465/325 yards; The fairways at Old Macdonald are among the widest in the game (in fact, they may well be the widest as they frequently range between sixty and eighty yards in width). Yet, width for no purpose serves no purpose so the only reason these fairways make sense is because of the hazards that are found within them, be it bunkers like Hell or landforms like the Hog’s Back. Here at the tenth, two true fairway bunkers (i.e., bunkers surrounded by fairway, which is uncommon in the United States) create confusion from the tee as to which is the best direction to go within the fairway. As this hole normally plays downwind, the fearsome greenside bunker that it shares with the fifth hole is a real worry for approach shots that go long. Given how steep the bank is that leads up to the tenth green, one is surprised to find that a running approach shot might actually be the best play. Again, the luxury of a running approach is afforded from the benefits of working with sandy soil, the type of fescue blend that the Oregon climate accommodates, the skill of Doak’s crew in shaping the transition areas from fairway to green and Ken Nice’s ability to make the playing surfaces play fast and true. All these factors give the golfer appealing shot options, both on his approach and recovery should his approach go awry! Like its counterpart at the eighth at National Golf Links of America, this green complex may well expose deficiencies in one’s short game with terrifying condescension!

What a refreshing sight to see: Fairway bunkers directly in the line of play. Unlike so many modern architects, Macdonald fully appreciated the lesson learned from studying the placement of such bunkers at The Old Course at St. Andrews.

One of the toughest approach shots at Old Macdonald is to the elevated tenth green. As seen above, trying to stop a ball downwind anywhere near this hole location is vexing. Good golfers are scared by the sight of so much short grass as they appreciate how easy it is to take three - as opposed to two - shots from the base of the green. Meanwhile, the weaker golfer delights in taking three shots and quickly moving on.

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