Sutton Bay
SD, USA

Eleventh hole, 560/535 yards; Marsh’s varied use of landforms lends the course great interest off the tee. If the golfer carries a large mound left off the eleventh tee, the tee ball catches the down slope and the green is brought within reach in two for the tiger golfer. Further ahead, a central hazard one hundred yards shy of the green creates all sorts of indecision for the rest of us laying up.

A big tee ball left over the native mound may bring the 11th green in reach. Note the great placement of the central fairway bunker into the ridge line 100 yards from the green.

Taken from 110 yards from the green, this photograph highlights the variety of hole locations that are possible. With nothing behind the green to comfort the golfer, the hole locations on the back right upper plateau are especially vexing.

Twelve hole, 400/370 yards; Options galore off the tee once the golfer appreciates the number of ways the hole can be played based on the day’s wind and hole location. Considering that it plays into the summer wind, sometimes the golfer is delighted to be just at the base of the large fairway bunker in the photograph below. With the wind down, the golfer will turn his focus off the tee farther ahead toset up the ideal approach angle into the green based on the day’s hole location (i.e. to the opposite side of the fairwayfrom the day’s hole location). The elevated green features the most severe false front on the course and is adept at returning the modestly struck ball well back into the fairway.

The view from the 12th tee captures one common demoninator throughout and that is the huge scale. Imagine the opposite (i.e. the fairway was narrow and straight and the bunkers were small) , and one begins to appreciate how well the course features compliment its native surrounds.

Thirteenth hole, 215/185 yards; Given that the returning nine plays along the high side of the sloping land, it isexpected that a hole like this would find its way into Marsh’s routing. From the back tee, the hole drops 80 feet to the green below. By building such a drop shot hole that heads predominately toward the lake, the architect accomplished several things, namely he highlights the pitch of the property, he affords the golfer stunning long views, and he provides a break in the direction of the holes leaving the golfer to puzzle over what effect the wind will have on this angle shot. Also, in keeping with the fourth green, the architect lets the green follow the natural slope of the land, thus creating another fine front to back sloping green.

This is actually not that easy a hole location. Any tee ball less than well hit drifts toward the back left of the green. For the golfer not mesmerized by the distant views, it is a delight to watch the drama unfold with the slow roll of the ball on the putting surface.

Fourteenth hole 420/375 yards; Two classic design features make this one of the two or three finest holes at Sutton Bay. First the drive is through a saddle to a landing area that is blind off the tee. Though unsettling, the fairway is one of the widest off the course and there is no excuse for missing it. Alister MacKenzie was a long time proponent of giving the golfer something fearsome to accomplish and then letting the golfer bask in delight at having accomplished it. The approach is uphill to a skyline green. From down below in the fairway, the golfer is left to guess as to the affect that the wind will have on this shot.

A view from the 14th tee at Sutton Bay is more reminiscent of one that golfers find on some of the thrilling links in Ireland or Scotland.

The beautiful skyline green at the 14th.

Fifteenth hole, 530/505yards; Of the five three shot holes on the course, none are remotely alike. There is always something different to do/accomplish, an impressive feat of design. In the case of the fifteenth, the dominant fairway bunker off the tee guards the only level portion of the fairway, a must find for those hoping to reach this – the shortest of the three shotters – in two. The green complex itself is noteworthy as being a fine example of a design change made in the field. Originallyto be further left and higher, Marsh eventuallyconcluded that today’s green location beside a mound on the right would make a more tactically engaging hole – and he was right. Many lay up shots feed off the left to right fairway slope into a bowl, leaving the golfer in the far right side of the fairway. With the green now hugging the mound on the right, numerous right hole locations create a taxing angle for the pitch. Tying the natural slopes in the land to a natural feature bya green site is one of the benchmarks of all great designs.

The 15th plays along the base of the mesa.

Look at Marsh's great use of the ground, namely (1) the only level portion of the fairway is guarded by the first fairway bunker, (2) the bowl further ahead sucks balls to the right, and (3) the green's location is hard against the natural mound on the right. These attributes give the 15th lasting playing strategy. The ideal lay up shot is often high down the left side of the fairway...

...as a pitch from the right to right hole locations is no bargain.

Sixteenth hole, 445/405 yards; A perfectly designed hole as all levels of player will take great delight in playing it. The large central hazard is well positioned into the natural rolls of the fairway and has the effect of creating two fairways: the upper one affords the best angle into the green and the lower one provides scale and width that matches the setting of the hole. Plus, the expanse of fairway provides comfort for golfers of all levels to make a bold and confident swing.

Watching a well hit tee ball bore the wind and drop from the sky against the background above is something the golfer will long remember. The challenges of one's regular course at home might begin to seem a little pedestrian in comparison.

A closer view reveals the nice movement within the rolling fairway and the mirror image redan characteristics of the 16th green. Though into the wind, the architect gives players of all abilities the chance to fashion a good approach shot by leaving the entrance to the green open. The ground game is alive and well at Sutton Bay.

Seventh hole, 170/155 yards; Good design is about variety. With the golfer just having spent the last several hours in a huge expansive setting, he now comes to the penultimate hole and finds a green tucked between mounds in its own intimate amphitheater. Also, having just come off playing the long sixteenth into a wind, Marsh does his profession a favor by not building a typical long hard (and boring) 220 yard one shotter. Both the seventeenth and eighteenth center around finesse.

The 17th possesses a different look and feel than the other holes and the course is all the better for it.

From the elevated 18th tee, a view down at the 17th green with the 16th hole stretching away in the distance.

Eighteenth hole, 465/400 yards; A tale of two tees, the lower tiger tee is just off the seventeenth green and requires a carry of 235 to reach the fairway. The upper tee is on top of the mesa and affords the golfer a panoramic view of over 900,000 (!) acres of prairie and Lake Oahe; surely this is one of the more unique spots in the world of golf. As with so much of the course though, the quality of the golf matches the views. From the 400 yard marker, the golfer delights in watching his tee ball bound along the wide fairway below. As Marsh did so successfully at Terrey Hills Golf Club outside of Sydney, Australia, the Home hole is about placement. A final piece of deception occurs at the green where the right side of the slender green is unguarded and the left is behind a bunker. Round after round though shows that the right hole locations may be the more tricky as the right half of the green slopes from front to back. The left side of the green, though guarded by a bunker, is more recepetive to holding the pitch and the putting is easier too as the putting surface is more flat.

From the elevated 18th tee, the golfer is free to appreciate the South Dakota landscape without a single non-club related building in sight.

The bunker in the hillside on the left of the fairway is at the 100 yard mark from the green; any tee ball just to the right provides the best look at the green.

Down to the last putt on the last green, there is much to learn and appreciate about the design at Sutton Bay. So many of the finest design attributes from The Old Course at St. Andrews are on display here – wide fairways and large greens to give the course lots of playing angles, well positioned bunkers including many central ones, firm playing conditions, front to back greens, and awide variety of types of holes. Throw in the pristine natural setting in one of the prettiest parts in this great state and the golfer may understandably come to think that he has the best of both worlds.

The End