If your definition of a great golf course translates to fast and firm, truly challenging to players at every level, requires strategic thinking to be rewarded in play, unique and never boring; mark your calendar for opening play at the Staley Farms Golf Club.
“Shotmaking is really what’s dying in modern golf,” states Staley Farms golf architect, Eric Iverson. “I try to provide as many opportunities on every hole for creative, thoughtful shots, not just off the tees, but into and around the greens, too. We’re really going for fast firm playing surfaces with a lot of contour and a lot of different ways to get the job done “.
"Variety in the choice of shots that you can play is one of the most important things to me. There are some obvious features out there that people are going to recognize and there are a lot of design subtleties, things that they might not notice for a few rounds, like using a certain contour in the green, angle of play, a bump and run, or whatever. I’m hoping to see people discover those subtleties, recognize the shots and then try to pull them off. If a golfer thinks of a creative shot and can pull it off, that’s a lot of fun.”
Scratch golfers may find a false sense of security in the fact that there’s a lot of room – 60 yards of fairway in some cases. Favoring it a little on the safe side or hitting it right down the middle might not be their best option. The best option could be 5 yards from the right edge - which happens to be right next to a pretty nasty bunker.
Part of the appeal to this course is not only the challenges in strategic thinking to the better player but the opportunities for the less experienced golfer, too. “All the high handicapper knows is his ball is in great shape since it's in this huge fairway” Iverson says. “It may take them a few more years of playing golf to discover more strategic play but in the meantime, I think they’re going to like it because the ball just keeps on rolling out there.”
Iverson places a premium on positioning and strategy rather than just shortening the distance for players of lesser ability. “One of the things that I think is different about Staley Farms,” explains Iverson, “is that we're not trying to get yardage to a science with 8 separate tees at every conceivable length. To me, it’s not necessarily about giving the higher handicap golfer a 50-yd head start, then giving them a shot they can’t handle. I think it’s more important to design ways where you don’t have to hit a heroic shot to get to the place where you have the best advantage, the best access to the green. I've tried to use the slope of the golf course to facilitate that.” While Iverson doesn’t like to be labeled as purely a minimalist, the site for this course demanded a respect for the existing contours – with a little strategic assistance. His work with Tom Doak, a champion of the minimalist movement, certainly contributed to his Staley Farms concept.
Minimalism in golf design is the art of doing only what is necessary to create unique, memorable holes using the existing features and many feel that it creates courses reminiscent of those from the golden age of golf design. When Iverson began the initial routing for Staley Farms, the real challenge was in deciding how to choose which of the dozens of natural holes that he saw, would become the 18 you’ll see today. Expect a great deal of controversy about the “signature hole” at Staley Farms, because there isn't one. Iverson blames it on the quality of the original property. “That just isn’t what this course is about. Here, all 18 holes are different; they really, really are and that’s a function of the property. They are even more different than I thought they’d be. There are many golf courses where you play and you remember a hole or two and the others all meld together. This property is unique enough to make each hole memorable.”
Of course, it took more than a great piece of land to create this course. The term “hand-crafted” golf course takes on new meaning when applied to Iverson. For the last eighteen months, Iverson’s day begins at dawn and ends at dusk – with all of that time spent overseeing every aspect of the course’s construction. This was engrained in him as he developed his trade working for Perry Dye and the Dye family. He feels it’s vital to be constantly on site, observing the course in every type of weather, every condition, constantly fine-tuning his initial concept.
Iverson explains it this way, ”One of the biggest advantages of hands on, hand crafted golf courses, is that there is elasticity to the design, a lot more art than science that way and that’s as it should be. Many modern golf courses are built strictly to a set of plans. Sometimes, it’s a great set of plans and sometimes, its not such a great set of plans. Even the great ones that are built exactly to the plans seem to have a bit of a sterile feel. They’re almost too perfect; they lack the charm of the golf courses I love from the golden age when they were built by hand.”