We teed it up on the McKenzie course at Haggin Oaks not having played it since before the renovations that it underwent about 17 years ago. We wondered how architects could improve on the design by Alister McKenzie who was also responsible for such iconic courses as Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pasatiempo. Would the “turn of the new century” course modernization produce changes that would be positive for our games and the games of women in general? We came away with mixed feelings.
Historically, Haggin Oaks has always been a friend of women golfers. It promoted golf for junior girls as well as junior boys by creating what is now the First Tee program. We have fond memories of Haggin-sponsored junior girls’ tournaments and of the kind mentorship of pros Tommy LoPresti and Ken Morton. As we grew older, we could choose among three well-established and well-organized women’s golf clubs that call Haggin Oaks home, and we could handicap out of those clubs. (Blog alert: we have learned a lot more about Haggin’s many programs for women. Look for a new Haggin blog in the near future.)
However, we are not sure if the new “modernized” version of the McKenzie course does women any favors. Modernization at this time seems to have its basis in the USGA’s current preference for perfect grass at the expense of lots of shade-producing trees. The result is a wide open, at times forgettable golf course that favors long-hitting men who may or may not hit the ball where they intend. It is difficult to believe that there are eight holes that have not been rerouted. Numbers 1, 16, 17, and 18 retain their original design, but without the number of trees that used to line 17 and 18, there is no consequence for spraying the ball. The ten newly designed holes are wide open, having lost many trees. Men will love them while women who rely more on accuracy may be at a disadvantage. Thus, we wonder if the current course reflects the original intentions of the architect who was not anticipating the distances that men hit the ball today.
The new design does validate the USGA emphasis on turf. Haggin Oaks is in beautiful condition especially for this time of year. We found the course in excellent condition, with very few bad lies and very smooth greens, and it was very walkable. Women have a choice from among three sets of tees playing at very different yardages: Three Oaks at 6,006 yards, Two Oaks at 5,368, and One Oak at 4,552. While the 6,000-yard length probably will appeal to only the very lowest-handicap player, if you can hit a 150-yard drive, you can reach all but one green in regulation from the One Oak tees. Wouldn’t that be fun?
The Haggin Oaks property has developed over its many years into a premier golf complex where women can find everything they need to improve their golf life: great clothes, equipment, lessons, the works. The pro shop is most accommodating – even coming out to the putting green to make sure we were aware of our tee time and the first tee procedure. They gave us a lovely course guide, but we were unable to use the tips it gave us as they were aimed at long hitting men. Finally, be sure to take bottled water and sun protection with you when you venture out; you will need them on hot summer days when you can’t find enough shade out on the course. (Note: head pro Mike Woods told me that they have planted 300 new trees since the renovation. He also mentioned that they had lost 42 trees to storms over the winter months. Perhaps we should blame mother nature rather than the course architects.)