Frankort, Michigan, USA
Architects: Dr. Alister Mackenzie and Perry Maxwell (1929)
Par 70, 6,518 Yards
My Quick Review: 5-8 may be the best stretch of golf in the world.
|Flag on 18th Green -- Member's Clubhouse in backround|
The understated entrance at Crystal Downs
Based on my one and only play, here are a few things that I noted:
1) Crystal Downs may be the longest 6500 yard golf course in the world. I believe this is because many of the landing areas are sloped back towards the tee, minimizing roll.
2) The greens are among the best set I have ever seen. While several are amazingly wild and undulating (7 and 13), it is their variety in size, shape and slope that make them so interesting.
3) Local knowledge is extremely important. There are places off the tee, on the approach and on the green that one simply cannot hit the ball at Crystal Downs.
4) The bunkering at CD is unlike any I have ever seen. In many cases bunkers seem to flow naturally out of the base of trees (hole 15) or from the woods (hole 3, 4) or in the fescue (hole 12).
5) False-fronts. There are a few of them and they are nasty. The false-front on 8 can have the ball roll back 50 yards into the fairway. The false-front on 10 has the ball roll not straight back, but back and to the right dead behind the front-right bunker. The false-front on 17 leaves an unbelievably difficult pitch.
6) The stretch of holes from 5-8 may be the best I have ever played. Also, individual holes like 1, 13, 15 and 17 are exceptional. I was underwhelmed by holes 2, 10, 12, 16 and 18. I am certain that my one play failed to reveal their greatness and this is part of the reason I started this thread.
7) This is not about the golf course, but as been mentioned many times before, once inside the gates one is treated like a member. Truly exceptional staff and a wonderful atmosphere.Hole 1: Par 4, 460 Yards
As a first-time visitor, standing on the first tee at Crystal Downs is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. The entire front-nine is clearly laid out in front of you.
Playing your first round, you probably know two things. First, stay below the hole. Second, to stay below the hole, keep it in the short grass. With that knowledge in mind, you must know hit your first shot of the day into the prevailing wind, to a narrowish fairway some 50 feet below the teeing ground. This is truly a half-par hole to the plus side.
|A gently rippling fairway|
|A difficult approach to the first -- Three bunkers benched flawlessly into the hill right of the green|
|1 Green from 2 Fairway|
|From just short-left of the green the drastically back-to-front nature of the green is obvious|
|The 1st green from the 8th fairway shows the drop-off to the left of the first green|
|Shots missed to the right deal not only with bunkering, but more importantly with a green that slopes severely away|
|Mr. Muller, Head Golf Professional at Crystal Downs notes, "a miss to the left is a bogie, a miss to the right is a disaster." (!!)|
|A look back down the first hole|
The second hole at Crystal Downs plays parallel to the first. The first plays downhill and into the wind, the second uphill and downwind.
|A straightforward tee shot at the 2nd|
|The approach plays uphill as well. The green is open in front and protected by bunkering left and right|
|Significant back-to-front tilt on the 2nd green|
|A look back down the second|
The shot is played downhill to a green that sits on an angle to the tee. What makes the hole particularly tricky is that it plays with a left-to-right wind that is largely blocked-out by the trees surrounding the tee. The combination of downhill, angled green and a difficult to feel crosswind make the third green a very elusive target.
|Back tee view|
|Middle tee view|
|The back bunkers|
|Green as seen from 4th tee|
|The severely canted fairway at the 4th|
|A valley catches shots that come-up short of the green|
|4th Green as seen from 6|
|Back down the 4th from the 5th tee|
Hole 5: Par 4, 353 Yards
The 5th hole at Crystal Downs is probably the most photographed and well-known hole on the course. As you approach the 4th green and see the 5th hole, it is impossible not to think, "wow, I'm actually here!". But, for all of the pictures I had seen of the 5th, I had no idea what the hole looked like beyond the tee shot. I actually believed the hole dog-legged right (it doesn't!).
The tee shot is to a split-fairway which is divided by the 'Three Sisters' bunkers. The route left of the bunkers will only be taken by those that are unable to carry the tree to reach the right fairway. The ideal line for most will be over the left edge of the tree, though longer-hitters will want to play farther to the left, almost directly over the centreline bunkers.
|5th Tee Zoomed|
The green is located over the bunker that is benched into the hill. As the pictures show, this is not a good spot to approach the green from. I suspect that most that play from here do so by accident.
|The Lower Fairway|
Once past the tree on the right, one can see the slope of the hogback fairway.
|A Hogback Fairway on the 5th|
Beyond the hogback portion of the fairway, the fairway slopes significantly from left-to-right. Looking back toward the tee one can see not only the significant cant, but also the wild undulations. I suspect many balls end-up where mine did, just a few feet into the right rough.
|5th Fairway Looking Back Toward the Tee|
|Approach from 125 Yards Out|
|50 Yards Short of Green|
The green slopes significantly from back-to-front and left-to-right. Shots landing on the green have been known to trickle back and right into the grass by the bunkers, or on occasion, all the way into the bunkers. Yet another difficult green at Crystal Downs.
There is also a small ridge near the back of the green making shots that are just a bit long that much more difficult.
|Green from Left|
What's that? Hidden greenside bunkers! The green is protected by three bunkers, not one. Recovery from these bunkers should not be so difficult as they are played into the slope of the green.
|Green from Back-Right|
Hole 6: Par 4, 384 Yards
The 6th at Crystal Downs would be a standout on almost any other golf course. But, stand on the 6th tee and you have the all-world fifth on your left and a sneak-peek at the kidney-shaped green at the 7th. The fact that the sixth receives recognition with such exceptional holes on either side of it speaks to its own quality.
The tee shot at the 6th requires a carry to crest a hill that will leave a clear view of the green. The carry is some 220 yards from the back tees and 190 yards from the members tees. In clear view beyond the 'Scabs' on the right the green lay tempting the golfer to play farther to the right off the tee than is prudent. The Line of Charm is in effect and the player wants to aim either over the Scabs or over the large tree guarding the fairway, but as the visitor guide emphatically warns, "don't even think about that route."
|The Line of Charm|
|The Scabs as seen from the 7th Fairway|
The view from the bottom of the hill should a player fail to make the carry. The fact that there are very few divots in this area suggests that either (1) the carry is not a problem for most golfers who play at Crystal Downs, or (2) there are just very few rounds played at Crystal Downs.
|View from Bottom of Hill|
The approach to the green is fairly straightforward. The approach will often be played from a hanging lie over the mound that is seen on the left. This view is from 150 yards out from the right side of the fairway. It is where you will end up if you try to carry the tree and fail (I know from experience.).
|Approach from Right|
Shots successfully played down the centre of the fairway should collect to this area.
|Approach from 120 Yards|
|Looking Back Down the Fairway|
|6th Green as seen from 4th Fairway|
The green is another very interesting one. Two separate bowls are formed in the green. Hit your approach shot in the bowl and you have a great chance at 3. From outside the bowl, a 2-putt is very difficult.
|Short of Green|
|Green from Left|
|Green from Right|
|Green from Right with Increased Contrast|
Hole 7: Par 4, 335 Yards
The tee offers two options. The first is to lay-up to the upper fairway hitting a tee shot of no more than 210 yards. From there the green is in full-view. The other option is to drive over the crest of the hill to a lower fairway leaving nothing more than a 100 yard shot, but from here the view to the green is blind. Pick your poison.
I found the tee shot misleading because of the severe depression to the right of the fairway (which is a really bad place to miss) and the hint of a curve in the fairway itself. I thought the ideal line was at the right edge of the visible fairway, challenging the depression. It's not, there is nothing but rough and a really tough angle into the green there.
|7th Tee Zoomed|
|A Deep Depression Guards the Right-Side of the Fairway|
Be sure to get your approach shot in the proper lobe of the green or you will have a rather interesting putt ahead of you.
|Approach from Upper Fairway|
|Approach from Upper Fairway Zoomed|
|The Approach from the Lower Fairway is Completely Blind|
|Green from Front|
|Green from 6th Tee|
|Green from Behind|
|Green from 8th Tee|
|Greensite from 8th Fairway|
Hole 8: Par 5, 550 Yards
The Greatest Par-5 I've Played
The 8th at Crystal Downs is a very difficult golf hole. But, it's not overly long... There is no water, no out-of-bounds, plenty of width... yet every shot is very demanding.
The tee shot is not difficult, but the golfer desperately wants as short a club as possible into the green, adding pressure to hitting a good and solid drive on the correct line. The line is dependant on the player's length off the tee. The 'bail-out' is left, leaving a longer approach, but the bomber cannot play this way as he will run through the fairway. Aggressive players will play slightly left of the tree, knowing that a pushed tee shot behind the tree will likely mean bogey at best. Can real bombers hit it over the tree?
Looking back from the DZ to the tee - the slope back toward the tee is obvious, but it is also clear that the tee shot played uphill (more length). I did not get that sense on the tee.
|8th Fairway Looking Back Toward Tee|
|8th from Top of Hill|
|8th Fairway from 2nd Tee|
The approach is straight uphill, making the approach from the 150 yard mark "one of the longest in golf" - Mr. Mueller.
|Approach from 150 Yards|
|Short of Green|
|Green from Front|
|Back Portion of Green|
|8th from Behind Green|
Hole 9: Par 3, 175 Yards
The 9th hole at Crystal Downs plays significantly uphill. Most players will (or should) choose to land the ball short of the green and have it bounce on. Misses long and left are very bad.
The green slopes severely back to front and its main feature is a ledge just a few feet from the back edge. The ledge will help to stop well struck shots from bouncing over the green, but it also means that any soul unlucky enough to be long of it, has almost no chance at recovery.
|9th Green from Clubhouse|
|View of Front 9 from 9th Green|
Hole 10: Par 4, 395 Yards
This is a really tough fairway to hit. Playing significantly downhill and with an into and from across wind, only a very well-struck tee shot will find this fairway. Adding to the difficulty is the bay window 5 feet behind the tee that give everyone inside the restaurant/golf shop a view of your tee ball.
|10th Short of Green|
|10th Green from Left|
|10th from Behind|
|10th Green as seen from 18th Tee|
Hole 11: Par 3, 196 Yards
A difficult par-3 that requires a tee ball that stays below the hole. But, playing some 20 feet uphill and with a false-front, club selection is very difficult. Anything in the back bunkers is X territory.
The land approaching the green is phenomenal. Rolling hills that, unfortunately, are not in play. Wait until 17, though.
|11th Short of Green|
|11th from Behind|
Hole 12: Par 4, 430 Yards
The 12th surprised me. Though it was peaceful walking through the trees to get to the 12th tee, it is a long, uphill trek. Not knowing what lay ahead of me, I expected something very dramatic given the uneasiness in this part of the routing. I was/am disappointed with this hole, though I am open to hearing about its redeeming features (and I do understand that not every hole on a course needs be a '10' and the occasional breather is fine).
The tee shot is hit over a road (a feature that seems to be common at many of the world's great courses). Almost unbelievably, the tree in the centre of the picture is in the left rough(!). It really goes against one's instincts to play it as far right as is necessary.
|12th Approach from Left|
|12th Approach from Centre|
The bunker guarding the right side of the green is a bad spot to miss. With the trees growing out of the bunker, can you say "double hazard?"
|12 Green as seen from 13 Tee|
Hole 13: Par 4, 442 Yards
Mr. Muller says this is by far "the most difficult par at Crystal Downs." I agree.
The tee shot is one that requires precision. The fairway is at an angle almost 45 degrees to the player with rough left and woods right. The fairway cants significantly left-to-right. Approaches from the left are near impossible. As such, one must be on the right side of the fairway, but anything that misses the fairway right will be blocked out. A fade up the left side of the fairway will work nicely.
|13th Approach from Right|
|13th Short of Green|
Playing to a front pin, Mr Muller recommends playing for the front edge of the green. A chip up the hill from short of the green is much preferred to being long.
Conversely, playing to a back pin requires a shot that is hit deep into the green. The back portion of the green slopes severely from left-to-right and many balls will collect at the back-right portion of the green leaving a (relatively) slow putt back to the hole.
|13th Greenside Bunkering|
|13th Green from Left|
|13th from Behind|
Hole 14: Par 3, 147 Yards
A straightforward short par-3 -- a nice respite after the brutish 13th. If you're going to miss, then miss short as the green slopes severely from back-to-front. The bunkering is a lesson in visual deception.
From the tee, one can see a couple of bunkers, but it is not until you get closer to the green that one sees how many bunkers there are and how deep they are.
|14th Back Tee|
|14th Middle Tee|
|14th Greenside Bunkering|
|Bunkering Short-Left of Green|
|Bunkering Short-Right of Green|
And the bunker that appeared to be short-left, actually extends the length of the green:
This pictures shows that the green crests at about the 3/4 point and the back 1/4 actually slopes away from the tee.
|14th Green from Back-Left|
|14th Green from Behind|
|14th Green from Path to 15th Tee|
Hole 15: Par 4, 327 Yards
I am likely in the minority, but this was my favorite hole on the course - another sleeper as it is not one of the 'famous' holes at Crystal Downs.
The ideal tee shot will carry a hill approximately 225 yards from the tee. As the hole plays into the wind, this may not be an option for many. A bit of visual deception here as the bunkers are actually a very long way from the tee (the one on the right is about 260, the one on the left is greenside(!)) and are not in play for most.
Shorter hitters have the choice of hitting their tee shots to the bottom of the hill, leaving a 125 yard but blind approach, or laying back to a flat spot leaving a visual of the pin but a 150 yard approach.
This tee shot has something to keep all golfers -- short-knockers or bombers, high-cappers or scratch -- interested.
|Approach from 150|
Also notice the 'peak' in the fairway. This is SO COOL. 'Fairness' out the window, tee shots hit dead in the middle of the fairway but just carrying to the top of the hill are subject to a rub of the green bounce which could knock them 50 yards forward, or sideways into the rough/bunker. I wonder if this was natural or done on purpose or just evolved over time?
|Approach from 125|
|Approach from 100|
|15th from Behind|
Hole 16: Par 5, 588 Yards
A very long par-5 that moves gently to the left. It plays uphill for the first 400 yards (!) before cresting a hill and the final 200 yards play downhill.
In my mind the hole is very plain until you get to the green, which is very sloping. The first two shots are very wide and require well-struck shots, especially since this holes generally plays into the wind. I know Tom Doak has defended the hole in the past -- I believe the logic was the length of the hole adds pressure to the golfer to hit two very good shots. He knows that any mis-hit means he probably won't reach the green in regulation and as a result, this is no simple hole.
There is not a lot happening on the tee shot. It is plenty wide. I don't think anyone can cut the corner at all. The objective is just to hit a solid tee shot in the fairway. Anything less than that and reaching this green in 3 is very difficult.
|16th Second Shot|
|Approach from 200|
|Approach from 150|
|Approach from 100|
|16th from Behind|
Hole 17: Par 4, 311 Yards
It is appropriate to quote the course guide in its entirety for this hole:
Three hundred and eleven of the most frightening yards in golf. A 200 yard tee shot leave a 9 iron or wedge. A 180 yard tee shot leaves an unplayable lie. A 215 yard tee shot leaves a blind, uphill, difficult pitch to the green. Now, if the wind is helping, you could drive the green. The green side bunkers mean bogie or worse, and you don't want to putt off the front of this green, because it won't stop rolling for 50 yards.
The tee shot has so many options. Most players will aim for the tiny landing area 200 yards off the tee. Those unable to make the 190 yard carry are forced to lay-up to the (not seen) fairway short of the hill or be faced with an impossible uphill stance from rough. More aggressive players can try for a slightly longer tee ball up the left, leaving a 50-100 semi-blind pitch up the hill. The most aggressive of players can try to challenge the right side of the severely canted fairway and leave a chip shot up to the green.
From just short of the fairway the blind, lower portion of the fairway can be seen.
|17th Short of Fairway|
|Approach from Lower Fairway|
|Approach from Start of Upper Fairway|
Tee shots will end-up here. I'm fairly certain that qualifies as a skyline green.
|Approach from Left|
|Short of 17th Green|
|Green from Right|
|17th from Behind|
Hole 18: Par 4, 400 Yards
I am unsure which tee was the original back tee for the 18th - the better, lower tee or the less interesting, but more comfortably routed upper tee.
From the lower tee, one can challenge the inside of the dogleg for a shorter approach and preferred angle into the green. There is little fear of running through the fairway.
|The Lower/Back Tee|
|The Upper Tee|
|Approach to 18|
There is also a significant false-front. Note the location of my ball, which did spend some time (briefly) on the green before collecting back into the fairway. Everything cants significantly from right-to-left and I presume many balls will find the front-left bunker.
|False-Front on 18th Green|
|18th Green as seen from Clubhouse|
|18th Green from Behind|