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Jason played Shoreacres on Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shoreacres

Shoreacres is the place TO BE. Seth Raynor is the designer FOR ME


The private drive to the club on Shoreacres Drive is long, winding, and tantalizing, offering a preview of the golf course as it snakes past a few holes.  Now that I think about it, the road provided a view of what most of the putts I was about to face would be like.

Shoreacres is an interesting course in that it garners a top 100 world ranking by golf magazine, but falls short of even a top 50 ranking in the United States by Golf Digest. As we know, ranking golf courses in no easy task and can differ from person to person. What can't be denied is the fact that Shoreacres is a fun golf course, a good test, and one of the more unique courses I have ever had the opportunity to play.

One of Shoreacres' greatest qualities, a unique layout through gaping ravines, is in large part due to the engineering genius of Seth Raynor. Raynor, the engineer for Charles Blair McDonald, mastered the art of laying out golf course design amidst challenging landscape, carving his courses in to the earth in a very natural looking and unique way. When he had an opportunity to start designing his own courses, he worked primarily off of a template of holes he gathered from working with McDonald. He was able to utilize his engineering skills to make the most of the land and the template with which he worked. The more I saw of the course, the more impressed I was; this land was filled with the most ravines I have seen in one place in Illinois.

Hands down, the most impressive part of the entire experience was playing the best collection of par 3's I have played at one golf course. Each par 3 could have easily been a signature par 3 at most other courses and each offered the ability to play different shots to the green. A golfer aware of course design methods can see the classic design aspects in each par three sculpted by Raynor. My personal favorite was the 185 yard 14th, a classic "redan" style hole which features a narrow green that is tilted slightly to the left, and runs away from the player from the front right to the back left. The left side of the green is guarded by a deep horseshoe style bunker that wraps from front left all the way around the back of the green. The proper way to play the hole is to hit a draw that lands on the front right portion of the green or even a step or two over the putting surface - there is a steep slope of fairway long and right of the green which serves to gather the ball back and left toward a tucked pin. The par 3 12th, a typical Raynor "short," only measures a meager 127 yards, but club selection is what makes this hole interesting. The green, seemingly some 60 feet below the tee box and pitched into the side of a ravine slope on the left hand side, is guarded by bunkers in front and on the right hand side. While these bunkers can easily be avoided, the green itself is menacing if you choose the wrong club. Downhill sloping putts are no cakewalk on this hole and can easily turn the most scenic, best used pieces of land on the golf course into a bogey before you even notice. Hole 6 also features a standard Raynor design from his templates. Named "Biarritz," the 6th hole features an extremely long green split into two large sections by a valley that runs width-wise through the middle of the green. The green offers anything from a shot of over 200 yards to the back of the green to a more simple mid-iron approach to a hole cut on the from portion of the green. Any hole location cut toward the middle valley would definitely pose problems for golfers. Perhaps my least favorite (only because of the greatness of the aforementioned three) is the par 3 8th, listed at 165 yards. Raynor features a "punchbowl" style green on this hole as the sides of the green funnel the ball back toward the putting surface a little bit, but can leave interesting putts to certain hole locations. After reading that Raynor worked off of a template when laying out his courses, I wondered if that would lessen the quality of his work. These holes had the opposite effect on me. It was a total treat to be able to experience these classic examples of golf course architecture.

As for the rest of the course, it offered a great variety of short to medium length holes. The ravines came into play on more than enough holes to make the short track have some bite if you hit an occasional wayward shot. Many holes required, allowed for, and rewarded shot shaping and proper placement of both tee shots and approach shots into the greens. An approach shot that finds the putting surface but is not hit near the pin will often leave a golfer with a long, undulating 2 putt adventure for par - a fact I learned during my round with 6 three putts and a four putt. I also putted off two greens, but lets not elaborate on the atrocity that can be my putting... While my putting wasn't great this day, those statistics still speak to how difficult the greens are. They rolled very true and are, in my opinion, not only the main line of defense for one of the shorter courses on the top 100 list, but also one of Shoreacres' highlights.

The other thrill at Shoreacres was walking up to the clubhouse - a building which exudes class and tradition. If you walk behind the clubhouse, you can take a look down the shore of Lake Michigan all the way back toward downtown Chicago. As if the traditional green and white clubhouse isn't impressive enough, you really get the sense that this place is one of a kind when you see the finely manicured bentgrass lawns in both the front and the back of the clubhouse.

One of my playing partners said something that perfectly summed up the golfing experience at Shoreacres. When I mentioned to him that Seth Raynor used a template for almost all of his holes and that all of his courses are apparently very similar to Shoreacres, he quickly replied, "Then put me on any of them and I'll be happy."

Due to local rules, I wasn't able to take any pictures of the course at Shoreacres. Please click here for pictures.





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TAGS:  LAKE BLUFF, ILLINOIS, SETH RAYNOR