My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#17, Par 5, 593 Yards
You've kind of already gotten a sneak peak of the 17th hole as you've played the course, especially since you already played into a portion of its double green when playing the eighth. The hole is a long right over fairly open land right trouble on the right the whole way. Your ball needs to navigate over a minefield of bunkers, properly positioned to ensure thoughtful shots rather than just mindlessly laying up. It's 629 yards from all the way back, so it's a long one even for the Wake Forest guys. If you're looking to get home in two, you'll need to avoid the creek that runs in front of the green and also keep it on the right section of the huge double green to be able to have a makeable putt.
#3, Par 4, 402 Yards
The third hole completes a really cool opening three-hole loop that returns right back to the clubhouse. I could see this being very popular for people who just want to play a couple holes before dark, or for settling bets, or even for late arrivers to catch the group that they missed. Further, you can immediately reload on drinks, if that's your thing! The hole heads uphill and bends slightly to the right. Another false front lays in front, so carry it to the middle. I missed getting a picture form the tee, but here is the approach shot:
#7, Par 4, 383 Yards
From the Blue Tees, it's about a 205 yard carry over the cluster of bunkers that guard the fairway's entry point. The landing area slopes from left to right, which makes it tricky to keep the ball on the left half, which is the preferred angle into the green. The second shot is uphill, and as usual, needs to carry all the way to the green as the green is elevated above the approach area.
#14, Par 4, 322 Yards
Short par fours are always a highlight of a course for me--especially good ones. Old Town has a good one for sure. A creek runs the length of the hole on the left and the green is well protected on three sides by five bunkers. A short shot runs the risk of rolling down the hill to the left and leaving a tough pitch off of firm ground.
#1, Par 4, 416 Yards
The first hole at Old Town heads town the hill from right next to the putting green and starts you on a wonderful ride. A creek diagonals across the fairway at the bottom of the hill, and is about 260 yards from the Blue Tees. Hitting it down the left side will give you some extra room, but the fairway slopes from left to right, so it's dangerous to rely on a ball staying on that side. From the bottom of the hill, depending on how far back you laid up, you'll have a shorter iron back up the hill to a green protected by bunkers on the right side. There is a false front you have to carry that ends about eight paces onto the surface, so make sure you carry it to the middle.
Before leaving the 12th tee, take a moment to appreciate the brilliance of how this course was laid out over the open land. In the photo below, you'll looking over the double green. To the left is the 17th hole. In the center is the eighth, and to the right is the ninth. Only some well positioned fairway bunkers create the definition that is otherwise one massive fairway.
#16, Par 4, 367 Yards
If you haven't noticed yet, level fairways are not really a common feature at Old Town. Playing over the side of a hill, the dogleg right 16th banks hard to the right. The green is perched on a hill and runs hard from left to right and back to front. Don't be short!
#8 Par 4, 398 Yards
The eighth is probably one of the more memorable holes on the course, but you wouldn't know it from the tee. After to clear the hill, the vista opens up, which reveals an awesome double green, with the putting surface for the eighth hole on the left half and the 17th hole on the right half. Ending up on the wrong half will leave an extremely difficult putt and possibly require you to yell an embarrassing "fore." To ensure you're hitting to the right green, the pins on the front nine have white flags, while the back nine has yellow flags.
#11, Par 3, 195 Yards
A longer par three with options to run the ball up, if that's your thing. There's some room to bail out to the left to safely avoid the creek on the right, but that will leave a difficult downhill pitch to the hole.
#15, Par 3, 213 Yards
The last short hole on the course is not particularly short at all! Both one-shotters on the back nine are reasonably long, and this one is a bear--especially when they put the pin way to the left as they did when we played. There is a slope near the center of the green that will feed a shot to the left, so a good shot can get there easier than it looks, but it's still a long iron or fairway wood for most. The second photo shows an angle looking at the green from the left side (from the 14th fairway) where the contours become more clear.
#2, Par 3, 159 Yards
Framed beautifully by bunkers on all sides, the second hole is the first of the short holes at Old Town. Maxwell was known for the undulations he built onto his greens, which became known as "Maxwell rolls." Therefore, its important to be in the proper position relative to the hole location to leave a makeable putt, lest a three-putt becomes a very plausible result. This one plays a little downhill and the left side of the green is lower than the right. The green is the shallowest on the course at only 22 yards deep, so by precise in your yardage.
#12, Par 4, 421 Yards
Another hole over a blind hill. On this one, the fairway slopes from left to right and will send most balls toward the low ground on the right, and in the direction of a creek (there's lots of room on the right before you get to the creek). From there, you have a fairly level lie and a view of the green. If you can get your ball to stay on the left, you'll have a slightly shorter shot into the green, but you won't be able to see it. There is an aiming poll 35 yards behind the center of the green to help.
#4, Par 5, 526 Yards
After finishing the opening three-hole loop, you head across the parking lot. The tee ball on this par five isn't very compelling visually, but it's tight and you'd better get it in play if you want a chance to score. The hole gets really interesting from the second shot in though. From there, it bends to the right heads downhill to a treacherous green that is fronted by a creek. I'm sure the Wake Forest guys always go for this one in two and have no problem. For the rest of us, it's tricky to lay up into a spot without a really tough downhill lie. Form that perspective, it has some similarities to the 15th at Augusta National. The first picture below is near the edge of the dogleg, where you can just barely see the flag at the bottom of the hill to the right of the three players.
#13, Par 4, 427 Yards
If I have one complaint with Old Town, it's that there are a few too many blind tee shots for my taste. I don't have an issue with blind shots in general, but there were just LOTS of them. Over time, members certainly know the best aiming lines, but it was tough to plot out the proper strategy off the tee the first time around. The 13th hole bends to the right and only has one bunker that protects the front right portion of the green. Hitting a tee ball up the walking path will do just fine.
While it might not get the attention of Pinehurst, just down the road, or other major championship courses, Old Town is no slouch and deserves just as much attention. It's just a classically fun test of golf where there are loads of options that constantly make you think through your best plan of attack. The firm and fast conditions take advantage of the tremendous land over which the course was built and also makes the course very playable for higher handicappers who rarely have to deal with a forced carry beyond a shallow creek here and there. I am thrilled that I was able to have this experience at Old Town. After finishing up, we actually had a chance to have a drink with the gentleman who has been most responsible for studying the club's history and championing the restoration process. It was a treat to hear his perspective. After shaking hands, we were on our way to Pinehurst for a great buddies weekend, but in many ways, we had already experienced the highlight of our weekend.
#6, Par 3, 183 Yards
I wish I had gotten a better picture on this one. A longer par three with one of the deeper greens on the course. A fun way to play it is to hit well short and to the right and let you ball bounce and roll down the hill onto the putting surface. Or, you can certainly just hit a normal shot at the green. A spine divides the back half of the green in two between the right and left. The average amateur won't miss a longer par three long, but just be careful because going over the back edge can run down the hill a long way. That's what makes the option of playing short and right so much fun, and arguably smart!
#10, Par 4, 410 Yards
After finishing the front nine you are back at the clubhouse, and right behind the 10th tee is a cooler of iced towels. This was a very welcomed surprised on this sizzle Southern day. After cooling off a bit, it was time to take on the second nine. The tee shot heads toward a hill, with the green not visible from the tee. it's about 265 yards to clear the hill and get to the downslope. The green lays down the hill on land that banks from left to right. You can fly your ball all the way there, or you can even play well short and to the left and the ball will feed onto the putting surface--kind of like the par three sixth.
As I made traveled around the country on this quest to see America's greatest golf courses, I realized many things. Among them is that there are many high profile courses that most golfers have heard of. These are typically the courses that have hosted major professional golf championships or PGA Tour events. They're the courses that are mentioned on TV. Beyond those, there are a large number of resort-style courses that everyone has heard of, either because they or their buddies have visited, or because they see a full-page ad in a golf magazine. However, there are a very significant number of world class courses that completely fly below the radar. Sometimes this is by design; that is, the club just doesn't want or need any attention. Other times it might be because the course is in a remote location that the masses just don't get to. Whatever the reason be, Old Town Club is one of those under-the-radar courses.
Where it might not get the attention from the masses, in architecture circles, Old Town is very well known and relevant. Essentially, it marks the end of an era, as one of the last great golden age golf courses to be built before the beginning of World War II, at which point golf course construction took a pause for some time. The club traces its roots back to the Reynolds family, for Winston-Salem is the heart of tobacco country. This prominent family wanted to build a private golf club adjacent to their estate, which was known as "Reynolda." The family had business ties to the famous co-founder of Augusta National, Clifford Roberts, and reached out to him for advice on selecting an architect. Augusta had been famously built by Alister MacKenzie, under the watchful eye of co-designer Bobby Jones. However, when the Reynolds family needed an architect, MacKenzie was already dead. This was 1938 and MacKenzie's longtime associate, Perry Maxwell was doing work on Augusta at the time. It was after MacKenzie's death that Maxwell really came into his own and become a well-known builder of courses. Much of his time and effort was in America's heartland, and specifically Oklahoma, where he built several courses, including Southern Hills. He made his way across the border to build a few courses in Kansas as well, most notably at Prarie Dunes. However, since he was working on some tweaks at Augusta National in 1938, Clifford Roberts knew him well and would recommend his services to the Reynolds family for construction of their club. Maxwell would break ground on 12/6/38. He had been given just over 1,000 acres of land to work with and from that chose 165 acres of horse farm on which to build.
The ground that Old Town was built on is tremendous. It is naturally rolling, tumbling, and undulating. When the ground is firm and fast, as its is currently maintained, it is rollicking good fun to watch the ball roll around the grounds before finding its final resting place. Sometimes courses like these get left off the Top 100 lists because they're really fun, but also not very hard. Old Town has plenty of challenge, and has a set of tees that stretch back to 7,037 yards. Playing to a par of 70, this is plenty of length, and services has the home course for the men's and women's golf teams and neighboring Wake Forest University. Yes, players like Webb Simpson, Curtis Strange, and Lanny Wadkins cut their teeth on this track, along with one other Demon Deacon of note--Arnold Palmer! With a rating of 74.5 and slope of 140, there is enough challenge to keep the best of the best engaged.
Even though Maxwell's design, which opened in 1939 was tremendous, many courses lose their way through the year and need a little touch-up to get their life back. With this in mind, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw came in to restore Old Town in 2013. What stands today is nothing short of tremendous.
When I had the opportunity to visit, and buddy and I made a special drive after landing in Raleigh-Durham to see Old Town, before heading over to Pinehurst for a buddies weekend. We arrived at the club and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out to play. Being the end of August in Winston-Salem, this was not a cool day--in fact, it was very steamy, with a head index well into the upper 90's. With that in mind, we made the decision to grab a cart, so as not to burn ourselves out so early in this trip. Both Wake Forest Golf teams was on the grounds practicing as we were loosening up and would be heading out on the course. We were told to let them go and them follow behind them. We were slightly tempted by the back tees, watching those guys make them look so easy, but with a par of 70, the 6,637 yard Blue Tees sounded like plenty of challenge. They still played to a rating of 72.5 and slope of 134, so this would still be plenty difficult. I'll quote those yardages below:
#9 Par 4, 433 Yards
The eighth and 17th holes finish and roughly the same point, and the ninth and 18th holes begin at roughly the same point. Just like the eighth and 17th share a green, the ninth and 18th share a tee and criss-cross each other. Make sure you follow the map on the ground to ensure you're hitting to the right hole--you're hitting to the left of the trees! After you figure out where you're going, you'll realize that this is a really hard hole. It's long, uphill, and plays to a steeply sloping fairway from left to right. The right side is jail, so make sure you get out out down the left side. While it will leave a longer approach, you just can't risk being blocked on the right. The approach is really tough and needs to carry all the way to a green benched on the top of the hill.
#5, Par 4, 382 Yards
The fifth and sixth holes a small corner of the property on the easternmost edge. It includes a cool par four that plays around a hill and then a par three that plays to its edge. Most players will want to drive it right over the two bunkers on the left. From the Blue Tees, it was about a 215-yard carry to pull that off, with room out to about 290 yards until you run through the fairway.
#18, Par 4, 407 Yards
As a reminder, play to the right from the shared tee box as the left hole is the ninth, and you've already played that. The fairway feeds toward the bunkers on the left, so be careful to avoid them. From there, head up to the hill to the clubhouse, where the green lays with four bunkers around it.