Thursday, January 21, 2010

Recession at Secession

Teed it up four times at Secession Golf Club with my friend Dave Silk and some of his friends for the Inaugural Recession at Secession. While some of the participants went home with fatter wallets, and others with decidedly thinner ones, I was able through a combination of no skill and blind luck to come away just about even.

Secession is an interesting layout with an odd history. Pete Dye routed the golf course and was going to be there for the build but a nearly year-long delay in the construction start date resulted in Dye focusing on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island while his son P.B. headed up the Secession project. When the club became unsatisfied with the way the project was progressing, P.B. was let go and European touring pro and golf course architect Bruce Devlin was brought in to finish the job.

You can still easily detect the Pete Dye routing as many holes call for thought and reward players for successfully challenging hazards while also penalizing those who play boldly but fail. At the same time, there are always safe routes for the shorter hitters and less talented players to utilize.

The ninth is a wonderful par-5 that calls for two precise shots to open up the green on the approach. The 18th bears an obvious resemblance to Dye's 18th at TPC Sawgrass and Bulle Rock. (In the accompanying aerial, the ninth green is just to the lower left of the clubhouse. The 18th green and putting green are just below the clubhouse. The 18th is also in the rainbow photo, which I took after a quick rainstorm.)

The seventh, which we played at 382 yards, has the bones of a wonderful Peek-a-Boo Hole. (In the aerial it is on the far left of the photo running bottom to top.) By placing a drive close to the water on the right, the green is visible for the approach. Going left off the tee results in an obstructed view of the green and a much more difficult second.While a good hole, the seventh also illustrates the downside of much of the golf course. Usually, on this hole design, a group of mounds just short and off to one side of the green serves as a visual and playing obstruction for those opting for the safe path. The mounds at Secession are a bit tame for my taste, but still serve the purpose. What takes away from the architecture, however, is a tree placed along the left side of the fairway, just in the rough line. Why it's there, I have no idea. It only affects those playing longer clubs into the green from the left side. Without it, golfers would still have to produce a crack shot that at once clears the hummocks and still stays on the green. No easy task.

Here, like on many other holes, the putting surface is backed with unnecessary mounding that serves no purpose other than to give depth perception from the fairway and, presumably, prevent long shots from going astray. A Punchbowl green would have better served the purpose.

Mounding is a negative at Secession, which is routed amidst tidal marshes. Rather than utilize the long views that nature provided to create infinite backdrops, Devlin chose to prop up the back of many greens and line fairways with incongruous mounding. The result is that players feel more comfortable over their shots since they have depth perception and backstops, the absolute opposite of what Seth Raynor - a major influence on Pete Dye - achieved at the Fishers Island Club. There, Raynor used the views of the ocean to confound players as to the yardage. Shots often appear longer or shorter thanks to the visual deception. Raynor also rarely gave players targets or aiming points preferring for them to acquire the necessary knowledge as they repeatedly played the course. At Secession, Devlin created target bunkers or left clusters of three palmetto trees to serve as aiming points. They very often detract from the overall feel of the course.

As for the club itself, Secession is first rate. There it is all about golf -- no tennis courts or swimming pool. If you are looking for some competition other than golf, I suggest challenging director of golf Mike Harmon to a game of table hockey, just don't plan on winning, or even putting up much of a fight. He annihilated three guys in my group and never came close to breaking a sweat.

Members and their guests can stay in the small modest rooms on the second floor of the clubhouse or in various cottages that are within easy access of the course. Even if you don't stay upstairs, make sure to check out the collection of golf photos that line the stairwells. They were presented to the club by members and are of holes from other courses at which they belong.

The restaurant/lounge area is low key. The food is good and the service is wonderful.

I have no idea if I'll be invited back to the second Recession at Secession, but I'm glad I can say I experienced Secession Golf Club.

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