The stories about this place are almost as interesting as the golf course, and that is not a knock on the golf course, but rather a testament to how great the stories are! Let's start with the name--The Concession. The United States had won the Ryder Cup in 1967. So, in 1969 at Royal Birkdale, the US would retain the cup with a tie. On the final hole of the final match, Jack Nicklaus conceded a short par putt to Tony Jacklin, which resulted in halving the hole, halving the match, and halving the cup. In other words, if Jacklin missed the putt, Nicklaus would have won the hole, won the match, and the US would have outscored the European team in the 1969 Ryder Cup, instead of it being a tie. The US nonetheless retained the Cup because, in the event of a tie, the Ryder Cup stays with the defending champion. Just shy of forty years later, Nicklaus and Jacklin got together and designed a golf course in Bradenton, Florida and named it The Concession.
Now the second story dovetails nicely into a primary takeaway from the course--this sucker is tough. I played with a four handicap who caddies at another course in the area. He said that he will routinely go out on that other course in the morning and shoot 75 and then come out here and invariably shoot an 85. The true difficulty does not come from what you may expect from Florida golf--a half-dozen penalty strokes from water hazards. Rather, the green complexes are wild. The greens themselves have multiple sections and hitting the wrong section will often guarantee a three putt. Many of the greens are also perched atop crowns and if you come up short/go long/or are a little left or right, your ball will run 20 yards down a 30 foot hill. Like I have said in previous posts, a ping pong match with yourself becomes a possibility. In fact, the greens were so difficult, they have flattened a few of them over the decade or so since the club opened. That leads me to the story.
The eighth hole is short--374 yards from the tips or 322 from the average person's tees. A creek runs directly in front of the green. Behind the green is a large bunker. An aerial of the hole is shown below.
A college tournament was held here and the pin was in the front of the green closest to the creek (where it was when I played as well). Players who found the bunker attempted to hit a typical shot from the sand towards the pin, but, invariably, could not hold the green and the ball would roll into the water. At some point, the players gave up and simply started hitting the bunker shot back over the creek to the fairway and hitting their fourth back over the creek towards the green. It is unclear to me when it was brought to Nicklaus' attention that this was an impossible shot--it may have been at the tournament itself or shortly thereafter. Having heard of the shot's impossibility, he proceeded to drop two balls in the bunker. He holed the first shot and put the second to a few feet. It goes without saying that I was quite pleased with my par on this hole (though I did not find the sand).
I played surprisingly well here for how difficult the course is and I attribute part of that to having grown up on a Nicklaus course. After having played so many great golf courses, I realize how much I took for granted my home course. Not only were most of the holes well designed (I would say there are only three or four throwaway holes on that course), but it was also a challenge. Those 30 yard pitches up steep hills that I mentioned above that were abound at Concession, they also existed at my home club in spades. I can think of five holes from my home course where a typical miss would leave you with such a shot. It's the first time I ever felt prepared for a course because I was familiar with another one of the designer's courses. That being said, I shot well on the front, but got destroyed on the back.
Other than its difficulty, the main thing I will remember from The Concession is just how beautiful of a walk it is. Peaceful with ample room between holes. Often you do not see other holes, but, when you do, you are not right on top of the other hole. Rather, the other hole is visible across a lake or a marsh, which makes it more like being a spectator than feeling like you are sharing the course with others. The landscape is also stunning. Old growth trees are everywhere and the mixture of marsh and water makes for some diverse holes. I have never taken so many pictures of trees in my life.
Now, onto the individual holes.
The first eases you into things. A mid-length, dogleg left par four. The trick to this hole is hitting your drive long enough to clear the fairway bunker protecting the dogleg, but not too far to run into the bunkers on the opposite side of the fairway. As with most of these greens, this one is tricky and multi-tiered. That will be a given for just about every hole, so get used to it.
Shot from just off the first tee.
Approach to first.
2nd-398 yard par four.
Spray your drive to the right and you will find the pond. Then your approach is to a green that is severely canted from back to front.
Approach to second.
3rd-505 yard par five.
The par five third is the first with a truly crazy green complex. Your eyes might light up to see a 505 yard par five on the scorecard, but you could have a huge score here.
Approach to third.
Left of the third green. You can see the sharp runoff to the left of the green.
Third green. As you can see, there are three distinct portions to this green.
4th-190 yard par three.
Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of this one. It is a solid par three over marsh to another nutzo green. I hit my tee shot to the back of the green and had quite the slippery putt back down the hill to the front pin location.
5th--384 yard par four.
Love this hole. If you were Dustin Johnson, you would just go for the green (like he did on a similar hole in sudden death in the 2017 Northern Trust). For the rest of us, you have to choose how much of the water you want to cut off. The more you cut, the shorter the hole gets. Even if you choose to bail out right, there are big bunkers over there, which will make an already tough second that much harder.
Tee shot on five. Really wish that pipe was not in the middle of the frame.
Approach to five.
Water left and this to the right, so even your safe shot is not all that safe.
6th-164 yard par three.
The sixth is a tough hole because of how narrow the green is, especially with the big bunker in front. Thought this hole was particularly beautiful. Felt tucked away in the corner of the property with the green surrounded by some beautiful trees.
7th-537 yard par five.
Likely my favorite hole on the course. The tee shot is a strong dogleg left. If you are a long hitter, you can take your second straight over the marsh and go for the green. If not, you can go out right and play it as a typical three shot hole. There is a pesky tree that sits right in front of the marsh in the middle of the fairway. I imagine that serves as an annoyance to many members over the course of a season.
Tee shot on seven.
Approach to seven. Out to the right you can see the other section of the fairway if you are laying up.
Another canted green at seven.
8th-322 yard par four.
This is the hole I spoke about above regarding Nicklaus hitting the bunker shots. The tee shot is a dogleg right where the ideal shot is about 200 yards, which would leave you a comfortable wedge into this difficult green complex.
Approach to eight.
Path over creek at eight.
9th-386 yard par four.
This was one of the less interesting holes on the course. Whack your drive over/just left of the tree. Then, be careful with your 130-140 yard shot into the green because of a tough green and a collection area over the back.
Approach to nine.
Greenside bunker on nine.
10th-345 yard par four.
Another fun tee shot with water all up the right. The green, which has a heck of a hump on the left side, is backdropped by some beautiful trees.
Approach to ten.
Standing on ten fairway looking over to eighteen green. This is an example of being able to see other parts of the course, but still feeling separated.
Greenside bunkers on ten.
11th-175 yard par three.
Not a huge fan of this hole, but a fan of my score. Hit my tee shot over the back and was faced with a scary chip due to the strong, back-to-front tilt of the green. The chip went 20 feet over the front. Gave up on chipping and holed a 50 foot putt from about 20 feet off the green. Par!
Eleventh green as seen from twelfth tee.
Another example of these awesome trees.
12th--301 yard par four.
A running theme of this course is that short holes that you may think would be easy are in fact not easy at all. Here, a minefield of bunkers litters your landing area for the drive. Then, no matter whether you hit it 200 or 270, you will be left with a difficult pitch in with bunkers protecting the front of a very complex green.
Approach to twelve.
13th-503 yard par five.
One of the most memorable holes on the course. The tee shot is challenging with water up the left and large bunkers on the right. If you can kick that field goal, the smart play is to layup short of the green because of the intense bunkering short and the most severe green complex on the course. The left side of the green runs off to the deepest collection area on the course. If you find yourself down there, you are pitching back up a 30 foot hill to a narrow green with bunkers on the opposite side. I tried the shot twice just for fun. Once, it rolled back to my feet. The second time, I hit a nice looking shot, but it went over into the bunkers. If you do go down to the left, you either have to hit a perfect flop shot up to the green or a precise bump and run into the severe hill.
Third into thirteen.
Collection area to the left of thirteen green.
14th-166 yard par three.
Little par three here with a crowned green. Come up short and you will find yourself with another tough chip up to the hole.
Left of fourteen green.
15th-363 yard par four.
Tee shot over water to a large fairway with bunkers on the left. A recurring theme appears again here--the green runs off to the right, but the left, where you may try to err on the side of caution, is protected by bunkers.
Looking back towards the fifteenth tee.
Approach to fifteen.
16th-398 yard par four.
Another one of my favorites and quite similar to the fifth hole. The more you go at the green, the more you cut off on the distance, but the more water you have to carry.
Sixteenth tee. Safest play is out towards the bunkers on the right side of this picture.
Approach to sixteen.
17th-554 yard par five.
The tee shot here is rough because of the well placed bunker that narrows the fairway. With water up the left, you want to err right, but the bunker prevents that. This is really a strategic, three shot hole--a tee shot to the middle, a fairway wood out right, and then a short iron into a tough green.
Seventeenth hole from above.
Approach to seventeen if you do the tee shot correctly.
Approach to seventeen if you don't do the tee shot correctly.
Humps and bumps that you will have to navigate on your approach.
Greenside bunker on seventeen.
18th-410 yard par four.
A lovely finisher. Go too far right with your tee ball and you will find the water that lies between the eighteenth and tenth fairways. It is a fairly long hole, so you will likely have a mid-iron into this final green that is protected by bunkers in the front.
Approach to eighteen.
In short, a heck of a course. It is one of the few courses where I feel like the par fives are among its best holes--here, particularly the seventh, thirteenth, and seventeenth. Its par threes, however, do not really standout. This is a bit unusual because I feel like par threes are often the most fun and most amenable to taking advantage of scenery. But, as a change of pace, it is nice to play a course where its long holes are the stars. The course is really an all-star because it combines a lot of elements--water, trees, bunkers, and fun green complexes--into a masterpiece. No single one of these elements alone defines the course, but Nicklaus and Jacklin did an outstanding job of combining all of them to create an outstanding golf course. I hope to return one day and get another shot at the back nine that ate me alive.