I am curious to see where Black lands on Golf Digest's top 100 public courses. Currently, Red is 17th and Blue is 22nd. I think I am in the minority, but I believe that Black is the best, Blue second, and Red third. Most people, from what I heard at the resort, think that Red is the best and then people split on whether they like Blue or Black better. To me, Black is the clear winner. It felt like every hole was epic in scope and visually stunning. It was the great combination of expert design and amazing scenery. By contrast, I felt like Red is wonderfully designed, but has less for the eyes to ogle at.
It seemed like the primary criticism of Black was that it was not as "playable." Again, I disagree. I tend to think about golf course difficulty from the perspective of how many opportunities are there for you to make a huge number. Play a tight, tree-lined East Coast course, and you could quickly make an eight with a poor drive. By contrast, at Streamsong (or many of the modern courses, like Bandon), you may find a waste area off the side of the enormous fairways....but then as long as you play a smart shot, you will only lose (at most) a stroke. Yes, Black was harder than Blue or Red because there is sand everywhere, but even for a high handicapper, you can always advance a ball eighty yards into the fairway from a waste area. Try recovering from your misses at the other Black....Bethpage, and you will see what a hard golf course is.
The most notable aspect of the course, other than the immense sand, are the huge greens. I am not sure what the stats are, but they are pretty insane. I am pretty sure I heard someone say that the Black greens are double the size of the greens of the other courses. Not sure if that is true, but it certainly was close. You may find yourself hitting 18 greens, but still three putting every single green. Not only are they enormous, but full of undulation. It makes for a fun, but frustrating day--feel like you are putting for par on every hole, but make a bogey half the time.
This was the second original Hanse I have played and I loved both. Also, by all accounts, his work on Aronimink, which is one of my favorites, brought the course to a different level. Quite excited to play some of his others, including Applebrook later this year.
I have to note, though, that the pace of play on the course was unacceptably slow. It was in fact the slowest round of golf I have ever played--exactly six hours. If I want to play a six hour round of golf, I can stay and play a public course in the five boroughs of New York City. I am not sure what the answer is for a resort to ensure this does not happen, but Streamsong has to find one. I am hard-pressed to recommend someone to go down there if the norm is a six hour round. And the situation is particularly unfortunate because it seemed like there was one group (that had 3-4 foursomes) that was slowing the entire course down. Again, I don't know what management should do, but this is not a problem at most courses. Bandon was a breeze. Even Pebble Beach--the most bucket list course in America where everyone takes a million pictures--takes around five hours. There is no reason Streamsong can't make it work like those places.
With that said, I cannot recommend the course more highly. If I went back and had six rounds to play (two per day for three days because the replay round is 50% off), I would probably do 3 on Black, 2 on Blue, and 1 on Red.
Before getting to the course, the clubhouse is pretty awesome.
Now, onto the holes.
1st--508 yard par five.
The first is a friendly opener. Super wide fairway and short. Like most holes on the course, the green is huge.
Approach to the first.
Not the best picture, but the green complex at the first.
2nd--326 yard par four.
First time the iconic weather vane comes into view on this easy second hole. Goal here is to hit the fairway and leave yourself a comfortable club. A 200 yard club off the tee would be just fine. It is really the approach to the green where trouble lurks. Though only a wedge in, if you miss, you may find yourself in a mammoth bunker.
Approach to second.
Behind the second green--feels like the sky goes on forever here.
3rd--423 yard par four.
I am not a huge fan of this hole. Because it was playing into the wind, all three of us hit lay-up shots to avoid the marsh in front of the green. This amounted to the hole playing driver, wedge, wedge. Not how par fours should be played. Felt like David Toms when he stole the PGA Championship from Phil Mickelson.
Third tee with weather vane in the background.
Approach to third. Difficult to see here, but the marsh ends immediately before where that patch of sand in the middle of the photo begins.
4th--581 yard par five.
This hole is a beast and difficult to play on your first time with no guidance. From the tee, the fairway looks split with two routes open to the player. However, I think the only viable route is to the lower right fairway. I am not sure it is possible for anyone but Dustin Johnson to go to the upper fairway. Then, once on the lower fairway, your second shot has to take you to that upper fairway. The trick here is how much to cut off of the waste area that is separating the two fairways. The further right you go, the closer to the green you will get, but the longer the carry. I hit my shot well, but simply had the wrong yardage and fell 20 yards short of carrying. Make sure you have the right information on this hole.
View from your second shot. The green is about 30 yards to the right of the cart in the distance. The trick is to take a line that is as close to the green as possible, but that requires a longer carry. Ultimately, this is one of the few holes where you can make a big number. Play it safe and don't try to bite off too much.
Approach to four from approximately 60 yards out.
5th-177 yard par three.
This is one of the most visually intimidating holes you will ever play. 177 yards uphill with a steep bunker in front. I am not sure you can really call it a bunker because it is just an expanse of sand. In any event, you do not want to be there.
Approach to five.
Not the situation you want to find yourself in.
Just how steep that face is.
6th-321 yard par four.
Was not in love with this hole. Must say, generally not a fan of par fours that are "drivable," but, in reality, 95% of golfers cannot drive a 320 yard hole (and, if you can, then you should be playing this hole from the tips where it is 342 yards). I love short par fours, but 300-320 yard par fours simply slow down play. Most people will wait for the green to clear, which is not the dumbest idea because, yes, if you catch it and also get some great roll, you might run it up to that green 1 out of 20 times. But, on those 19 times you do not hit the green, you have slowed the course down. Par fours should either be truly drivable--like 310 from the tips or 280 from the next set of tees--or short par fours that are 350. If this was a 350 yard hole, it would still be a fun hole for most amateur golfers, but most would still tee off while the group in front of them is on the green.
7th-158 yard par three.
Fun little par three here. One of those par threes that is short, but penalizes a missed green. The green is surrounded by bunkers and a steep collection area on the left. Our playing partner went from the collection area, to the bunker on the other side of the green, and then back to the collection area.
Collection area to the left of seven green.
8th-408 yard par four.
Really enjoyed this hole. Dogleg right par four. Aim at the bunkers in the distance and then leave yourself with an approach to the green that allows for a lot of options (including a bump-and-run).
Approach to eight.
9th-408 yard far four.
Quite the unique and fun hole here. Looks fairly innocuous from the tee. The approach is blind--you know you have to hit it over the hill immediately before the green, but we did not know what would be waiting for us when we climbed over that hill. An enormous punchbowl green full of undulation. Between the three of us, there were a fair number of fun putts and chips.
Approach to nine. Go just a bit left of the weather vane.
10th-524 yard par five.
The tenth requires precise distance--there is threat of sand on each shot if you are too long or too short. Really a lily pad hopping hole.
Approach to ten. If you look to the left, your approach (if you are not going for the green) will have to be the precise distance between the two sand areas.
11th--395 yard par four.
Well designed hole here. Dogleg left par four to an elevated green with a large bunker protecting the front left of the green.
Approach to eleven.
Clubhouse behind the eleventh green.
12th-531 yard par five.
Another par five just full of epic sand dunes.
Second shot on twelve.
The scary, short approach you will have for your third into twelve.
13th--409 yard par four.
This hole plays to alternate greens. We played to the left green, which is about 10 yards shorter than the right green. Unfortunately, I do not have the best pictures from this hole.
Fairway bunkers on 13.
Right green on thirteen.
14th-286 yard par four.
This is a crazy hole. Unlike what I said above about drivable par fours, this one actually is drivable, but that is made up for with the insanity of the green, which has crazy undulations and many tiers. Even if you hit your drive right next to the green, you may very well walk away with a bogey. I guess I was too busy butchering the hole, though, to get a good photo of the green.
Fourteenth hole from the fairway.
15th-131 yard par three.
Great little par three here with a wide narrow green. Again, short, but if you miss the green, you will have quite a tough shot.
16th-442 yard par four.
Fantastic hole. The tee shot doglegs right, then the approach is straight away over a big waste area with a bail out area to the left. But, if you go left, then you will have to navigate a difficult hill protecting the left of the green. The green complex is really noteworthy. I hit my approach to the left edge of the green (about twenty yards to the left of the pin). Hit it perfectly and it caught the slope of the green and filtered back towards the pin to leave a twenty foot putt.
My lie on my second to sixteen. Perfectly sitting up on a tee of sand between footprints.
Approach to sixteen.
17th-189 yard par three.
This was one of my favorite holes on the course and reminded me a lot of the 15th at Chambers Bay. Downhill over a large waste area. Again, the green has a severe slope on it from left to right, so aim at the left part of the green and let it feed back.
18th-530 yard par five.
Fantastic closing hole. Lots of places to get in trouble with your drive--sand on the left and marsh on the right. But it is really the approach over a deep gorge to a green backdropped by a huge dune that defines the hole.
Looking backwards down 18 over the gorge that protects the front of the green.
Again, looking backwards up eighteen. You need not carry the gorge and can, instead, play to the left. This photo shows how steep the slope is that runs down the fairway.
Quite the course. The closing stretch of holes is particularly fantastic--starting with the drivable 14th, every hole thereafter is a strong hole. I wouldn't be surprised if some people thought 17 and 18 were their favorite holes on the course. Then throw in the par three fifth with the steep bunker in front and the punchbowl ninth, the course is full of holes you will never forget.
I imagine I will be back and can't wait to have another shot at it.