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Pine Valley's Mythic Moment

The history of golf architecture can be viewed, at least in part, through twin lenses: strategic and penal. If the bumps and hollows of the Old Course embody the strategic ideal, and Oakmont's merciless hazards represent the apex of the penal, then Pine Valley manages to square the circle, with glorious results—and nowhere more so than on the thirteenth. Here the player must choose between blasting his second shot down the left side over 190 yards of snarling scrubland or playing safely to the right.

Later, Smyers recalled an insight from one of the game's greats: "Jack Nicklaus once told me that the toughest discipline in golf is to shoot away from your target. He was referring to the Road Hole at St. Andrews, but I think it also applies to the thirteenth at Pine Valley, because it lures you into going right at it [on your second shot]. But if you have a hanging lie or your angle's not absolutely right, you can hit it left and make a huge number. It is true risk-reward." (On this day, a mediocre drive forced Smyers to bail out to the right. In taking the "chicken route," as he put it, he would fail to secure his par.)

The very next hole, however, tilts the scale decisively toward the penal. Measured at 225 yards, the fourteenth is a par three playing downhill to a green surrounded by sand and water, and the foursome to a man cited the tee shot here as one of Pine Valley's most harrowing moments. Intimidation, of course, has been a critical strand of the course's DNA from the beginning, and this has hardly been lessened in the Pro V1 era—the club has added several new back tees in recent years, including one on fourteen. In certain places, however, the added length goes well beyond preserving shot values and introduces new dimensions of terror. On playing fourteen from its highest tee, Smyers said: "It's such an unsupported shot. The green is just floating out there."

Considering the hole in stroke play, McGimpsey shuddered. "There's always a crosswind there. You think, 'My God, what am I going to do?'"

"There's no margin for error," said Kuehne. "You step up on the tee box and find out whether you're a man or not."

By the time the group had made the turn, another aspect of Pine Valley's greatness had become evident: The course does not favor any one type of player. It allows skilled golfers to play to their various strengths. Buddy Marucci, deadly accurate if not long, might view it as a second-shot course. "It's pretty generous off the tee even though it doesn't appear so," he said, "and from that point forward it gets to be really strategic, because the greens are extremely demanding."

But a bomber like Kuehne, capable of unleashing shots with the force of a Tour player in his prime (he recently qualified for the U.S. Open at Oakmont), sees the course in a different light. "The most difficult part about Pine Valley is getting it off the tee. Once you've done that [successfully], a lot of holes, depending on where the hole location is, become birdie holes." And Smyers, perhaps informed by his career in architecture, places a high degree of importance on heady, strategic play based on constant awareness of the environment—"trusting your senses" and selecting shots based on the wind, the firmness of the turf and the type of lie at hand.


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