The late Mike Strantz designed some fascinating golf courses before he passed away at an early age. Many of his courses are heavily debated such as Tobacco Road outside of Pinehurst. “Do you like it?” “Why don’t you like it?” “Why didn’t you like that hole?” “I loved that hole, did you?” “What did you think of that dead tree popping into the edge of the fairway?” “Why did he use so much scrub inside of the bunkers? “ “Why was that green perched high and hidden while being so small?”
If those questions are what an architect strives for, then Mr. Strantz succeeded. Fifty years from now we might be questioning the brilliance of the “minimalist” movement with very wide fairways, no trees, no real rough, large greens and undulating greens as either too easy or lacking in strategy. Courses such as Bulls Bay will not be questioned in fifty years because they are questioned now. I would stress, however, that his golf courses will stand the test of time, unless golf technology continues to make existing defenses irrelevant in the future such as what has happened to many courses lacking in length such as Maidstone.
Bulls Bay plays at 7246/6740/6283. It does not have a combo tee although it should. It does have five tees in total.
As mentioned in the overview and the two previous reviews, Mr. Strantz moved a lot of earth to create this golf course. Whether the clubhouse sits 60 feet high or 80 feet high, it does not matter. It sits as the highest point in Charleston County and affords a tremendous view over the property and golf course. This manufactured hill was not created solely for the wonderful view, it is also to provide many holes with elevated tee shots, tiered greens, and steep uphill approach shots.
I read the comment about nine and eighteen being similar holes but I did not get a similar feeling. Nine is 366/355 and a slight dogleg left while eighteen is 454/420/395 and a sharp dogleg left. Nine has grasses along the sides of its fairways as its primary defense for the tee shot while eighteen has bunkers down the entire left side of the fairway. Finally, the green on nine is sloped back to front for its entirety while eighteen has a fall-off at the front but is not as steeply sloped back to front. I hit a 6 iron onto nine while my 3 hybrid could not quite account for the extra yardage from the uphill on the eighteenth.
On the day we were able to play the course twice in a cart. If I had a “complaint” about the course it would be that it is a primarily “cart” course due to having to walk up that hill three times as well as down it. There are also four long walks from green to the next tee. However, there were two singles, one with a trolley and one carrying, who did walk the course. It would be an excellent workout.
There are two other criticisms I would have regarding the course with one of them being solved by having combo tees. The fourth hole is a par 5 requiring a carry over marsh/water of about 170 yards from the silver tees (6283) and makes this par 5 only 449 yards in length. While the green is relatively narrow, in today’s world that is way too short for a par 5. The silver tees on this hole should be at the 518 tee box with the back tee remaining at 540 to this double dogleg hole.
The final critique is the twelfth, a par 3 of 170/148/130 over water to a green fronted by a bunker and then mounds, The left side of the green is either sand or water as well. It is a nice hole but as you take the long walk/drive from the eleventh green to the tee, you pass the silver/white tees for the thirteen and from the back of that tee box you look at the twelfth green and it presents a much more interesting and heroic shot. Yes, the back two sets of tees would have balls flying over anyone teeing off from there, but surely that could have been worked out for alternate play.
The front nine is varied and fun. The first hole is a long downhill par 4 with a green that can be tucked behind a big bunker on the left side and the green runs away from you. The second is a very long par 5 of 601/555/540 going around a pond in a half circle with trees blocking the left side of anyone entertaining thoughts of cutting the corner. A tee shot hit too long and straight can run through the fairway. The green has the pond on its left.
The third hole, a par 3 has alternate greens of approximately 35 yards longer/shorter.
Six is another long par 5 of 608/552/530 and has one of the better greens.
Seven is a par 3 with another pond down the left side and a green sloping right to left to provide a good line at the pin.
I did not see as many strategic decisions on the front nine as I did on the back nine which is why I slightly favored the back nine.
The long downhill tenth par 5 of 613/582/565 requires some thought about the lines you want to take for the tee shot and second shot. The eleventh presents an opportunity to get closer to the hole on a tee shot carrying more of the pond to your right. I did love the big, long, and mounded green on eleven.
Thirteen asks the question of how much of the sharp dogleg do you want to take on to get closer to the green for the third shot, or for the long hitters, how high and how far can they carry their second shot as there is water fronting this green. I chose to carry the corner of the trees with a hybrid both times leaving 80 yards the first round and 96 the second round, but both shots were off a slightly downhill lie.
Fourteen is a somewhat blind uphill par 3 to a tiered green sitting in a bit of a bowl, except it is not really a bowl as you cannot land right and have it track to the middle of the green due to a swale on the right side.
Fifteen presents an optical illusion of two trees making it appear that the entrance to the green from the fairway is very narrow. In fact, they are far apart. Yet, the better approach to this green is to get as close as you can to the water on the right side and the tree does not influence the approach shot.
Sixteen is a lovely short par 4 with a narrow, but long green sitting in a bowl.
Seventeen, a short par 3 is likely the least memorable hole on the entire golf course but it is instantly forgotten after playing the hard eighteenth.
I liked Bulls Bay. It is visually different than nearly any course you might play (except for Tobacco Road!). It has five sets of tees to test your game. You are required to use nearly every club. The greens are not overly done but have adequate slope and contouring. There are flat holes, raised holes, uphill shots, downhill shots, shots to cut doglegs, heroic shots, sensible shots, etc. It really does offer everything. All six of us who played it very much enjoyed it.
Date: November 08, 2019