I looked forward to playing Bully Pulpit for many reasons, having read about it after it opened, knowing it was located in a beautiful setting, reading favorable reviews, as well as being designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan whose courses I usually admire.
Yet I was disappointed in the course. Some of that could be due to three holes being closed, which when looking at them as only dirt as I went by on my cart looked to be one very good hole and two “better” holes. These three holes were replaced by a couple of par 3’s and a par 5. The routing was changed as well with holes 1-3 and 13-18 being the same while others holes were interchanged with three new holes and others shortened (4-5 became 6-7 and 8-11 became 9-12). The result was that the normal par from the black tees fell from over 7400 yards to 6421 yards. I played mainly the presented Black tees and moved to the Gold tees where the long forced carries combined with high winds meant a tee shot would only be lost.
In the main, I thought the course to be too difficult as well as often good holes being lessened by poor design flaws or poor land. The par 3’s often have limited green surrounds. Balls hit to the wrong side or too long will quickly go into tall grass where one would be fortunate to find the ball. If found, the chance of recovery is less than 10%. Many of the par 4’s have long forced carries which are overly difficult both when the winds are high (they were for me) as well as playing out of a long chute of trees. Sometimes one is also playing to a sloped fairway that can be too narrow.
The green surfaces are not overly done except for a view where the slant of the hole is too severe. Overall, the greens are a disappointment.
I did not care for the famous holes of 14-16. These are the holes built on the most scenic and highest points of the course. Two of them have poorly designed greens, overly tilted fairways, and penalty areas too close to the fairway. There is an all-or-nothing aspect to all three holes. Sometimes holes should not be built simply for the view. I disliked these three holes probably more than any other three consecutive holes I have ever played.
I do not think the “new routing” influenced my assessment of the course as I tried to assess the holes as objectively as I could. I will only comment on the holes that I think are consistent to their location on the previous routing, although perhaps the routing is being changed.
1. Par 4 - 466/435 – this hole begins with a wide fairway that looks even wider due to the practice area to the left. There is a single early bunker left off the tee followed by two bunkers fronting the green with the one of the right placed 20 yards short. The ground is flat for the hole and the green is large but also somewhat flat. It is a boring hole.
2. Par 4 – 400/363. The hole has a collection area of early bunkers placed just after the start of the fairway. The hole angles to the left with a bunker well up on the left. The final bunkers are at the green on the front right and left middle. There is a tree that hangs over the bunker on the left. The hole is basically flat and the tee shot from the black tees has a forced carry of probably 190 yards from a narrow chute over taller grass. It is an average hole.
3. Par 4 – 433/411. This is a sharp dogleg right with the tee relocated more to the left. As I went down the right side I did not notice anything going on in the fairway. There is tall grass and scattered trees down the right side. The green has no bunkers and has a higher back left. It is a nice hole.
4. Par 5 – 571/532. This hole plays along the Little Missouri River to the left out of a narrow chute of trees with a long forced carry. Near the end of the forced carry is a high mound on the right with tall grass where the White and Red tees are. There are flanking bunkers up the fairway about 160 yards from the green. The green is thin with a small front bunker and another on the right. The green has various high points and lower swales in it. The tall grass begins quickly if one is long over the green or to the left of the green. There really is very little room for recovery. I thought the hole to be a bit unfair off the tee and in the green surround but I did like the shape of it.
5. Par 3 – 195/185. The green is narrow at the front and again there really is little room from the green to the tall grass and trees. The safe play is to be short of the green. This hole should either be shortened by ten yards or allow 10 more yards on the left and rear for a chance at recovery whether than searching for a ball.
6. New hole
7. New hole
8. Par 3 – 195/170. The tee is now elevated enough to grasp the nearness of the danger that comes from the left side too close to the green. This danger is in the form of a deep stream, often dry, but with broken, uneven ground and tall grass. I did not know it was there. There is a bunker on the right side. The trees and tall grass once again start quickly behind the green. Basically there are two sides to this green where one likely will lose a ball. I thought the hole asked too much for perfection.
9. Par 4 - 463/433. This hole has a long forced carry from the back tee playing through a chute of trees. The hole is heavily tree lined on both sides with fairway bunkers down the right side. A tree comes into play about 100 yards from the green on the right. There is a single front bunker. The green is flat. I felt the hole was too suffocating off the tee.
10. Par 4 – 448/397. Playing from an elevated tee, this is a sharp dogleg right with a collection of four bunkers on raised mounds down the right side. I do not know if bigger hitters can carry these bunkers from the back tee as the wind was strong pushing a ball left. There is a long forced carry from the back tee to even reach the fairway which starts at the first bunker while the final bunker angles into the fairway about 40 yards after the start. I moved up to the gold tee. The fairway widens after the tee shot with a final bunker short left of the green. The green is somewhat flat with subtle movement. It is a dramatic tee shot but then not much after that.
11. Not in play
12. Par 3 – 203. The tee was moved up to perhaps 120 yards and with the wind behind the green was too large for the length of that tee shot. The green is somewhat flat. I looked at the back tee and saw nothing interesting here.
13. Par 4 – 318/291. Once again one plays through a narrow chute of trees with a forced carry of about 200 yards to what appears to be no fairway since the left side cannot really be seen off the tee. The green is slightly higher and has a large depression in the front middle where balls will gather. The backdrop to the hole is beautiful with a tall, colorful stone hill on display. It is a fun hole but it should be opened up by removing trees on the left side by adding another 20 yards of sight.
14. Par 4 – 404/395. You climb up a tall mountain to find the fairway well below you, perhaps 120 feet of a drop. The wind was howling in my face so strong that I actually moved up two sets of tees to 323 yards. From the two back tees the fairway is a sliver and has a required carry of perhaps 210 yards but longer due to the wind. The fairway is also tilted strongly left to right where tall grass and trees await off the right side. Basically one has to be able to pound a ball 250 yards minimum off the tee to a landing zone of maybe seven yards in order to avoid a ball kicking to the right and being lost. There are no bunkers on this number one index. Due to the strength of the wind I still had 170 yards to the green which is elevated with a substantial fall-off if short. I laid up in front of this green angled to the left. Once on the green it is steeply banked back to front and left to right. I did not understand why they did not do a better job of shaping the green to make it more level. The tee shot demands too much as well as the green. As I walked to my cart, I could only think about how only a masochist could like this hole.
15. Par 3 – 161/153. From the Blue/White tees one can see all of the green as these tees are to the left of the two back tees. From the Black and Gold tees they see about 40% of the left side. The green is downhill and plays below a substantial rock formation. If one hits short of the green the ball is lost as it will be in an environmentally protected area or stay in the rocks. To the left of the green is a long bunker set 15-20 feet below the green (I decided not to walk down to have a look). This long bunker is designed to catch balls hit to the left. This leads to a blind recovery shot. If one misses right of the green they likely hit the cart path and end up in another environmentally protected area. The rear of the green also falls away to another protected area. The view from the tee is stunning as it is miles long of interesting rock formations and hills. Overall this is an all-or-nothing shot from the tee. I aimed 30 yards right of the flag due to the strength of the wind and was fortunate to find my ball two feet off the back. While this is a dramatic view and tee shot, it is not golf.
16. Par 4 – 451/421. This hole plays sharply downhill even more than the fourteenth. However, this time there is a wide fairway. But because the fairway tilts to the left, one should favor the right side. If one goes too far right they will likely have a lost ball due to the tall, thick grass. The worst part of this hole is the green which has a single sliver of a bunker on the front left but sits well above the fairway, even 10-15 feet for a pitch from 60 yards. The green is very narrow at the front and even too narrow at the rear even though it widens. The green slants sharply right to left consistent with the land. I had a putt of 15 feet above the pin, barely touch the putt and it nearly went off the green. This is one of the worst shaped greens I have played for the length of the hole and the position of the green. The word that came to mind was “stupid.”
17. Par 5 – 503/478. From another elevated tee with a forced carry of perhaps 180 yards, there are two fairways here because there is a large, both long and wide, bunker complex in the middle of the fairway. This bunker complex is about 30 yards wide and 70 yards long. Go left and one is safe but blocked by the trees in terms of trying to go for the green. Go right and one has a slight chance of going for the green. However, the green is placed off to the left and becomes a sharp dogleg. There is a large central bunker about 75 yards short of the green. The green is very tiny and sits with no room around it as a rock wall begins immediately behind it with trees on the sides. It is another silly green given its size and lack of any recovery. Granted, most players are going to have 60-100 yards for their third. But if one is trying to protect against birdie/par, then simply shorten the hole.
18. Par 4 – 406/374. From the Black tee one plays through perhaps the narrowest chute of trees on the course with a forced carry of perhaps 190 yards. There are three fairway bunkers down the left side. As the fairway turns to the right, trees are allowed to come in from the right as well as another bunker. I did not understand the point of this given the green is already difficult to access. The green is placed on a hill about 20 feet high with two fronting bunkers built into the hill. The green is somewhat thin on the left side where again there is perhaps five yards of relief before the tall grass and trees begin. It represents a final chance to lose another ball. This hole has a dramatic ending with the elevated green and fronting bunkers, so it does not need all of the difficulty that comes from the tee shot and the tree and bunker on the right. It also needs more room around the right and back of the green.
Bully Pulpit has stunning scenery but is contrived to be overly difficult. The scorecard I had, showing the yardage of 6421 yards including at least two easy substitute par 3’s still showed an index of 75.4 from the Black tees. That would likely qualify it as one of the hardest “short” courses in the USA. As presented with very poor green surrounds where the tall grasses begin too quickly, as well as holes that require too much off the tee or in the approach shots to the greens, this translates to a course that becomes a grind despite the sometimes gorgeous scenery. While others praise 14-16, I walked away wishing this were a part of a trail from the nearby park rather than golf holes. Overall I found myself aggravated by the course rather than finding interest in it.
Date: June 11, 2021