As it was the Ralph Plummer-designed course where Jack Nicklaus won his first PGA Championship in 1963, it was only fitting that Dallas Athletic Club should call the Golden Bear back to redesign the Blue layout in the mid-1980s.
“The Blue retains a fair amount of Plummer’s work,” comments Daniel Wexler in The American Private Golf Club Guide, “with various strokes of Jack’s modernistic dash added, such as the water hazard (and waterfall) that fronts the 5th green, a 428-yard dogleg right and one of the layouts stronger tests. Things peak in the course’s mid section, led by the 324-yard 8th (played through a narrow gauntlet of fairway bunkers), the water-guarded 388-yard 9th, the 510-yard lake-fronted 10th, and the 371-yard 11th, where a second waterfall punctuates another Nicklaus pond.”
As I played the Blue Course at Dallas Athletic Club, there were four thoughts that came to mind.
The first thought was regarding PGA championships. The Blue course is the site of Jack Nicklaus’ first victory in a PGA championship in 1963, followed by him being asked to come back to refresh the course. My thought then went to what it might take to make the course able to host another PGA, although that is unlikely simply for the fact that the PGA of America is building two courses in nearby Frisco, one of which has already been announced as the site of two future PGA championships. As it is, the course would likely need to find another 600 yards as it is now too short for today’s game as there are no long par 4’s on the course as well as there are too many short par 5’s.
My second thought is that when golfers think of Texas they think of oil fields and wind farms on flat land. They think of high wind coming across that flat land. While that is true for much of the state particularly around Houston, Lubbock, Odessa and Midland, that is not true around Dallas-Ft Worth and Austin where there are numerous rolling hills and meaningful changes in elevation. It’s not a mountain chain, but there are hills to go along with those high winds.
The third thought was that Texas is often described as a state without a lot of good golf which many think is disappointing given the size and population of the state. However, while it might only have a handful of noteworthy courses, it does have a considerable depth to its courses. On this website, the Blue course is barely listed in the top 50 for the state and other publications would not mention it. Yet the Blue course surprised me and my partner as it is a course that offers everything one would want in a golf course from playability to challenge to strategy along with some crafty green complexes. There is a lot of land movement here and a surprising amount of water. It is a very good routing.
My final thought was to place the course in my “most under-rated” category.
The club began in 1920 founded by local businessmen as an athletic club located in downtown Dallas focused on fitness. Due to the Depression, their downtown location was not opened until May 10, 1935. As golf was growing in popularity, the club leased Glen Lakes Country Club in 1954. Due to the expansion of Dallas and the construction of the Central Expressway, the club acquired 317 acres of nearby farmland. The club built 36 holes of golf, designed by Ralph Plummer and in the late 1970’s they sold off their original location. After hosting the PGA in 1963, Jack Nicklaus was brought back in 1984 to do a remodel of the Blue, later also redesigning the Gold course as well.
Mr. Nicklaus won his second major there with the runner-up being an unknown by the name of Dave Ragan. At the time it was considered a long course at 7046 yards, which is essentially its length today, but it was also a difficult course with the winning score of -5. The scoring was influenced by temperatures reaching nearly 110 F. At age 23, Mr. Nicklaus had won the three US majors. At that time, the Open championship was held the week before the PGA where Mr. Nicklaus bogeyed the final two holes to miss a playoff at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
As I played the course I wondered how it was that Mr. Nicklaus became so accomplished at playing on hilly golf courses as he grew up playing Scioto, a flat course. Yet his first three majors were wins on hilly courses. The Blue course falls away on the very first hole, a long downhill par 5 and finishes on an uphill long par 4. As you go around the course there are not many holes that are flat, even many of the par 3’s go up and down. But these hills are never so big that one has a blind shot unless one ends up behind a tree. That was another lesson I learned from playing the Blue course: the trees in Texas do not offer forgiveness when one hits a branch. On the east coast of the USA, one can often hit a tree and find the ball has advanced some distance. In Texas, the ball usually falls straight down and most often behind the tree one has hit.
The course features excellent placement of bunkers and green surfaces that vary in their shape and size. The course calls for a number of heroic shots over water. There are holes where the downhill lies will turn a seemingly straightforward shot over the water into one that requires near perfect execution. It is a course where if you hit a tee shot out of position and think you can hit the “perfect” recovery shot, you will almost guarantee yourself to failure.
The greens are good here with a lot of internal movement. They are large when they should be and smaller when they should be. If there is a weakness in the greens, it is that there are only a few holes where there are some pin locations that are difficult to access.
The fairways are tree-lined but usually scattered. It is rare that there is a grouping of trees.
The championship tees are currently at 6830 yards, par 72, rated 73.8/140. We played the one-star tees at 6488 yards, rated 72.0/138. Our host was a young, long-hitting former state amateur champion from a state on the east coast and my playing partner was a low index player who played college golf and has competed in the Massachusetts Amateur. I like playing with longer/better players because I get to see how good players attack a golf course or when they decide to play more conservatively. I did notice a few tees further back not listed on our scorecard.
1. Par 5 – 520/510. This hole goes gently downhill for the tee shot although longer hitters will find the steeper part of the slope. There is a bunker left to be avoided as the hole bends down to the right. The second shot lands more on a downhill before flattening then rising to a green sloped back to front with a sizeable, deep front left bunker. It is a large green with substantial interior movements in multiple directions. Although longer players will think of this hole as a pushover, for regular players the green complex makes par a good score.
2. Par 4 – 412/403. This hole plays level across Long Branch Creek but then rises a bit to the green. There is a ridge/spine that runs down the right side of the fairway beginning about 120 yards out which results in a substantial sized swale on the right front of the green. The longer hitters need to avoid two bunkers on the outer corner of this dogleg right. The trees narrow the fairway at the turn. There is small bunker front right and a sizeable mound left of the green that continues around the back creating a bowl effect. The green has a definite left to right tilt and a middle tier. It is a difficult green to hit a putt close if one is out of place to the various tiers and spines in the green.
3. Par 5 – 583/523. The second par 5 on the outer nine is out of the way early on the course. As a bit of a negative, this is the third hole in a row that goes to the right with the fairway pinching again at the turn which is about 185 yards out. The right side of the fairway has one of the larger grouping of trees on the course in play for the second shot. You cannot go into these trees. The green is set below you on lower ground although with a significant fall-off to the right and rear where a ball can reach the lake behind it. There are two deep bunkers on the right side of the long, narrow green. The green has a bend in it to the left in contrast to the bend to the right approaching it which is a design element one does not see often enough. On this hole you must stay left and even for the longest hitters, it is likely a three shot hole. If one misses the green, they will struggle to save par. While I like the hole, the one criticism is opening with three straight dogleg rights. At the time the course was first built, there was likely land available to make this hole go either way, but I suspect Ralph Plummer could not resist locating this green close to the water which enabled him to also make the next hole play over the water. This hole begins a stretch of three consecutive holes where water is a consideration.
4. Par 3 – 206/175. Playing over water, the green is slightly elevated and due to the shape of it with a middle that is wider, the right side of the green in particular looks shallower than it is. There is a small central bunker at the front. While the hole does not require a carry all the way to the green to stay out of the water, there is the opportunity to make it play that way given the strong tilt in front of the green back to the water. Off to the left middle are two bunkers where a back left pin is nearly inaccessible if you go left given the green runs away to the right. The rear of the green has a fall-off. The green has very good inner movement. The par 3’s are good at the Blue course.
5. Par 4 – 408/388. The longer hitters has a decision to be made over this semi-cape hole as this hole also bends to the right. Cutting off the dogleg could leave one with as little as 50 yards to the green. However, if they hit the ball straight they could end up in the outer corner bunker or blocked by the scattered trees. For the normal length hitter, a smart play is to play over the water inside that bunker which will leave 120-165 yards in. Getting adequate length on the tee shot is important because a small pond has been added fronting the green and to the left side of the green. Anything hit short will roll into the water. This is a narrow green with a long bunker on the right between the water and green as well as the water on the left. There is a definite tier about halfway through the green which can be used as a backstop to a front pin. A ball left on the back half to a front pin will leave a speedy putt with a break to one’s left. The green bulges a bit on the back right which is also a difficult location because the water is creeping in again on the right. This is a hole that requires strategy and two excellent shots as indicated by it being the number one index.
6. Par 4 – 388/380. You climb upwards on this hole back to the clubhouse. Longer hitters can catch a sweet spot and gain another 30 yards. Our long hitter member host had 60 yards left for his second. There is a fairway bunker on the right more in play for the shorter hitters. The green is angled to the left with a middle left bunker blocking access to the back left. The right side and back of the hole has higher ground creating a semi-bowl effect to a steeply banked green for the back half, less so for the front half. The fairway is also a bit narrower than the holes previously played. Visually this is an unexciting hole compared to what has come before, but it is a good golf hole.
7. Par 3 – 192/168. I am often surprised that a difficult par 3 has a high index, in this case rated #15. This hole plays downhill which does shorten the distance but due to the size of the green from our 168 yard tee it was playing 185 into a strong breeze. The hole plays over a pond with sizeable fall-offs front and to the two sides. The green is artfully shaped with a long fronting bunker covering much of the middle, a wider right side and a very skinny left side. The green has several tiers in it and is very quick back to front. The front bunker is fairly deep and could led to a semi-blind recovery shot. This is a better par 3 than the fourth, but not by much as they are both good.
8. Par 4 – 350/322. This is probably the most fun hole on the course and a definite birdie opportunity. The hole plays slightly uphill. There are six bunkers placed well before the green, three in a cluster on the left, two on the right and one center that appears to be much closer to the green than it appears. Surrounding the green is more sand with two bunkers left for those long hitters trying to reach the green as it is a dogleg left, one on the right front and two at the rear. The front of the green is fairly thin and overall the slope is back to front. This hole suffers a bit from not having enough interesting mounding just off the green.
9. Par 4 – 387/370. You climb uphill to the clubhouse on this straight hole where another pond is in play for the second shot with the green nestled close to it. There is a single bunker on the right side. Scattered trees are a bit thicker on the left side. I did like the hole despite the green being slightly less interesting.
10. Par 5 – 507/502. This hole plays downhill and the longer hitters can catch a sweet spot and easily reach it in two. In competition, I would think this hole would be turned into a par 4. This hole offers a somewhat narrow fairway where trees pinch the fairway. The bigger danger for shorter hitters is that their approach shot could end on a downhill, side-hill slope to a green perched on a plateau behind a pond. The green is angled to the right and thin in the back half with four fronting bunkers and one at the rear. Anything coming in from the right side will need to contend with a grouping of tall trees that block two-thirds of the green. One can only go over these trees. The green is steeply banked to the left and back to front although the back left is flatter. I took a double bogey here but thought this to be the best par 5 on the Blue course.
11. Par 4 – 367/351. Water comes into play again with a tee shot over a pond created by Long Branch. This is a hard dogleg right, the sharpest on the course with the pond being both in front of you and to the right but also pinching in from the right with a narrow six feet wide opening between another pond to the left. It is a lovely, yet demanding visual over these two ponds. The tee shot must get far enough beyond several large trees on the right side of the fairway with these trees being placed between two of the three ponds. The green is elevated with a false front and two bunkers built into the wall of the right side and one on the rear of the right side creating a very shallow right half of the green. The left side of the green is larger, but still not very deep with a definite tier and hollow in it. This is the #8 index on the course yet I thought it to be more difficult than the fifth hole. While today’s raters seem to favor “natural” holes with wide fairways and limited strategy off the tee, the eleventh on the Blue course offers strategy for every shot whether in a good landing zone off the tee or blocked. I got stuck behind those trees on the right and tried to hit a short, heroic shot that failed miserably ending in the water. Yet like the tenth, I liked this hole a lot.
12. Par 4 – 350/336. Similar to the eighth, this short hole has a lot of sand with two small bunkers on the left side and a large one on the right. A creek crosses the fairway about 50 yards from the green meaning longer hitters will likely lay up as they do not gain much of an advantage from trying to carry it. The green is on a rise with two front bunkers on even higher ground making a shot coming from the right side will be to a semi-blind green. It is a good green here with breaks running in all directions. I think they should add a tee on the other side of a pond behind the current tee which would add seventy yards to the hole.
13. Par 5 – 529/505. I felt this to be the weakest par 5 on the course but it is a nice hole beginning with a slightly elevated tee with four bunkers on the right side on a rise creating a dogleg left unless one can carry these bunkers. Longer hitters can carry them. The hole bends back to the right yet the green is placed off to the left creating essentially a triple dogleg hole. The left side of the fairway has a lot of trees and both sides of the fairway have a ridge line to the green. There is a single bunker about 30 yards set well off to the right while the green is angled right to left with a central front bunker and two on the left. When I looked back from the green at the hole I thought it might be cool if the ridges on both sides of the fairway were raised to create even more of a tunnel-like effect.
14. Par 3 – 176/161.The Long Branch creek comes into play again on the right side of the green although a bunker separates it from the green. The left middle of the green also has another bunker. The green is wide at the front but shallow at the rear and tilted towards the water. This is a nice par 3 although not quite at the same level as the two on the outer nine.
15. Par 4 – 393/284. This hole bends left but one needs to favor the right side of the fairway to avoid a long bunker on the left side. A longer hitter can carry a rise with the hole going downhill for a favorable additional roll-out. The hole then goes back uphill to the green which has a large, round central bunker at the front and fall-offs to the left side and a false front. I liked this hole.
16. Par 3 – 191/174. The final par 3 involved another forced carry over water. Some will critique the course for having water on all of the par 4’s with forced carries over three of them. This hole plays downhill with a green angled to the right and a back right and back side bunker. The green is sharply tilted back to front. There is a bit of a backstop at the rear of the green. It is another good par 3 but not as visually interesting as the two on the front nine.
17. Par 4 – 445/432. This long hole is rated the hardest on the back nine and I felt it to be the hardest on the course, although it does offer a better chance of recovery than the fifth. The tee shot plays over the creek for a final time with a thick group of trees in play that border the eleventh hole. This dogleg left has a large outer corner bunker and a green angled to the left consistent with the dogleg. The green is on higher ground with three fronting bunkers and smaller fall-offs. The green is smoother than most on the course, probably due to the overall length of the course.
18. Par 4 – 426/404. The concluding hole goes uphill with two bunkers on either side of the fairway with the left ones being set inside the edge. Near the green there is rolling land with a central bunker twenty yards short of the green that looks closer and somewhat disguises the beginning of the green. The green is angled to the left with two bunkers on the right corner and one on the left corner. There is a small false front that will repel shots hit slightly short of the green. It is a difficult, but fair finishing hole.
The Blue course at Dallas National was certainly worthy of hosting a major championship in its day. In today’s world, many raters would criticize the course for its opening holes of three doglegs to the right, for having every par 3 involving water, and for not having wide enough fairways. At the time of its opening, this course would have been relatively long for its day and the designers and club could not have foreseen what technology would do to now make it too short for tournament play. Today’s “raters” would likely also note the number of trees and the use of water on too many holes creating too few opportunities for recovery. They might also want even larger greens with more undulations rather than tilts and tiers.
I liked the course for its strategy combined with fairness. Certainly there is an advantage here for longer hitters, however, they must find the correct side of the fairway to get the ideal looks into the green complexes. I also liked the routing for how it took advantage of the many hills and creeks/ponds throughout the course. The green surrounds are good and there is often a chance for recovery although some pins could certainly be tucked/hidden.
While there are many other higher rated courses in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, the Blue course is definitely worth a stop.