“High Praise for High Hampton!”
High Hampton completes the trifecta for Tom Fazio in the small, charming town of Cashiers, North Carolina. If you include the lesser known Headwaters, you actually have four Fazio designed courses essentially within walking distance of each other. I wouldn’t turn down an invite to any of these knockouts, whether it be High Hampton or neighboring courses Wade Hampton and Mountaintop. I like to call this little slice of heaven: “Fazioland,” yes, it’s a play on Disneyland for passionate golfers.
There isn’t a weak hole amongst these 4 courses and if you are a passionate golfer each and every one of them is both majestic, fun, interesting, and a treat to play. Beyond that, there is some incredibly creative architecture in each of them.
With that said, my review today will focus on the brand new golf course that just opened a couple of months ago in Cashiers called “High Hampton”, which is literally next door to Wade Hampton, a top 25 course in the USA by just about everyone’s criteria.
I loved every minute of my time at High Hampton, as a matter of fact, after my early morning round, I went back onto the course with Tom himself to learn why he did what he did on certain holes and what improvements he already has planned, just a few weeks after the course opened. You will not find a more passionate and caring architect than Tom Fazio. On top of that, he is a generous man, always willing to share his time and passion to talk about his outstanding designs.
What makes High Hampton so special is a combination of things. First, it sits on an awesome piece of property that has some great elevation change. Second, the routing is so creative that you feel like you are in an exclusive place that is serene; yet there is a full resort buzzing right around you offering everything from swimming, to kayaking on a lake, a kids camp, several dining facilities, croquet and much more.
As I arrived on the first tee, I immediately saw a preview of what’s ahead. Standing on an elevated tee the hole plays downhill and similar to many Fazio courses, you get to ease your way into the round with one of the easier holes out there. Having good distance control on your approach shot to this par-4 isn’t all that easy as you are playing more downhill than it looks to a green that slopes away from you. Most decent players should be able to make a par here and move on to the second where the challenge of High Hampton begins.
After the first hole is completed, you cross route 107, the main road in Cashiers to get to the 2nd tee. Don’t worry, by the time you get to the 2nd tee, you will have no idea that road is nearby as you are now in the trees. The 2nd hole is a fairly sharp dogleg to the right par 5. The tee shot to the fairway is relatively flat and the rest of the hole plays uphill. What really makes this hole is it features one of the best greens on the course as it’s relatively narrow, very deep in length and has some serious undulation. Figuring out the right distance control is key to have any chance at a one putt and even more important ensuring you can 2-putt. An interesting and memorable par 5.
The 3rd is an awesome par-3. Not only is it a long hole and majestic but it is tough. The green has a higher level tier on the left side than the right and no doubt the hole is a half stroke easier with a right side pin than one placed on the upper shelf. As luck would have it, the pin for my round was a back left pin and it required me smashing all of a 4-iron over 200 yards. This is the first of three par-3’s on the front 9 and it is by far the toughest one. I hit a wonderful shot that landed just right of the pin, and I then watched my ball trickle down to the lower tier leaving myself a very tough 2-putt. Instead of being disappointed that my solid 4-iron ran away from the pin, instead I looked around this green carefully realizing that the majority of the pin positions are on the right side of the green and most of the time that type of a tee shot would lead me to a great birdie opportunity on this hole. If you are wondering, I did indeed salvage a 2-putt and I was very happy with my par as I headed to the 4th tee.
The fourth hole is a beauty with several bunkers guarding the slight dogleg left which has one of the most sectional greens on the entire course. This green has about 4 sections to it with some great pin placements. The superintendent must have sensed I was coming because they used the back left pin which was surely the toughest as it was tucked behind a hill with some severe sloping all around it. I have long been a fan of tough greens when they are receiving short approach shots. This hole left a flip wedge into the green for most players and with only 70 yards left after my tee shot, I embraced the challenge. I walked off this green thinking “tough but fair”.
Both the 5th and 6th holes are par 3’s that are on the shorter to mid length side. The 5th played about 158 yards and the 6th played about 180. Both go in similar directions and have beautiful surrounds. Route 107 is just to the right of these holes, and this is the only spot on the course you will find any potential traffic noise nearby. Fazio was quite creative in designing these holes like this as he only had so much land to work with and these holes fit the land beautifully and look like they were meant to be here. Both of these par-3’s have great green complexes. The 6th green is quite a challenge as it is shallow but still has ample room to receive a well struck shot. This hole is just gorgeous and one should take a moment to absorb the beauty of Cashiers right here on the 6th hole.
When you get to the 7th, 8th and 9th, you have a chance to really see Fazio’s creativity. The 7th and 8th holes are right next to each other going up a hill and then back down that same hill in the opposite direction, however, a thick tree line separates these two holes, and some creative angling ensures you would never know it they were next to each other. While the 7th is a shorter uphill par-4 it has a wicked scary green and a false front that ensures if you are just a little bit too cute trying to get close to a front pin, you will find yourself scrambling for par. I have learned over the years that a front pin on a green that slopes from back to front with a false front is one you’d be well served leaving yourself 20 feet past the pin and trying to make a nice two-putt as opposed to coming up short and trying to get up and down.
The 8th is a real risk / reward par-5. This hole looks like it’s there for the taking, but similar to many Fazio par-5s the reward may be great but the penalty for the greedy golfer may be less than desirable. Hitting the fairway here shouldn’t be that difficult and carrying a water hazard (penalty area in modern day terms) that is about 90 yards from the green should not come into play for the better golfer. Where things get interesting is if you try and go for this green in two. The approach shot of choice would be straight up the neck of the green leaving a fairly straight forward pitch to this two tiered green. Yet, if you go for this green and miss right or left you will have your hands full to pitch close to the hole as this green is two tiered and has some undulation that will make your work around the green quite challenging from these angles. I really loved the hole as the risk reward is just as it should be.
As we crossed back over route 107 to arrive at the 9th hole, I couldn’t believe how fast the front 9 had gone by. That’s usually a great sign of when someone likes a course as opposed to rounds that drag on. This is a great opportunity for me to mention that I can truly say I have never played a course that was in such perfect condition so soon after opening. These greens truly rolled like a PGA Tour course hosting the best players in the world. Kudos to the agronomy team for a job well done on the entire course, especially the greens.
The 9th hole will soon have an elevated back tee which will really enhance the views and sightlines off the tee. As is, it’s a substantially uphill tee ball that must be struck well to have a decent angle into the green, which is one of the largest on the course with subtle movements. This hole requires two solid shots and deft putting to make a 4 as the green has more break than it looks regardless of where you are putting from.
The 10th hole climbs severely uphill to the one of the toughest greens on the course which features two tiers that are pretty dramatic. First off, a tee shot this dramatically uphill is by definition uncomfortable. The landing areas is wider than it looks but you will be best served coming to this green from the fairway. The good news is that the hole is not that long so your approach shot will be pretty short and if the pin is on the lower tier it’s doable to get close to the hole for a birdie chance. If you find a back pin placement as I did, you will have your work cut out for you to make par and find the right distance control. This is another example of a short hole that still has plenty of challenge.
The 11th hole is the favorite of many as it’s a gorgeous downhill par 5. The fairway looks narrow and it is narrow, which is just how I would have designed it as this is a really reachable par-5 with a solid drive. There should be a penalty for missing a fairway and this hole is no different in that you likely will not reach in two shots. The backdrop of this hole just sums up the charm of Cashiers and I truly believe no matter how you are playing on a given day, standing on this tee will make you smile and appreciate what a privilege it is to be playing this wonderful golf course in such a great location. I did indeed find the fairway and then knocked a hybrid onto the green from 235 yards leaving myself a trickier than it looked 30 foot putt for eagle. I was quite pleased to make my birdie and head to the 12th.
The 12th is similar to the 3rd in that it goes straight uphill and is a long par-3. However, the 12th has a huge green that if you calibrate taking enough club and hitting a solid shot is relatively straight forward to hit. From 200+ yards, that is easier said than done.
The 13th is a nice par-4 that is right in front of you and then you reach what is my favorite 5 holes on the entire course. I didn’t ask Tom but I would imagine he intentionally saved the best for last. A man with his experience does not create a buildup like this for a dramatic finish by accident.
The 14th is a quite difficult long and uphill par 4 with a challenging green. This is the first par-4 on the course where you really have to hit two big shots to reach the green in regulation. On top of that the approach shot is all carry, all the way up the green itself. Once on the green the putting is no bargain either. This is a totally fair hole, just a tough one.
If there was a signature hole at High Hampton, it’s hard to not think it is the 15th. Standing on the tee you see a gigantic mountain ahead for a hole that turns sharply to the left. Playing this hole for the first time is much more intimidating that it really should be as the landing soon is more than ample for all but an awful tee shot. Optically, the hole is deceiving and with a slightly uphill tee shot, it does not make it any easier. Missing left will leave you in a penalty area that is totally unplayable but there is tons of room to the right off the tee and frankly that leaves you the best angle for your approach shot. This is my favorite approach shot on the entire course by a long shot. You have a spectacular bunker left, an inviting opening to the green where a shot that lands just short and right will kick onto the green that slopes relatively hard from right to left. On top of this, you have a gorgeous backdrop that makes you feel as this green is exactly where it should be. This hole fits the land like a glove and it’s architecturally near perfection. The more I thought about the hole the past couple of weeks the more I realized it is surely one of the best 15th holes in golf. Would you believe that at some point in the future, there may be a new championship tee box built up to the left that goes through the trees with a shoot like effect where you can see the landing area that will even take this already incredible hole to another level? Stay tuned and you may just see this happen at some point in the near future.
You’d expect a letup after a hole like I just described but that is not the case when you arrive at the 16th which is another outstanding par 3. Again, the backdrop on this hole is something you have to see to believe. With a huge green you are facing another long par-3 where you have plenty of chance to recover should you miss the green.
As you arrive at the 17th hole, you are faced with an uphill par-5 with several bunkers that are all strategically placed to shape the hole. A two-tiered well bunkered green awaits where you must again have good distance control to wind up on the proper shelf. This is very enjoyable hole.
At last we come to the 18th hole in a round that just flies by. This hole is very deceptive, as your tee shot is from a substantially elevated tee playing downhill. it looks like you do not have a large landing area, but you actually do, and this is a hole that just requires a long solid tee shot to give you the best angle into the green which is from any part of the fairway. The green is surrounded on the left by a lake and two bunkers which shape the approach shot nicely and then you have a huge opening to bounce a shot into this green to the right of these bunkers. The slope on this green is pretty modest allowing most golfers to walk off this green with a smile on their faces.
High Hampton strikes an awesome balance of super playability with plenty of challenge. This is much harder to do as an architect than it seems like most courses lean one way or the other; they are either brutally hard or a pushover. I just found this course to be so much fun and I found the routing and architecture held my interest throughout the round. The last 5 holes are very special, and the 15th hole is a hole I will remember for a very long time as one of the great par 4s in golf.
Congrats to Tom Fazio and his team for figuring out a way to build this course on some tricky rolling land that requires utilizing both sides of route 107 with 7 holes on one side and 11 on the other. As I mentioned earlier, the road does not come into play, and you hardly notice the road is nearby. With Cashiers being “Fazioland” it’s ironically fitting that those driving by can see bits and pieces of High Hampton’s golf course, almost as if Tom is welcoming everyone to town.
Simply put, High Hampton is a must play. Special thanks to my host Pat for a great day and to Tom for showing me around the course and sharing his thought process on the creative routing and many of the nuances of several holes.
Date: August 04, 2021