The Ozarks have become one of the most celebrated regions for mountain golf in the United States, and Tom Clark brings the requisite heroic shots to fit this gravity-defying approach to golf.
One obvious example is No. 15, “The Quarry,” which drops more than 100 feet from the back tees down to this long green, set in front of a high stone wall but behind the namesake quarry, now filled with water. Even then, a thumbprint in the green makes a two-putt no guarantee.
Two holes later, you won’t even have gravity to help you. “Gambler’s Revenge” makes it seem as if the daredevil player will rise victorious from the match, but odds are the majority of aggressive players aiming to ace this 235-yard par three — curled up against a lake — will themselves be revenged upon. If you’re not afraid of losing a few golf balls, the scenic nature of this course’s setting will make up for any double bogeys experienced.
Anytime housing is involved with golf you can be sure that in most instances the housing will get the higher priority. No doubt the golf in those many instances is simply a lure to get prospects to go for the bigger item -- buying a property on site.
Ledgestone features a challenging piece of land. There's plenty of stone -- hence the name -- and yes the "ledge" dimension is no less central.
Credit architect Tom Clark with an inventive routing that has to successfully negotiate all the elements mentioned.
The opening dramatizes that reality very well. The par-4 plays through a narrow saddle landing area and is uphill to the elevated putting surface. The key is not uncorking a driver but making sure one finds the fairway. At Ledgestone the prudent play is always the smarter play.
The first five holes play along the top of the ledge with the short par-3 5th a fine hole calling for a controlled shot to a green that's neatly perched. Just be sure not to miss right.
After the 5th you hit from an elevated tee at the 6th before descending into a valley that wraps around the property for the final four holes on the outward half. The 6th is protected by water on the left off the tee and the green is equally protected by the same water penalty area.
The 7tth is a quality par-5 -- sliding to the left behind a massive tree on the left side of the fairway. There's a small slot opening tempting players to hit through it. The smarter play is to play to the right of it and proceed from there.
The 8th and 9th are good holes -- with the 9th the more demanding because of its length and shotmaking execution off the tee and with the approach.
The inward half of holes provides a rollercoaster adventure. The 10th requires the wherewithal to find the fairway -- it's not especially wide.
At the 11th you climb back uphill with this short par-4. The 12th is one of the best holes at Ledgestone -- starting from a high elevated tee and then plunging downhill with the hole turning right. The key, as it is with many holes at Ledgestone -- is respecting the challenge and not attempt to overpower holes when precision pays an even greater dividend. At the 12th hitting to the left of the right side fairway bunker leaves one on a more level spot for the approach. The putting surface is high above the fairway and for those who attempt to cut the corner your reward will be a daunting blind severely uphill approach.
The 13th and 14th features dog-legs -- the former to the left -- the latter to the right. At the par-3 15th you play a fascinating dropshot par-3 that's listed at 210 yards but plays a good bit shorter because of the drop in elevation. When the pin is cut to the far right it takes a daring shot to cover the distance and still have enough stopping power to remain on the green.
The 16th is listed as the #1 handicap hole and it's beautiful and a fine test. Again - placement is needed as you commence from an elevated tee before dropping down considerably. A creek cuts in from the right side and eventually widens out as you must respect its present with the approach.
The par-3 17th is very good. A long flattish par-3 that can play to a max of 230+ yards. Water again is an issue to contend with as the entire left side of the target is protected. The green is also angled diagonally from lower right to back left.
The ending hole is quite interesting. Interestingly, when the course first opened the 10th hole played up the hillside that occupies the now 18th hole. In sum -- the original 10th played in the reverse direction that the 18th does today. The tee shot then was uphill and quite narrow with trees pushing in from both sides. Assuming one could find the fairway -- and that was a big "if" the approach was to a green tucked around the corner of trees. The original 18th -- also a par-5 -- played in the reverse direction as today's 10th hole.
I credit the club with the changes given from what I was told about the severe nature of the original 10th.
The present day 18th starts from an elevated tee and you're hitting to a blind landing area. Once you walk over the rise the fairway dips down and turns both right and then back left. The green ably protected by a menacing pond to the left. It's a wonderful capper to the round.
Two main issues hold Ledgestone back. First, the green designs are fairly vanilla. They are in the right position but absent any meaningful internal contours. Approach shots are not differentiated sufficiently and, as a result, if a person has 40 feet instead of 15 feet there's little in terms of movement to reward the closer shot. The same holds true for ground movements just off the greens. Instead of having pedestrian chip shots -- a good bit more creative inclusion would put a higher premium on approach shots to the targets.
The second aspect rests with the conditioning. One of biggest pet peeves is when courses do not routinely examine the level nature of the teeing areas. Over time the ground can have movement whereby one foot can be above or below the other. The other element deals with the overall maintenance -- bunkers could be updated and their appearance both more stylish and in being placed with more of an impact. I am also not the biggest fan of zoysia grass -- especially for the fairways. Although the grass provides near perfect lies the grass doesn't really provide for any consequential bounce of the ball when in full bloom so therefore an aerial game predominates.
Ledgestone's design was no small feat and Clark certain deserve plaudits for getting the most out of a difficult site given the priority for housing. The key with Ledgestone is doing a renovation sprucing up both the "look" and the shotmaking elements already present but lacking on a number of holes. The potential for something beyond what's present now is clearly there.
M. James Ward