Of the most recent new courses to open to very positive reviews, the two that I played that exceeded the high acclaim I had read or heard are Tara Iti and Ohoopee Match Club. Some others, such as Streamong Black, were very close to the expectations while others I will not name here fell a bit short. I am eager to play Sheep Ranch and Dunbarnie Links.
Ohooppee Match Club, designed by Gil Hanse, is a gem across every measure whether one is referring to the accommodations, the staff, the facilities, the food, the service, or the golf course (s). The setting is magnificent and reminds me of two of my other clubs, Ballyneal and The Renaissance Club. There is a sense of solitude and contemplation while being completely relaxed yet experiencing joy. It truly is a magnificent place.
Located approximately 90 minutes west of Savannah near Cobbtown and off of dirt roads for the final miles, it is located on a former onion field.
In his review, Fergal has provided a good overview of the golf course and facilities. In just eight short months from his visit, (I played it on June 1-2, 2020), the pro shop has added some interesting items. I did not intend to purchase as many items as I did but they were irresistible.
The large putting green which has lights for nighttime competitions is mounded and contoured much like the one at Ballyneal, with the exception of this one has a single three feet high mound with a cup placed at the top. The driving range is wide and pleasant as you walk through the opening in the “barn” to access it. There is also a small fitness center for those who want to stretch, lift or do cardio. There are several “bar” locations although the patio overlooking the lake is perhaps the best spot. The rooms in the main clubhouse are off of a barrel ceiling. The rooms in the “barns” are perhaps even better. The locker room has perhaps the best showers in the world.
The chef produces a unique and amazing menu for you. You simply show up and the meals have already been decided for you. One’s taste buds explode as the flavors are very compelling.
The typical trip for a guest is perhaps one day which goes from lunch to lunch. Obviously sometimes members and their guests stay longer. You simply do not want to leave Ohoopee, it is so good.
Can a great golf course play second fiddle to a great chef and facilities…..at Ohoopee Match Club that is possible.
Yet the golf course is genius. It is absolutely genius. Adding the “extra” four holes while shortening several other holes to make the Whiskey Routing” course in effect creates two golf courses for essentially the price of slightly more than one course. The extra holes are on some of the best land. Playing into other holes from different teeing areas one does not always recognize the hole from the “big” course. The whiskey routing has a stop with whiskey and a shot for each player. Of course you stop, toast being there with your friends, and enjoy the setting.
I had first heard the term whiskey loop after my third visit as a member to Ballyneal but that is simply playing a few of the holes to shorten the time. The Whiskey Routing at Ohoopee Match Club takes it to a whole new level as it is a different course that is simply fun, fun, fun.
Match play is the desired play here as opposed to stroke play. I took a picture of a coaster that said “no one cares what you shot.” As further evidence of the ethos at Ohoopee Match Play, on the main course there are six holes with “half” scores. Alistair Mackenzie and Donald Ross stated many times that par is irrelevant, only one’s final score is. They also valued match play, even alternate shot, as worthy alternatives to stroke play.
We played the main course followed by 15 holes of alternate shot on the Whiskey Routing, followed by the Whiskey Routing the following morning.
There is very good variety in the holes on the main course with doglegs, tee shots out of “chutes,” fairways that narrow, fairway generously wide, greens that are above you, valleys fronting the greens, greens sloped back to front and front to back or left to right or right to left. On the main course the par 5’s are as long as 659 yards down to 497 yards (4.5). The par 4’s are as long as 525 (4.5) down to 312 yards. The par 3’s range from 139 to 251 yards. On the Whiskey Routing all of the par 3’s are below 200 yards while the par 4’s only go to 393 yards and the two par 5’s are capped at 499 yards. As Fergal mentioned, playing for birdies is encouraged here.
I did prefer the Whiskey Routing to the main course, and not only for the shot of whiskey. I thought the holes were more fun and the four new holes to be as equally good as the ones they replaced. From some of these holes there is a lovely view of a “savannah” that you do not get from the main course almost as if on a safari in South Africa. I’ve been on a safari and Ohoopee Match looked a lot like what I remembered.
As to the main course, I felt the course really started on the fifth hole, a short par 3 with a lightening fast back to front green with a bowl behind the green to run balls onto the green much like a combination of a redan and punchbowl.
The course begins and ends with par 4’s that offer wide fairways and somewhat blind shots into the greens, with the first hole playing downhill and the eighteenth set atop a dune with 30 yards between the green and a deep, wide bunker. The eighteenth green is about forty yards from the clubhouse bar and patio.
The main course is 7325 holes from the farthest point of the tee while the Whiskey Routing plays at 5610 but one can drop their tee almost anywhere on the holes.
This is a course designed to encourage birdies and bold play given the wide fairways and the somewhat larger greens. However, if you stray into the foliage and trees you are often met with a shot blocked by a fallen dead limb or a tree blocking your view to the green, or perhaps in native grasses. On one of the extra holes, a par 5, there is a very nasty bunker down the right side where there is raised grass near the front of the bunker creating a channel about 15 inches wide. The only option is to putt down the channel back into the heart of the bunker. Yes, I found this channel on round two of the Whiskey Routing, to which the member said, “I did not know that existed. Too bad.”
There is a lot of movement in the land on the holes. For those holes where the fairway is flat or flattish, there is likely a raised or sunken green.
The walks between the greens and next tee have all sorts of interesting bushes, flowers, and grasses that make it absolutely stunning. On the Whiskey Routing the course is also defined by burnt wood designed to look like stakes to define the starting point of the hole.
The doglegs sometimes are confusing as to what one can carry or not to find the optimal line to the green. I enjoyed the optical illusions created by the use of the trees and plants on these doglegs. There are long forced carries over sand and scrub similar to Hell’s Half Acre at Pine Valley. There are chances to run a ball onto a green. There are times where you must play target-like golf given the shelfs and plateaus on the greens. There are narrow greens and odd-shaped greens. There are greens with false fronts or ridge lines that can send a ball caroming around a hidden bend only to see it reappear three-four seconds later.
As for whether this is a world top 100 golf course, I would say yes. It can play easy. I had four birdies on my first round and lipped out a 45 feet putt on the final hole to just miss halving our match when I played safely to the left of that fronting bunker only to later discover I could have gone right at the pin given the 25 yards between the bunker and green.
It can play difficult. The next day, the second time around the Whiskey Routing, I had to pick up my ball four times in my match, having no possibility of helping my partner try to halve the hole. You simply cannot stray from the fairway as it is 50-50. One time I hit a blind luck recovery shot from 120 yards up a hill fronting the green to 2 feet to halve the hole. The next time I was stuck between two dead tree branches with a two inch backswing.
The bunkering, green surrounds, and contours on the greens are excellent. There are redan like greens, Biarritz style greens, or little mounds fronting the greens that can stop a ball or send it in a way that you might not want.
Combined with the uniqueness of having essentially two golf courses, one is always visually excited, surprised, and eager to play the next hole.
Mr. Hanse and the owner built a magnificent place, one that I believe will stay in the top 100 for some time. I would certainly rather come play here than at many courses currently ranked in the top 100 because at some point on the courses you will use every part of your game. You have to make decisions often about a side of the fairway or being bold or laying back.
As to whether this is Mr. Hanse and Jim Wagner’s finest work, I would say yes. While the setting is not as gorgeous as Castle Stuart on a sunny day, the course is much more interesting. It is also better than Boston Golf Club which is excellent. Adding in his work at Streamsong Black and his restorations or re-designs at Winged Foot, Oakland Hills, Aronimink, Los Angeles Country Club, and Sleepy Hollow, they certainly have established themselves in the history book of top golf designers forever.
Date: June 05, 2020